It is full of mystery and foreshadowings.
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The next thing I knew was waking up in the hospital where the doctor was taking my temperature, saying, “I think he’ll be all right now.” In medical terms, I was later told that I had been through the “pneumonia curve” when the temperature soars to critical heights. It either goes on rising and the patient dies, or it suddenly falls. Apparently it had been a close-run thing.
There were oddities to my delirious dreams, which later seemed perplexing. Although I had been unconscious at the time, my descriptions of the scene around my bedside, down to details and snippets of the nurses’ conversation, were 100 percent accurate. The people I met in the garden had been dead for some years. One of them, my Canadian grandmother, had never met me in life. Yet I was able to describe her well, right down to the locket she wore round her neck. None of this seemed particularly important until, much later, I read articles and books about out-of-body experiences. What I now know is that many peoples’ out-of-body experiences have been remarkably similar to mine. Not in every respect, but common features recur time and again. We can’t all be making this up.
THE CONTEMPORARY “EVIDENCE” of out-of-body experiences may not convince Mr. Derbyshire, but it has persuaded a good few people at least to wonder about what happens on the other side of the grave. “Nothing, a void, the end, period,” say the atheists. “Rising in heavenly glory,” claim believers. Who is right?
Because we mortals are creatures of time, we are unable to get our heads round the concept of eternity. Even when we believe in God, “we only understand the outskirts of his ways,” says the Book of Job. So after citing any number of biblical passages, religious traditions, visions, artworks, experiences, and theological libraries full of “evidence,” we are still only guessing about heaven. But at least we can ask the right questions before we guess.
The first question is: Are we satisfied with an earthly life that ends in nothingness? Our free will entitles us to answer in the affirmative and to take no interest in God or where he dwells. The flaw in that approach was well summarized by the lyrics of the 1960s Peggy Lee song.
Is that all there is?
Is that all there is?
If that’s all there is my friend
Then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze
And have a ball
If that’s all there is
The second question, only to be answered by those who have moved on the assertion that human life consists merely of DNA strands, is: Do we have any spiritual curiosity about what might be in store for us beyond the horizons of our earthly sight?
If we do have such curiosity, the full title of Peter Kreeft’s seminal book, Heaven: The Heart’s Deepest Longing, becomes highly relevant. For what he and other writers on this subject argue is that many of us, deep down, instinctively understand that this world is not our home. We experience in one form or another a call within our hearts of dissatisfaction with the earthly nature of our daily lives. Augustine of Hippo caught this mood when he wrote, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.” It is a restlessness that cannot be satisfied by booze, balls, bank balances, promises of politicians, or symbols of success. Once we have stumbled our way to this reality, we have begun our quest for heaven.
Inevitably, this quest is a mystery. There are two main schools of theological opinion as to where it leads. The traditional view is that heaven is a place to which our souls travel after death. It will be peaceful, beautiful, restful, joyful, and full of the glory of God. We will be reunited with our loved ones, and we will have heavenly rather than earthly bodies. If it is anything like my grandparents’ dining room, to which I may have made a fleeting visit at the peak of my pneumonia curve, well, Hallelujah! But I suspect that the joys of heaven are far more profound. There is encouragement in the words of Jesus: “In my Father’s house are many mansions.” (John 14:2)
The modernist view of heaven does not encompass mansions, gardens, angels, seraphs, or throne rooms. It is not a place but a space—God’s space. We enter it not by our work but by his grace. And his space fills our hearts as our hearts open up to his grace. As the ancient liturgy says, “We pray that we may dwell in Him and He in us.”
None of this will make sense to Mr. Derbyshire, who seems determined to deny the existence of both God and Heaven. But perhaps his rejection is not quite as absolute as it seems. I was amused by his qualifying penultimate line: “If the admission standards are low enough to get in…” Amen to that from me and from all the rest of us sinners facing our uncomfortable interviews at the pearly gates. For the answer to that Oxford essay question mentioned in the opening paragraph of this article is:
Heaven is where God dwells, and its population will be full of surprises.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?