|Beliefs in Heaven
An Essay on 'Beliefs in Heaven'
By Peter Longley, MA (Cantab)
A graduate from Cambridge University in theology and author of 'Two Thousand Years Later', 'Love is Where Your Rosemary Grows', 'A Star's Legacy' and 'Beyond The Olive Grove', the first Two volumes of 'The Magdala Trilogy'.
The polytheistic religions that preceded Judaism and Christianity in the civilized world were not concerned with heaven as a goal, but saw heaven simply as the playground of the gods—eternal, but outside our experience. For us as mortals, the gods could shape our lives by their immortal ability to live in both our world and that mysterious playground above.
The concept that the playground was above, was to men, a given. We believed our earth to be flat—lands surrounded by water on a great disc. Below us, was fire that periodically broke out into our experience in seismic and volcanic activity. Above us, was a blue canopy that in biblical terms we referred to as 'the waters above the firmament'—Genesis 1:7. We believed that this canopy was blue because it also contained water, because it was from this canopy that the rains fell to our earth. Just as the earth revealed fire below, so this canopy, in which moved the sun and moon, our day and nighttime luminaries, revealed our source of rain and light from above. The stars were seen as windows to light above the canopy, and every so often the gods even opened great chasms to this light allowing mysterious divine forces to fork out from the canopy as lightning. We had no knowledge of stars as suns, planets or galaxies, but just as nighttime luminaries opening into heaven.
Throughout the Ancient World there was no great reason to dispute this order of things either in the Graeco-Roman world or in Middle Eastern societies that spawned the religious philosophies of ancient Egypt, Israel and Mesopotamia. Interpretations of the gods, and development of monotheism leading to Judaism, Christianity and later Islam, all took place against this scientific belief in a flat stationary world sandwiched between the playground of the gods and the fire below.
Thus it was that we named our planets and constellations after our gods as portals to their particular part of their playground. In ancient Egypt, we started to elevate our rulers to the status of gods. In their divinity, they could not die, but would have immortality in that playground above. And so started an idea that we could somehow, through circumstances of Royal birth, live forever with the gods. In the Graeco-Roman pantheons, the gods at times mixed with mere mortals creating half-immortal children, who in legend, like Egyptian royalty, could live forever. So what was this place like above the canopy?
As mere mortals, we could only interpret it in human terms—a replica of our earthly world. And so we came to bury our immortals with all the finest trappings of their mortal lives, with royal jewelry, chariots, boats, weapons, and even entombed slaves, who died with their entombed masters' spirits in order to serve them in the after-life in that playground of the gods. In Egypt, whole religions grew up around the industry of ensuring peaceful passage of Egyptian Royalty into this eternal world. The great Egyptian monuments—pyramids, sphinx, temples and tombs—all tell the same story...the Egyptian obsession with the need for their Royalty to make this passage. Egyptian agrarian and cultural life was all geared around this task in one of the most amazing super human efforts of any civilization. But, if the Egyptians could see their leaders as gods, it is not so surprising that a group of their subject people, the Hebrews, developed their own ideas about being led by a god. Ancient legends attached these people to some ideas of a tribal god in stories of their origins in Mesopotamia and a migration from Ur to Canaan along the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East. Somehow, these early origins centering on the patriarch, Abraham, became absorbed into Egyptian history as part of the great sweep of imperial powers ebbing and flowing along the Fertile Crescent. The legends resurfaced in the Habiru, or Hebrews, who as a conquered people exiled in Egypt had risen first to favor, even close association with Egyptian Royalty, and then to disfavor, and a life of slavery.
As slaves, at a time of Egyptian chaos, largely brought about by agrarian disasters that we see biblically represented in the plagues of the Book of Exodus, these Habiru miraculously escaped from their plight under the leadership of Moses, who drew substantial members of their race out of Egypt into the relative safety of the harsh deserts of Sinai and the Negev. Moses attributed this rescue to the guidance of that tribal god of legend that had led Abraham from Ur to Canaan, and Moses believed that this God would lead His people back to their Promised Land. Monotheism was born. Unlike the Egyptian rulers, Moses, as leader of this wandering tribe, did not consider himself their god, or take on any pretence of Divinity. Perhaps this was because of the harsh cruelty that he had seen this imposed on the Egyptian people. Instead, he entered into a dialogue with the legendary tribal god of the Habiru, establishing a belief in one God, the Almighty, who had chosen His people. In this mystical dialogue, Moses established a new covenant with his people that was based in legend, on the old covenant with Abraham, but had new substance in the decalogue of laws that Moses believed God to authorize—The Ten Commandments. Moses had been brought up in the Royal court—a prince of Egypt, and as such was literate and probably well read. His followers were for the most part illiterate slaves. It was easy for them to believe that the Ten Commandments were given to Moses by God on a mountaintop in Sinai. It is also very probable, that inspired as Moses was on that mountaintop, he also had awareness of ancient law codes known to the Egyptian court, which might allow for the similarities between the Ten Commandments that we must presume Moses conceived for his tribal people, and the basic laws of the Mesopotamian Code of Hammurabi. Whatever, this decalogue became the foundation of the laws that were to govern the Jewish people in their relationship with their unique God—Yahweh or Jehovah. Vowels are not written in Hebrew, only pronounced, which is why we find both names. Yahweh is merely Jehovah without the vowel sounds. Ultimately, the wandering tribes of the Hebrews enter their Promised Land, although Moses himself died before the conquest, which fell to his right hand man, Joshua.
The conquest took some time to complete, as apart from Moabites and Canaanites, there was fierce opposition from the Philistines. The history of Ancient Israel that then follows shows an ebbing and flowing tide that runs over the geographic area, governed by the power or weakness of the ancient empires to Israel's north and east along the Fertile Crescent, and successive periods of power and weakness in the dynasties of Egypt to the south west. When there was peace, however, the little kingdom flourished, reaching its zenith under King Solomon. Because of the fragile nature of Israel's geographic position, however, the monotheism of Judaism developed in a unique way. Yahweh was seen to be protector and admonisher at the same time. Obedience to the Law, as laid down by Moses and worked over by others, was paramount, of which the Decalogue remained the central core, but appeasement also played a very significant part, as in many religions. Sacrifices were offered on the altars of the Temple in Jerusalem in order to keep the nation in a right relationship with Yahweh. When the ancient empires overran the little kingdom, it was considered that Yahweh was punishing his people for their sins—the appeasement was not enough. Prophets became the mouthpieces of warning and reconciliation. But, despite disastrous conquests by Assyrians, Babylonians and Persians, Yahweh is never seen to desert His chosen people. Even from exile, a remnant always returns. With each exile, however, certain foreign elements creep into Judaism, of which the most significant were Persian influences of creatures of salvation—angels, and their opposite counterpart—demons.
Angels and demons were not a part of Egyptian beliefs and had no serious place in the Graeco-Roman world, but they brought a challenge to Judaism when they crept in after the Babylonian and Persian exiles and play a major part in creating the Jewish ethos for heaven and hell that was further developed in Christianity and Islam. Angels and demons appear in the post-exilic period to be spirits, possibly Divine helpers, and might have entered Persian lore from Indian plurality in Divine concepts. They survived in Persian lore resurfacing as the jinns and jinnis of Arabic Islam. One can work out the age of parts of the Old Testament, especially the books of Moses known as the Pentateuch and the basis of the Torah, by looking at the names given to God. Sections of the Hebrew refer to God as Elohim, Yahweh or Jehovah respectively, and from these names we can detect the order in which parts of the Pentateuch were written, ranging from the ninth century BCE to the fourth century BCE. Generally, the Elohim sections are the oldest. Ironically, when we study the books of Moses in this way, we find much of the oldest material in chronological history to be the last to be written, especially as laid out in Genesis, much of the Genesis material actually being finalized during and after the Babylonian and Persian exile of the Jewish people. It is here that we find most the references to angels and demons, including the character of Satan himself.
As spirits, another explanation of angels and demons can be the belief that they are the spirits of the departed, who from time to time are able to intercede for us with our God. In this concept, as in the Graeco-Roman pantheon of gods, we apply to these spirits a mirror of our human existence—hence angels and demons, the good and the bad. As the Jews never faltered in their belief in the one God, Yahweh, they favored the idea in the post-exilic world that these angels and demons were departed spirits awaiting a time of judgment when the good would be separated from the bad. As both angels and demons were seen to be departed spirits, the idea of Satan as a fallen angel was perceived to lead the demons and thus allow for some of the spirits to act as evil tempters as opposed to the angels, who could act for us as intermediaries to God. For the Jews in the period immediately before the Christian era, the home of these spirits was considered to be Sheol, which in the fourth century BCE Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Septuagint, is translated as Hades. Sheol or Hades, is not Heaven or Hell, but a holding place for the departed spirits. Among the Jews, there was fierce debate in the last three centuries before Christ as to what God's plan for these spirits might be—a debate that was still raging in the Sanhedrin, the High Priestly Council, between Sadducees and Pharisees at the time of Christ. The Sadducees, mostly of the moneyed, priestly class, adhered to the appeasement tradition of Temple sacrifice and ritual. They rejected almost all belief in angels, demons, after-life or resurrection, whereas many Pharisees feared the end time was near and there would be an ultimate judgment leading to resurrection for the angels and eternal damnation for the demons. As most Sadducees did not believe in a physical resurrection, they had no real cause to believe in Heaven as any place of the future, but simply as a dwelling place of God.
However, resurrection was not unknown in the Old Testament, and is embodied in the story of Elijah, the archetype of the prophets, being taken up into Heaven in a fiery chariot. In the Pharisaic tradition, Elijah was, therefore, seen as a forerunner of the end time, and many believed that he would come again to lead the angels, or good sheep of the house of Israel, to their resurrection at the end time. At every Passover, even in today's Judaism, this tradition is honored as the door is left open for Elijah and a cup of wine poured for him.
As the pharisaic Jews had rejected the playground of the gods, Heaven for them grew to be that same place, above, in that same cosmos, but the place of resurrection. It was not surprising, therefore, that in reverse, that place of fire, below the earth, became seen as the place of condemnation for the demons, and for those to be judged in the end time as the goats, or lost sheep of the house of Israel. The idea of Hell also developed in part, for the Jews, out of the practical use of the vale of Gehinnon just outside Jerusalem as the city's rubbish dump, often burning. As the idea of Hell developed, the place of torment was often called Gehenna until the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD.
Jesus was a messiah born into this whole debate. It would seem from his teachings that he held a more Pharisaic viewpoint than a traditional Sadducean one. Jesus preaches little about Heaven except as the dwelling place of God, expressed in its simplest and most obvious form in The Lord's Prayer: Our Father, which art in Heaven. His teaching is mostly about the Kingdom of God. At times, it seems that the kingdom is some future realm that some might consider to be Heaven, but for the most part I believe Jesus' teaching on the kingdom was more social, defining a better future way of life for mankind. This has to be seen against the Zealot political movement that was adhered to by many other messianic leaders—the political independence and freedom of the Jewish people, at the time of Jesus, mostly directed against Rome. The political leader, Barabbas, is a Biblical example of this kind of a messiah. Jesus, however, did not see messiahship in terms of warrior leadership, but sought more to see messiahship in humility and justice by a leadership of example and suffering. The teaching and parables of the kingdom adhere to this.
However, Jesus appeared to believe in angels and demons, and as such had a notion that there would be an end time of judgment. He also preaches on this judgment and the separation of the sheep from the goats. His death as a martyr, however, introduced the element of sacrifice, a more Sadducean viewpoint, and became the viewpoint of the early Christian church. Jesus became the ultimate appeasement sacrifice for the sins, not just of the Jews, but of mankind. This appeasement comes to almost overshadow the Kingdom of God in Christian doctrine. The supreme sacrifice of Jesus as the Son of God, and our resulting salvation, becomes the paramount doctrine. To those who adhered to this in the first two centuries after Christ, there was a firm belief that they were living in the end time and that the risen Christ—the Biblical proof that Jesus was the Son of God—would come again at the final judgment and preside over the separation of the sheep from the goats before establishing an eternal Heaven for those who had been saved.
In reality, it was most likely that Jesus was put to death out of fear more than anything else. This fear was based around the fact that as a miracle worker, healer, and charismatic speaker, he collected large crowds. The Roman authorities were fearful of such crowds and would gladly have eliminated such a person for the expediency of public safety and peace. One way or another, however, they created a martyr, and it was a martyrdom that only increased, especially among the poor and downtrodden, a hope in a better and eternal life beyond the grave.
One of the biggest debates in the first century as shown in the letters of St. Paul, especially to the Thessalonians, centered around the time lag between Jesus' death and his second coming to herald in the end time and this eternal life. Early Christians were dying before the promised 'parousia' or Second Coming. Where were they to go before the judgment? Here, we see the beginnings of Purgatory, the need for some waiting place for the faithful departed. Some might say that this purgatory is still ongoing, and it is still widely held in Christian doctrine. Christianity developed a concept of deadly sins for which there could be no redemption, but it also acknowledged that sins had to be counteracted by good works, and that if not deadly sins, then this process could be ongoing after death in the state of purgatory, even aided and abetted by the prayers of the church and those left behind. The sixteenth and seventeenth century Protestant reformers categorically denied this, placing emphasis on justification by faith and grace rather than good works, a major contribution of Martin Luther.
It was also at the time of the Reformation that the first serious challenges to the cosmic order that Christianity had inherited from the ancient world manifested. The visual aspects of the universe were explored in greater depth through the use of the telescope, and stars were seen to be suns or planets forming galaxies and not windows of light into Heaven. The canopy was no longer logically a veil between the playground of the gods, or Heaven, and a flat earth, but an endless body of unknown matter observed from a round earth revolving around its sun, along with other planets, in a solar system that was just one among many. At first, the Church tried to vehemently oppose the new ideas, as they removed the logic that we are the center of God's universe, and the logic of the physical attributes of Heaven above and Hell below. So, where now is Hades, Purgatory, Heaven or Hell? But, so strong was the doctrine of salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in much of the known civilized world that the concepts continued despite the invasion of science. Aided in part by the revival of faith and grace over good works, although not to deny the belief that good works are actually performed because of the gift of the Holy Spirit—Christ guiding us to that faith and grace—Heaven becomes more and more the place of a sanctioned after-life where we all meet again in perfect harmony. That it becomes symbolized by angels, auras and harps, often, yes, still seen as above the clouds, makes it the magical destiny of our earthly life.
Lo! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
'Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?'
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through (the redeeming sacrifice of the grace bestowed by) our Lord Jesus Christ. —I Corinthians 15:51-58.
But, in a way, this is a magical destiny with many unanswered questions. If there is such a place, will its inhabitants recognize one another, or will they just be spirit? If in this heaven we are as we were on earth, will we appear as we were at death or in the prime of our lives? And, if as has been assumed in death, our brain cells have died, what recall will we have of those whom we knew in this life? In our earthly experience, to have cognizance means we must have a working brain, which in turn must be fed by blood that in turn must be created by energy that we acquire from food and drink. In this heavenly place, will there be food and drink to maintain this cognizance? And, if there is eternal sustenance in some form, will that sustenance as vegetation or flesh be immortal? If we are only there in spiritual form, which seems the only logical form, will we be brain dead? For what, therefore, have we been saved?
The concept of heaven as a place, remains in Christian and Islamic circles a high expectation, despite its lack of logic, but in other faiths, especially the Asian faiths, there is more emphasis on Divinity as the goal—the attainment of a pure Divine state of union with God, for most such faiths, achieved through the logic of a series of reincarnated lifetimes to perfect that Divinity—rather than a continuation of recognizable life as after-life. This goal of Divinity could be described as energy flowing down a river through many lifetimes until it reaches the ocean of God. This state of union is usually referred to as Nirvana. Is Nirvana Heaven? Maybe...
Perhaps we are wrong to think of Heaven as a place now that we no longer live in the cosmic understanding of first century Jews and Christians in that Graeco-Roman culture. Perhaps, rather than thinking of Heaven as a place for a resurrected after-life, we should think of Heaven as a state of being—that union with the Divine. On the premise that energy can not be destroyed, we can assume that our energy, the spark that runs our atoms and cells, is our immortality, and does go on. In scientific and evolutionary terms, we might say that we become one with the 'big bang', or whatever was, or is, the first cause of our universe. Surely, we can call that God and our immortal state as our godliness.
Jesus' teaching on the Kingdom of God, which appears to be his primary teaching in the gospels, is centered on creating a Godly society here on earth in our current lifetime, preparing us for the kingdom to come. Jesus saw the kingdom both as now and in the future. The kingdom appears to be based on social justice, love and forgiveness, rather than specific religious practices, such as sacrifice and ritual. If we follow this concept of the Kingdom of God, we can see a selfless lifestyle that gives us a glimpse of Heaven on Earth. Sometimes, we relate to this by saying that we are recognizing the Christ consciousness in each other when this occurs. It would seem that this was the prime message of Jesus during his lifetime, although unquestionably, like the Essenes and Pharisees, and given the circumstances of his times, he did believe in some form of after-life. His death became for his followers, however, a martyrdom. It was interpreted in the sacrificial concept of contemporary Jewish Temple ritual and a Divine necessity for our salvation. The cross and the Resurrection become more important than the Kingdom of God. The Resurrection, whether it was physical or not, was used as the proof that Jesus was the Son of God, and it was God Himself, who made this human sacrifice to take away our sinful nature. Jesus, the man, may well have seen good works in love as the road to Divinity, a glimpse for us all into what will become our experience in the after-life, but Jesus, the risen Lord of the early church, was seen as the sacrifice made for our redemption, so that forgiven of our sins we can rise with him into Heaven both physically and spiritually. So, we see developing in the First Century two routes to Heaven, one mapped out by our mental response to Jesus' call, and the other created by the early Christians immortalizing Jesus as the Son of God reconciling the world to Himself through the risen Lord and the miracle of salvation—a non-mental approach based only on faith. Both traditions have been preserved in Christianity, although the Protestant reformers, especially Martin Luther, placed a greater emphasis on justification of salvation through faith and God's forgiving grace rather than good works. For the most part, the gospels, at least St. Mark, St. Matthew, and St. Luke, follow the concept of the first route—our response to Jesus' Kingdom of Heaven. The letters of St. Paul in particular, along with other early writers, and at times the author of St. John's gospel, tend to follow the concept of redemption and salvation. It can be assumed, however, in the first century mind, that the Heaven to which both routes might lead, is still a place of physical cognizance. Neither, therefore, faces the challenge of how we can resurrect physical cognizance after becoming brain dead on death. Scientifically, we are pretty sure today that cognizance is a brain function and not a spiritual, or soul function.
The Buddhist and Asiatic approach to eternal life does not place much emphasis on recognition of this life in their concept of an after-life. The road to Nirvana or the Heavenly state, is found through a perfection of soul rather than mind. As the Divine within all life, the Chi of the Creator perfects each individual's life according to how much we allow it to do so, and then, through a series of reincarnations, we will eventually reach union with the first cause of all creation and attain the state of Nirvana. To elevate our Chi, or Divine essence, the Master of Oriental faiths plays down the mind, the human chatterbox that blocks our Divinity, and advances his spiritual body through meditation and contemplation. Thus, an empty mind can become pure spirit—the life force of God. Nirvana, or Heaven, is that mindless state of pure godliness. It is without physical recognition or form. To achieve a glimpse of this in human life, Buddhist monks and Zen Masters, and even Christian monks, spend many hours in contemplation and meditation. But, as humans, to achieve that requires great discipline and focus that are mind functions, so it would be wrong to conclude that those who practice this approach are mindless beings. It takes mind functions to create the mindless state where soul takes over from body. When this occurs, however, we momentarily rise out of the strictures of our dimensional beingness into a multi-dimensional state of being, beyond time, history, suffering and pain, or anything recognizable as life as we know it. That is a heavenly state, which could be our spiritual state after we become brain dead at death.
Is there, therefore, a world of spiritual essence, parallel to our world of mental cognizance? It would definitely seem so. Many testify to deathbed awareness of transition, as doctors and nurses will verify from our hospitals and nursing homes. Others testify to 'near death' experiences, when, momentarily, they leave their bodies on a spiritual journey, often seen as a tunnel of light, or a perceived glass wall of separation from loved ones as they move toward this light. A few are also actually able to train themselves into creating induced 'out of body' experiences. But, whatever these experiences may be, all such persons, whether close to dying in a near death experience, or entering into a self-induced 'out of body' experience, do return to this life and are forced to recount or interpret their spiritual experience to others through the limitations of their human brains. Were they dreaming? I don't think so. The trauma of 'near death' almost certainly causes chemical changes in a human's brain preparing itself to die. It is probable that these changes create the circumstances for a glimpse into that human's Divine spirit, but the glimpse is for the most part lost as the brain returns to a semblance of normality, chemically and physically. Now, some will say that in our dreams we can have similar experiences. The dream world is a very interesting reality of our human computer—the brain. In our conscious waking life, every record stored in our brain is subject to our dimensions in our universe—subject to history and time, and subject to every indoctrination that we have received within our universe. When we dream, we are free from these limitations, although we are working the same human computer. We can, in our dreams, access our files in any order and in any way without the restrictions of our indoctrinated waking consciousness. The results can sometimes be extremely interesting, even multi-dimensional, as they take us beyond the strictures of time. People, events and concepts are jumbled in a different order as past, present, and future, mix and mingle.
Which is the more real state—our conscious knowing, subject to the perceived dimensions of our universe, or the dream consciousness? Until relatively recently, dreams were seen as the prattling of our minds in sleep that we believed to have been brought on by our working emotions of joy, happiness, worry, and concern, or as a source for divine intervention—'It came to me in a dream.' But in a post-Einstein world, our perceived realities have become mathematically and philosophically challenged. We have some measured proof that time is only a dimension created by our limitations, and that the mathematics of space and our universe, in quantum physics, may lead us to glimpses of an equally real world where there is no past, present or future. Some call this a parallel universe. Could Heaven simply be access to a parallel universe where we are not brain dead, but truly living in eternity, without reference to our perceived past, present or anticipated future. Indeed, in this parallel universe can we actually create a different past, present and resulting future? Can we live in both universes, or within different dimensions in several different universes? This is where conjectured science and religious philosophy now merge. This thinking does have the advantage of removing the obstacle of cognizance in a spiritual world after death, for that death was only death in our current universe limited by the dimension of time. If our death in this universe experience is actually only the portal for transporting us, brain and all, into a parallel universe, can we call that Heaven? Heaven would then become the reality, and access to our past earthly life in this universe the mystery.
The truth is that we are today, by our perception, more advanced in our physical, mathematical, and philosophical thinking, than was Moses, Jesus, or the Buddha. But this does not necessarily make us any the wiser, for the more we prove, learn, and make conjectures about our universes, the greater becomes our knowledge of our ignorance. In the Ptolemaic understanding of our fixed universe there was little to question—the flat firmament of land, surrounded by water enclosed in a canopy that held the heavenly bodies as luminaries for us and as portals to a heavenly playground of the immortals above the canopy. In the fissures of fire below the earth, there was little to question in a potential place of torment. Moses, Jesus, or the Buddha, and their followers wisely interpreted their perceived known world. We think we now know so much more, but the greatest wisdom that we must have, greater than any of them needed, is the humility of now knowing how little we know. And the truth is, because of the limitations of our human brain, intricate and wonderful though it is, none of us can know, if even then, until we pass through that portal of death, regardless of whether it lands us in Hades, Purgatory, Heaven, Hell, Nirvana or a parallel universe. There is, therefore, much to be said for Jesus' teaching on the Kingdom of God, his parables of social justice and his message of love and forgiveness. For the portal of death is that last judgment in this dimension.
'When the Son of man comes in his glory,'
Jesus says, 'and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then, the King will say to those at his right hand:
"Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me."
Then, the righteous will answer him:
"Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?"
And the King will answer them:
"Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me."
Then, he will say to those at his left hand:
"Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his (fallen) angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me."
Then, they also will answer:
"Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?"
Then, he will answer them:
"Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me."
And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.'—St. Matthew 25:31-46
Few today, will equate this damnation with burning in the fires of Gehenna or Hell, and if Jesus becomes one's savior it should imply that this is not just a moment of signing on to salvation, even as a leap of faith, but the moment when we recognize the Christ in each other. We will then live by the fruits of the spirit that will become obvious by acknowledging the Divine Chi within us. So, a modern concept of Hell might be more in tune with the Buddhist's interpretation of earthly life. Hell in this life can teach us the joy of Heaven in the next life.
As the Buddhist monk goes through this same portal of death, does he come before the same Son of man for judgment? If he has not perfected his holiness by his meditation and contemplation, he will, by his definition of life, be reincarnated until, through a series of lifetimes and life forms, he reaches the full enlightenment of Nirvana when he, too, will be judged as one of the sheep. Hell for him, is the suffering of life, and with each reincarnation he will learn from the suffering of life the bliss of eternal harmony, for the suffering is only the result of an imbalance in the powers of his Divinity as it rubs against the Divinity of nature and others in the wheel of life. With his focus on the Divine within all creation, ultimately his eternal harmony with the Divine will be achieved. Is it the same portal—The gateway to Heaven?