Dance Partners

I recently overheard a conversation about the nature of heaven. What will it be like? Will there be any sadness? Will it be possible to be lonely in heaven? Is heaven a place or state of being that is free from any kind of negative experience?

This conversation led me to ask myself the question, “How would we ever know something is “good” if “evil” didn’t exist?” How do we know that darkness is dark without the experience of light? It seems to be that joy and pain aren’t adversaries. Rather, they need each other to exist. Instead of bitter enemies, maybe in reality, they’re two cosmic dance partners, dependent on each other to give life to the party.

Christians seem to generally believe that the world was “good” but then evil made its way in with the help of our little friend the snake and the curiosity of Eve. Maybe that’s true, but how does one know what is good without the experience of something less than good? How can heaven be worth experiencing if all we experience is the endless monotony of a pain-free existence? My point isn’t to presume what heaven will or won’t be like or what happens to a being when it is physically dead. I’m just wondering why it’s at all intriguing to go to a place where pain has no place to truly illuminate all that is peaceful and joyful. Endless joy and peace seems not joyful or peaceful at all. It all seems rather boring.

If I’m missing something, please enlighten me!

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14 thoughts on “Dance Partners

  1. A good friend of mine, a fellow agnostic, regularly pronounces existence to be perfect. Not perfect in the sense that everything’s great, merely that it is complete. There is no joy without sorrow and so on. This does not mean everyone experiences an equal amount of both.

    As for heaven, the same friend’s idea for that was that it is simply “truth”. A cop out? Vague mysticism? Perhaps, but I think that’s a beautiful thought when we consider how fleeting and rare non subjective truth is in our lives.

  2. Your post reminds me of an episode of The Twilight Zone, where a bank robber (IIRC) is killed and goes to what appears to be heaven. He enjoys it at first, but eventually tires of it. When he confronts the angelic figure who had been his guide, he is told that heaven is “the other place.”

    Perhaps the standard vision of heaven is deeply flawed.

  3. My thought has always been that there are depths of joy that we do not know. That way, pain can be eliminated without joy being killed as well. New, deeper joy is experienced in contrast to shallower joy. Thus there is always an endless mystery into which to search, something new to be experienced. This eliminates the boredom of a “perfect” (static) state of joy.
    Although I’m not sure that I articulated that well.

  4. For nearly all of Christian history, evil has not been understood as the opposite or counterpart of good. This would imply that either both good and evil are created (denying the inherent, eternal goodness of God) or that both good and evil are eternally co-existent (implying that God is both good and evil).

    Instead, evil has been understood as the absence of good. As such it has no ‘existence’ proper, but only describes the vacuum created by evil and chaos.

    Just my two cents from a historical theological perspective.

  5. Jonathan, You may be right that there is some depth of joy we cannot access, but what is that based on? Just a gut feeling? And if that were the case, what does that say about a Creator who holds out the deepest, purest manifestation of joy from his own children? Also, I’m pretty sure I didn’t equate evil to a “negative experience” in my post so I’m curious why that question is at all relevant.

    Matthew, I trust your history more than mine so thank you for the clarification. But your comment begs the question, if God’s goodness is contingent on his not creating evil, why is it any different from allowing evil to exist, or allowing goodness to be absent?

    Whether God created evil or allows it to exist is, in my mind, a matter of semantics. My personal view is that God’s goodness is not contingent on the existence of evil, even if he created evil. My point is that without evil, good has no value. Without death, life has no value. Without darkness, light has no value. Without apathy, love has no value.

    The only aspect of my view that I’m still unsure about is the issue of Time. If an after-life exists, does it unfold inside or outside of Time? This is starting to feel like Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. I think I should just stick to drums.

  6. I apologize if I insinuated that you equated negative experience with evil, that was not my intent. The question of the presence of negative experiences in “heaven” was raised, and in my mind evil and negative experiences are usually related. If they are the same, then there would not be any negative experiences in the place or state of heaven if there were no evil. But my experiences tell me that negative experiences and evil are not the same thing (overly simplified example: like going to the doctor for a vaccination shot). When I ask myself the question of the connection between evil and negative experiences it begins to create a whole new set of questions. Which may or may not be relevant, but to me definitely seem related.

    The depths of joy theory really comes more from the Augustinian perspective Matthew Wilcoxen brings up (of evil being the lack of good) combined with the idea that the depths of God are things we will endlessly explore throughout eternity (which I believe was Julian of Norwich but don’t hold me to that), one aspect of which being joy, another love. If we are endlessly exploring God, then we will be endlessly finding new depths of love and joy. This is not a perfect example, but there’s not such a thing when speaking of God, I think of it kind of like emerging holons, there is no “deepest, purest manifestation” because there is no end, simply more to continue to discover. Which raises all sorts of new questions. But to be honest, this is all really quite beyond me.

    I like the fact that I disagree with you (not usually the case). I don’t think things necessarily have value because some sort of opposite exists (of course we may be meaning completely different things when we use the word value, valuable to whom, or is it some existential reality in and of itself). However, I definitely believe we appreciate one more because of the existence of the other (especially true with good and evil). And with some of the examples, such as with literal light, some darkness is necessary for it to be useful (I’m just not convinced that applies to good and evil). But, I’m enjoying the discussion and I appreciate the push back. Again, sorry if I put words in your mouth, that wasn’t my intent.

  7. It seems to me that we are experiencing this negativity right now. Human beings beings often come to accept the level of positivity or negativity that they find themselves at, and recognize and appreciate that level when change occurs. Perhaps we will come to appreciate resurrection because death comes first. Death and resurrection both seem to final; I wonder if they really are.

    That was all just musing though. My experience is that joy is irrelevant to this level of “happiness”. This joy that God sometimes gives to us occurs in all kinds of situations. It it not just the nth degree of happiness. I am compelled to associate it with the otherness or holiness of God, rather than the far end of a limitless scale. It is altogether different, though it does engage our minds and sometimes make us happy as well. I hope for a response about this idea.

    CS Lewis believes that the great fulfilling work that we get to do on earth will not be eliminated by the resurrection. His books paint endless discovery and opportunity. It is at least food for thought in my mind. My conclusion is that heaven much bigger than happiness. NT Wright wrote that Lewis’ eschatology was quite undeveloped though. Most of my theology is derived from Lewis’ though, so that is what I have to work with it seems đŸ˜‰

  8. Jonathan,

    I agree with you in the sense that “there is no end, simply more to continue to discover” but in the traditional, Christian sense, we only achieve the capacity to explore without limits after death. It’s as if inherent to our physicality is a ceiling which we cannot break through in experiencing all God has to offer us. Furthermore, I think most Christians assume when they receive their heavenly reward, all will be known and the mystery will cease.

  9. I think we are taught a lot about heaven and I don’t know how much of it is true. I guess Christians and atheists and everyone in between can agree that stuff is seriously fucked up down here and I think heaven would be the absence of that, obviously, but for what that means or trying to define it, who knows. Except that maybe our relationships will finally be whole.

  10. Heaven with harps and clouds would be a big disappointment. My Rev. Grandfather believed that heaven is just going on in life, in maybe a different way and maybe that there are different levels. I now believe God has different levels/worlds for people to go to probably because of him. And I can’t find any place in Scripture that refutes that yet (but not really any give it solid weight). Moses’s face was too bright for humans when he saw the face of God…perhaps heaven is so full of God, we have to get adjusted a level @ a time. For me, heaven would be a place of having a perfect, young body and seeing all my loved ones in healthy perfect bodies with no pain…able to culturally experience things like rock concerts (why not?). Hours of conversation in the grass with my beloved Grandma I lost @ 8 years old & still miss. Being able to talk to St. Peter, Charles Spurgeon…Mother Theresa or Bono when he gets there. Heaven is like seeing for the first time for a blind person.

  11. i think you raised a very good point that has been somewhat ignored to this point.

    and that’s the question about whether or not heaven takes place inside time. i don’t really have an answer, but one subsequent issue that flows is how physicality plays out in heaven. especially if you hold to most scientific understandings of space and time being intrinsically linked. so does that, then make heaven some disembodied ethereal place (which is what many evangelicals seem to believe)?

    the new testament seems to say something else in that regard. there seems to be an inherent physicality to the next life (and folks like wright would agree with that wholeheartedly). so then, again, where does time fit in? how could we all then experience time eternally in a real, physical sense?

    or, another question would be, if heaven is more about a state of being (i.e. about the inbreaking kingdom of god in this era and world; or as wright would say, “thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” really means that we’re supposed to make both things into one thing), then what does that mean about the next life? is that to be understood as the christian life? subsequently, would that mean the “afterlife” as most evangelicals understand it is just a bad rip off of neo-platonic dualism?

    again, i’m not big on answers in this regard. these are just questions most christians sort of gloss over, assuming that all the things they’ve heard about heaven in church are all direct statements pulled from the bible.

  12. Z

    Have you read surprised by hope by N.T. Wright? He has some interesting things to say about “life after life after death”. For me personally I tend to think that I can’t fathom the greatness of what God has in store. God is really building suspense!

    Scotty

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