No heaven for you...

...is a statement that just won't preach. But it might be a good AAR "hook"...

Reading Barth, specifically CD III.1 (neglected in my prior studies focusing on III.2 and III.4, which I'm very glad to be rectifying since the lacuna was silly anyways), I'm reminded that there's a definite scriptural-contextual sense that Barth seems to shout from the page, that heaven is not where we go when we die. It isn't the afterlife, or something apart from creation. It is part of creation, call it a piece of the "three-story universe," the realm of powers to which human life is subject. God made the heavens and the earth. All your gods are belong to us. The Son of Humanity is going on the clouds, supplanting the alien gods and instituting the age of God's rule of the world. Talk about your regime changes! And perhaps that's where we get the idea that heaven is God's place, but that seems to slide too quickly to heaven being God's natural realm. And God is Lord of Hosts, the heavenly hosts, but angels are creatures, too. Again with the realm of celestial powers. But in the merism of heaven and earth, and therefore all things, human beings are placed on earth and under heaven. Placed within creation.

All right, sure, we don't have the same worldview, the Cosmonauts were quite clear about their disproof of heaven via sub- and orbital flights, and we could get absurd and try to reclaim heaven as a layer of creation, just as we also know from geology that hell is not a layer of creation but still colloquially point downward into the bowels of the earth. But the point was never an empirical-scientific explanation of the world that would indefinitely cohere.

It seems to me too often lost that heaven is a realm of created beings, both good and bad; those that adore God, certainly, as do we at our best, but also those that would oppose God in myriad ways. Michael and Satan; God's Hosts and the Nephilim; etc. That may also have something to do with the redefinition of "center" from the bottom of a pit to the peak of a mountain. Human beings stopped being subject to realms of powers superior to them, higher beings casting both good and bad down the gravity well at them. Modernity placed these sons of men in the heavens. The angels, always figura, became hollow.

It also seems to me too often overlooked that hell is not the place of the damned. Or, that the lower layer of the cosmos is not, at any rate. As Yves Congar points out in Vaste Monde ma Paroisse, Sheol was a place of the undifferentiated dead, where mortal things went following their mortality. Eschatological, yes, but in a system in which we also have a belief in the extension of life through offspring, not the indefinite extension of some immortal aspect of an individualized self. It is eschatologically important that you sire children by your late brother's wife, if he had not, so that he may live. There are indeed notions of the eternal death from which we might be delivered, but everything gets screwy between Hellenistic apologetics and Medieval reward/punishment theory.

μεν: God, who set before the people "life and blessings, death and disadvantages," asked them to choose life so they might live. And yet eschatologically, God preserves the life of the people, for what else is the remnant? Paul seeks to make his own flesh jealous by his mission to the nations, so that they might be saved -- for what is their restoration, but life from the dead?

δε: Besides the life/death dilemma, we have the "contest of two powers" paradigm. This requires a pantheon of some sort, or at the very least, an active henotheism. True modern monotheists have a great deal of trouble with dualism, and even more with the notion of more-than-dualism. It becomes a contest between God and the devil, but where do we see that? We have God's folks vs Baal's folks, God's folks vs idolaters, the people's God vs Pharaoh's gods, the people of God vs the cults of various divinized humans, etc. And out of it all we have the apocalyptic adversarial relationship of the people with God versus the Enemy. We rotate that triangulation, and magically it becomes God versus the Enemy, with the people in the middle. Which may be the root of the wisdom-apocalyptic in Job. Again, war in heaven, or diplomacy at any rate, between powers superior to man, with crap flowing downhill, as well as blessings.

Mix life/death with God/Enemy, et voici où là: le ciel de Dieu et l'enfer du Diable -- heaven and hell become eschatological life with God and eschatological death with Satan. Remove the oppression that grounds the apocalyptic, but not the rhetoric, and place the now-triumphant God in charge of the whole schmear. Et voila: le main droit de Dieu ... et le gauche. And we destroy the Matthean account by misreading. And then we spend centuries working out how to avoid hell and wind up in heaven when we die, and developing myriad complicated systems (and payment schemes) for said task.

Comments