Looking down from the heavens, at the heavens.

I finally caught up with the bonus features on the Blu-Ray editions of the last few Star Trek movies this week, and one sentence kind of jumped out at me. It comes courtesy of Michael Fincke, an astronaut who appears on the Star Trek: First Contact (1996) disc via the featurette ‘Greetings from the International Space Station’:

I’d really love to be in heaven someday, looking down to see my great-great-grandchildren living on Mars and going to other star systems, and using some kind of faster-than-light drive.

In the popular imagination (briefly satirized a couple months ago in The Invention of Lying), “heaven” is generally thought of as somewhere “up in the sky”, past the clouds but perhaps not as far as outer space. And even after you accept the fact that the Earth is a sphere, it is still possible to think of people “looking down” at us from up there even though they couldn’t possibly have the entire planet in view; like satellites, they can always move to another point in their orbit.

But of course, the universe doesn’t stop at the edge of our planet’s atmosphere; the world as a whole is much bigger than that. So anyone observing the activity between planets, to say nothing of different star systems, would have to be looking at us from much, much further back — especially if they were doing so from a vantage point outside this universe altogether. And I can’t help thinking that we’d look pretty small to them, from there.

I know, I know, I’m being much too literalistic here. But that’s part of the fun of encountering old idioms in new contexts.

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  • Anonymous

    "In the popular imagination… "heaven" is generally thought of as somewhere… past the clouds but perhaps not as far as outer space."

    Have there been studies on that? I never thought of heaven as closer than outer space – I always assumed it was further away than anything we could, in principle at least, get to.

    I once accepted a challenge to look up every reference to heaven in the Bible. All the Old Testament references assume heaven is "above" the earth. None of the New Testament references suggest any location; heaven is simply where God is. Acts does describe Jesus rising into the clouds, but that passage never mentions heaven.