C. Michael Patton has a great series over at Parchment and Pen called “Questions I Hope No One Will Ask.” The latest question he addresses is, “What will we be doing in heaven?” Obviously, as a New Church person, this is the FIRST question I hope to be asked. The Writings have answers – entire books of answers.
But of course some people (including Patton) would argue that parts of those answers are unbiblical. He writes,
No matter what your position regarding the particulars, all roads of orthodox Christian ‘eschatology’ (the doctrine of the last things) converge on a new or recreated earth where the presence of God is evident and real unlike any time since Adam roamed Eden.
In support of a physical resurrection in our physical bodies, he cites John 5:29; 1 Cor. 15:13-22; 1 Cor. 15:51-53; and 1 Thes. 4:17. But none of these passages – or any other passages in the Bible – explicitly say that we will rise with the same body as before. In fact, it says otherwise:
It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.(1 Corinthians 15:44).
The New Church does not at all deny that we have resurrection bodies – but as spiritual bodies, we stay in the spiritual plane. Heaven is not a temporary holding cell – heaven is our eternal home. The “new earth” that is recreated does not literally mean this planet. A better translation might be “a new land,” as in “new heavens [or sky] and a new land.” No one thinks that “the new heaven” actually means a new sky; it’s no more of a stretch to say that “the new land” doesn’t refer to the land itself but to the people living on the land, and in particular the church (for more on this, see Arcana Coelestia n. 1066, New Jerusalem and Its Heavenly Doctrine n. 5, and many, many other passages that provide ample scriptural evidence that “land” is used to mean the church, or the Lord’s people).
Similarly, Patton dismisses out of hand the idea that people can become angels. For this, he does not provide any citations. Now, it’s true that there isn’t a whole lot of explicit positive evidence in the letter of the Word that people become angels; but there is not much evidence against it, either. New Church minister Rev. John Odhner has a great article on his website pointing to scriptural evidence that people do become angels. One quote from that site:
A fourth reason [to see angels as men] is that angels themselves reject the idea that they are superior beings. When the apostle John fell at the feet of an angel to worship him, the angel said, “See that you do not do that! I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren who have the testimony of Jesus. Worship God!” (Revelation 19:10). Later John echoes this idea when he speaks of “The measure of a man, that is of an angel” (Revelation 21:17).
But, with these two major problems out of the way, Patton’s description of heaven squares remarkably well with Swedenborg’s. He dismisses the idea that we’ll be floaty beings without strong personal attachments. He also dismisses the idea that we’ll spend all our time bowing before the throne of God and enjoying it (I love the relation from Conjugial Love about the people who got to experience a false heaven of constant worship – after a few days they were ready to break down the doors of the church and flee.) He even allows for a special relationship with our spouse analogous to marriage. Compare this to Heaven and Hell n. 382:
All this makes clear that marriages in heaven are not like marriages on earth. In heaven marryings are spiritual, and cannot properly be called marryings, but conjunctions of minds from the conjunction of good and truth. But on earth there are marryings, because these are not of the spirit alone but also of the flesh. And as there are no marryings in heaven, consorts there are not called husband and wife; but from the angelic idea of the joining of two minds into one, each consort designates the other by a name signifying one’s own, mutually and reciprocally. This shows how the Lord’s words in regard to marrying and giving in marriage (Luke 20:35, 36 [passages indicating that they neither marry nor are given in marriage]), are to be understood.
So what will we be doing?
On the new earth [which, Patton says, is a continuation of heaven] , we will be, in a very real sense, picking up where we left off in Eden. Sin will be no more and God’s original intent will be realized. The good intentions and plan of the creation will find their glory and perfection there. We will have jobs and responsibilities (Luke 19:11-27). We will be have bodies much like we have now, just without sickness, death, and sin (1 Cor 15). We will be eating and drinking (Matt. 8:11-12; Matt. 26:29; Rev. 22:2). I imagine that we may even sit coffee shops (Credo Houses!?) and hang out with friends. There will be challenges and times of growth. I believe that there will be technology and advancements in technology (after all, is technology a result of sin? Don’t answer that!). We will learn, know, and be known. And we will have and develop relationships, some more special than others. In short, while I cannot tell you what we will be doing as definitely as I would like, I can tell you that we will be serving an infinite God who has infinite creativity and power.
“In heaven, just as in the world, there is food and drink, and there are banquets and parties. The leading people there have their tables laden with rich feasts, dainties and delicacies, which serve to cheer and refresh their minds. There are also games and theatrical performances; there are also concerts and singing, and all achieve the highest perfection. Such things are a joy to them, but they do not constitute happiness. Happiness has to have joys and therefore comes from joys. It is the happiness in joys that makes them joys, enriches them, and keeps them from becoming worthless and boring. Everyone gets this happiness by being of service in his occupation.” (Conjugial Love n. 6)
I particularly appreciate Patton’s references to the passages in the Bible from which he draws his conclusions. In the New Church we tend to have plenty of scriptural backing for the main points of doctrine, but in a lot of the descriptions of heaven and hell we sometimes fall short. It’s useful to be reminded that everything of the doctrine of the New Church has a basis in the literal sense of the Word.