What is the desirable end?
Draw a picture of heaven. Outline it in your minds’ eye. Even if you don’t believe in heaven, humor me for a moment and try to imagine an average afternoon in a perfect world.
I’ll wait for you as I really think the rest of the post will be better if you have a picture of heaven in mind.
What did you draw? I really do wish I could hear your answers before I continue; but since I cannot, I shall guess.
Perhaps some of you drew yourself amidst choirs of angels on clouds. After the initial novelty of the situation dies down, what would keep you there? Is there some kind of narcotic euphoria induced by basking in God’s presence?
Or you may have thought of opulent mansions and streets of gold, joining the ultimate leisure community of the uppermost class. While sociality is more inherently interesting than cloud sitting, in a perfect world how much content for conversation will be generated day to day? Half an eternity from now, when you have been at this mansion thing forever, and still have forever longer to go, what will you be looking forward to?
Perhaps you envisioned a renewed Edenic state, picking apples and petting lions and cavorting in the perfect weather. Admittedly there is more going on in such a world, more to observe and more to do, but after a few thousand decades might it not get a little monotonous?
Or maybe you saw an infinite library with unlimited texts to read and access to omniscient tutors to help you along the way. Surely this would never get old—until, of course, you obtained a tolerable approximation of omniscience yourself. Surely after your fifty-eight billionth novel you would have seen all of the interesting plot devices there are. And once you’ve mastered every big truth and every major consequence of them and every interaction between every subset of these natural laws and tried out seventy-seven quadrillion variants of every experiment, how much interest would there be left in mopping up the tiny details? How long will it be before you switch from learning about billiards to memorizing every possible arrangement of billiard balls?
But some of my readers have no doubt painted a more sustainable heaven. Meaning that they’ve painted a heaven with some problems. Perhaps they’ve envisioned themselves raising imperfect children, or helping God as angels to new worlds of mortals, or struggling to slowly eradicate their own imperfections and forgetfulness.
As a disclaimer, I am just a single mortal man, and I do not claim that what I cannot envision cannot be. But as I have explored the heavens proposed by philosophers, authors, friends, and my own imagination I have found they can be categorized in three buckets. There are the “divine opiates” where we are pointless but ecstatic. There are the “too-long vacations” where we are stuck in a temporary pleasure. And there are the “ideal jobs” where we continue to struggle against some difficulty. To these models of eternity might be added two versions of non-eternal life: the broken record of non-progressive reincarnation and the end of existence of progressive reincarnation and atheism.
As I have visited with religionists, I find that most declare the details of heaven to be a “mystery,” something that is beyond the ken of a mortal mind. And perhaps they are right. Even as a Mormon and a believer in the “ideal job” of parenthood a la our Heavenly Parents, there is definitely a lack of revealed detail.
I don’t know if what heaven we draw really matters. I have faith that God will lead me to the best possible heaven. I know that even God weeps, that pain isn’t an obstacle but rather part of eternity and joy. Meaningful work appears to be an eternal virtue.
In the end, glory awaits.