The concept of heaven and hell is a subject that many of us wonder about especially as we begin to accept the fact of our inevitable mortality. It is quite easy to accept the soul as being eternal but to envision eternal life without our physical bodies can be both intriguing and troubling for some.
The majority of cultures have some sort of belief in an afterlife where the departed goes on to live eternally in a heavenly abode. The ancient Egyptians took their belief in the afterlife quite seriously, placing items of the deceased along with him for use in the afterlife journey. Sometimes the servants and even pets of the deceased were entombed along with the deceased, such as in the case of the death of a pharaoh. Throughout history, the role of an eternal existence has been prevalent in major religions. Although there may be differences in the way heaven is perceived, the belief in eternal life is widely accepted.
As long as we are in the physical body, we can't with any certainty know what heaven will be like. The Bible does, however, provide Christians with some insight into the heavenly realm. In heaven there will be no sickness, death or tears. There will be no darkness and there will be no separation from God. Most people imagine heaven to be a place of eternal happiness, good health and peace. Heaven is envisioned as a place of imaginable beauty. We imagine heaven to be an eternal paradise. In Christianity we are taught that heaven is the realm of eternal life where the soul exists after the physical dissolution of the body. In Buddhism it is believed that the universe continually undergoes cycles and that the earthly existence is only one plane among many realms of existence. Hinduism also refers to a cycle of birth and death and mentions other planes of existence: specifically, six planes of heaven and twenty-eight planes of hell. In Islam, heaven is viewed as a physical realm of bliss, immortality and pleasures. It is described as a place where everyone is happy and every wish is fulfilled. Heaven is depicted as a lush garden and those who reside there will wear garments of silk and brocade.
Where is heaven? According to religious belief heaven is God's realm and it exists somewhere high in the skies. But is heaven an actual place? There are some who believe that heaven exists within our own physical universe and outside of our realm of awareness. As God's eternal realm, heaven most likely exists outside of time. That is to say, time does not exist in heaven. If time does exist in the heavenly realm, it must operate in a different manner than it does here on Earth, or there are other factors that contribute to the timeless state of existence in heaven. There are those that believe heaven may be another dimension. Although Judaism has no clear indications regarding a heaven or hell, some Jewish writings mention a new earth that will be the home of mankind following the resurrection of the dead.
Some people believe that heaven is a state of mind. It could be said that the state of eternal rest that follows death is also eternal bliss since there is no conscious thought but many people oppose such a view. People may be perplexed and even worried about being a disembodied entity after death. They may imagine floating around aimlessly in the heavenly realm and find it difficult to fathom an existence without a body. People may fear such an existence because they cannot comprehend it. However, the Bible tells Christians that they will have a new body and it will be incorruptible, glorious and perfect. As the earthly body is suited for an earthly existence, the spiritual body will be suited for a spiritual existence.
Some religions believe that the soul enters the realm of heaven or hell immediately after death, while others believe that it enters a deep state of sleep where it remains until the final judgment. At that time, the soul is united with the body and, if found worthy, enters the realm of heaven. Many religions believe that one must lead a good, virtuous life to be able to enter the kingdom of heaven. Christians believe that one must accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and be born again to be saved, thereby gaining entrance to the heavenly realm. According to Hinduism, whether a soul ascends to heaven or descends to hell depends on the karma it has accumulated through good and bad deeds performed through incarnations in earthly existence. Hinduism also presents a strong belief in reincarnation and heaven is seen as a temporary state where souls enjoy respite until the next incarnation. In Hinduism, souls aspire to a state of Moksha, which is a liberation from the cycles of life and death where the soul joins with God.
So what will we do in heaven? People often mention that it might get boring if all we do is sit around playing harp music. It seems only reasonable that we would have duties and responsibilities as we do on earth, perhaps even jobs. It seems logical that we would continue to progress along the spiritual path in the heavenly realm. If we retain our memories and individuality, then it only stands to reason that we would also spend time with our families and friends in the realm of heaven. There are those who believe that we have the choice to return to an earthly existence by means of reincarnation. They believe that heaven is a sort of intermission between lives. Maybe heaven is not that much different from life on earth, just better, because we will be in the presence of God instead of being in a state of separation.
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