DayBreaks for 10/26/16 – Superhero Heaven
From the DayBreaks archive, October 2006, written by one of my sons:
The true explanation of all these questions is still stored up in the hidden treasure rooms of Wisdom, and will not come to the light until that moment when we shall be taught the mystery of the Resurrection by the reality of it; and then there will be no more need of phrases to explain the things which we now hope for. Just as many questions might be started for debate amongst people sitting up at night as to the kind of thing that sunshine is, and then the simple appearing of it in all its beauty would render any verbal description superfluous, so every calculation that tries to arrive conjecturally at the future state will be reduced to nothingness by the object of our hopes when it comes upon us.
– St. Gregory of Nyssa
My dad (that’s me, Galen!) employed several standard and sub-standard tricks to keep us kids in line during long summer road trips. From the “sub-standard” category: When things got loud and out of hand in the car, he’d suggest we play a round of “First-Sleep-Longest-Sleep.” This was a game of his own devising, a game which could only have been born of fatherly vexation on a long drive across the barren desert with three hollering, diminutive barbarians in the back seat. The game’s objectives, of course, were two: 1) to fall asleep first; and 2) to wake up last. You could “win” by doing either, but to achieve both was the ultimate triumph. Needless to say, our enthusiasm for the game waned considerably after the very first round.
As an alternative to “games” like First-Sleep-Longest-Sleep, my dad would sometimes pose theological questions for us kids and invite us to speculate on them -and I know he took a real interest in our answers. One question that cropped up frequently was: “What do you think heaven will be like?” Initial replies typically included:
“We’ll be with Jesus.”
“We’ll each live in our own mansion.”
“In heaven the streets are made of gold and the gates are made of giant pearls.”
“Nobody is ever sad or sick.”
“We’ll get to talk with Adam and David and Elijah.”
But though things started out tame enough, inevitably, as I recall, we’d begin to speculate about what super-powers we might possess in the hereafter. Would we be able to walk through walls? Would we be able to read each other’s thoughts? Would we be indestructible? Invisible? Would we have superhuman strength? Would we be able to fly? We answered all of these in the affirmative. How could it not be like that? Heaven, as we imagined it, was a brightly lit playground where we could enjoy all the super-powers possessed by each of the members of the Super Friends and Justice League at once.
Heaven was where we all get to be superheroes – only without having to fight villains. We get to rocket through the atmosphere just for thrills. We get to sneak up and surprise people by suddenly materializing before their eyes. We get to move mountains without breaking a sweat (with a flick of the wrist rather than by faith). In heaven, it seemed to me, we got to play rough without the consequences. No wonder we were anxious to get there; Superhero Heaven was where all little boys wanted to go.
Mostly, I think, this was harmless daydreaming, though I imagine my dad had to rein us in now and then. But kids (okay, adults too) have a way of losing themselves in imaginative self-indulgence. Like everyone raised in a Christian family, as I grew older I had to revisit and re-imagine such things. Eventually, in college, I traded Superhero Heaven for a practically Buddhist or neoplatonic vision of the annihilation of the self in the One, or, alternately, a disembodied, semi-conscious state of beatitude in a realm of pure spirit. Later, however, I came to understand that in some sense my childhood speculations about heaven, silly as they were, were actually more Christian than the subtle, ethereal visions of the philosophers and the Far East. Superhero Heaven, at least, was tangible, incarnate, even if the rules of strictly earthly life didn’t apply.
The Christian doctrine of the Resurrection, difficult and vague as it is (cf. St Gregory’s quote above), is not compatible with visions of a state of pure spirit, or with the annihilation of the self. The creedal affirmation of faith in the actual and literal “resurrection of the body” is non-negotiable Christian dogma. We insist, there is continuity between our creation and our redemption: The God who created us holy and good in our flesh and bones by the dust of the ground and His “breath” is the same God who saves us by taking on and re-hallowing our flesh and bones and the dust of the ground, breathing out his Spirit upon us.
I don’t know if I’ll pose my father’s theological stumpers to my own children on our future summer road trips (though I’m sure to try out First-Sleep-Longest-Sleep). Perhaps I will. But in any case, I’ll do what I can to gently steer them away from Superhero Heaven. And when my kids ask me from the back seat, Papa, what is heaven like? I’ll answer: “If you want to know what heaven is like, just look at Jesus.” – Look at Christ’s flesh and blood: crucified, resurrected, deified, at the right hand of the Father yet in our midst, tangible, taste-able. Our portrait of Christ is our portrait of heaven.
Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him… (I John 3:2)
PRAYER: We are humbled by Your greatness and confess we are eager to know more about You and Your home. Give us understanding, Lord, that we may serve You faithfully throughout this life. And thank you that there really is a Superhero in heaven that gave Himself for us and by Whose power we will rise from the dust we are made of to become the heavenly creatures You long for us to be. May we glimpse bright heaven’s glories, bright heaven’s Son! In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Copyright 2016 by Galen C. Dalrymple. All rights reserved.