I was sitting at White Duck one day thinking about Tolkien. A very me sentence.
Particularly, I was thinking about Tree and Leaf, and Tolkien’s and Lewis’ thoughts on heaven, and a realization hit me: there are some good things we do on earth that we will not be doing in heaven.
This struck me as one of those corollaries that is rather obvious when said, yet as it is explored, turns out to contain profundities. We won’t be working to end suffering, because there won’t be any suffering. We won’t bring compassion and mercy to the weak and hurting, because no one will be weak or hurting. We will decidedly not be fighting against injustice, because there won’t be any injustice to fight against. For many, these tasks are the very purpose of life, and yet in heaven, they will be completely absent! If “productivity” means furthering these humanitarian goals, then heaven will be utterly unproductive.
What will we be doing? Of course, that’s not entirely clear, but we do know it will involve praising and serving God, loving one another, enjoying everything that is, and gloriously exercising the Imago Dei within us. The specifics of what exactly this means are certainly up for debate, but these generalities are quite sure.
My hunch though, just to put some speculative meat on the bones of above, is that we will be playing soccer. Going backpacking in the truer, grander mountains, of which the Alps exist only to give us an idea. Laughing with Jesus at the high mystery of his incarnation. Eating new fruits. Singing poetry to one another and God without even noticing. Constructing beautiful buildings that are at once the embodiment of magnificence and humility. Just talking our hearts and hearing the hearts of others. Things like that.
With this realization solidified, my mind almost immediately moved to systemization; I am an engineer after all. I set up four categories of deeds: heavenly deeds, earthly virtues, hellish deeds, and neutralities.
Heavenly deeds are things we might do in heaven. In other words, these are deeds and activities for which we have been made to do since the beginning. These are the deeds our hearts most truly enjoy. Surely they are the highest, most complete pleasures. I have always felt an ardent love of Play, of board games and little fun competitions, and here I found a good solid reason for this. In a humble yet tangible way, board games are fulfilling the holy prayer to have “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
Earthly virtues are those good deeds that we will not do in heaven. These are virtuous responses to a fallen world. While we are on earth, there is suffering around us. There is sin in our hearts and the hearts of others. And so, there is work to do. We cannot spend all of our time playing games (this is a hard word for me); it is our obligation and privilege to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world. Breaking bonds, restoring hope, bringing peace, sharing the Good News.
Hellish deeds are fairly obvious—they are sins. They are things that do not come from love. They are breaking of the law. They are acts that are not in accord with God’s character. They are also not the main topic of this article.
These three categories were first, and once I had contemplated them for a bit, I tried to see if I could think of anything that does not fit into them. The example that popped into my head was doing my taxes. I doubt this will be something we do in heaven, and it certainly isn’t a hellish deed. Perhaps it could be called an earthly virtue because it is something unpleasant that you have to do on earth. And perhaps this can be generalized into the idea of chores. Will there be chores in heaven? Will they be transformed into pleasures? Sometimes they are pleasures on earth—maybe they are actually heavenly deeds that I can’t recognize? I’m not sure. But just in case there is some sort of amoral category of actions we can take, I included neutralities in my nice little system.
This was all very interesting and fun to me, and raised the question of whether heavenly deeds are naturally more enjoyable than earthly virtues. To comfort the bereaved, I’ve heard it said that we were not created to be able to handle death. These words can be extended to all of sin and its effects, and I’m not 100% sold that they are a valid way of thinking, but nonetheless, the converse is that we were created to enjoy God and his creation. So does this mean that I am forever doomed to prefer a board game to serving the poor?
This seemed a bad conclusion to my contemplation, and yet it also seemed a perfectly reasonable one. I am generally under the conviction that acts of mercy ought to be a pleasure, and indeed I have experienced this pleasure, many times. And yet, I also admit that as a genuine nerd and enneagram 9, my sin is that of sloth, and I could easily waste my life ignoring the woes of the world and instead building very enjoyable worlds in Minecraft with a small community of like-minded world-ignorers. In short, this contemplation lead to a justification of my selfishness, and thus made service harder.
The next thought I had was that perhaps I am just demonstrating why earth sucks and heaven rocks. Perhaps my American Christianity doesn’t want to accept that to live is Christ and to die is gain, or that we are to take up our cross. That sacrifice is normal. That service is indeed harder, yet is what we are called to in our brief time here on earth.
Well, I thought about this off and on for a while, not knowing what to think. I eventually sat down to write this article, to expound on the interestingness of my debacle. And I couldn’t quite remember at the time how this whole thing got started, so instead of the second paragraph I currently have up at the top, I wrote this:
Particularly, I was pondering his defense of writing fantasy literature. In his essay “On Fairy-Stories,” he speculates that the deepest reason mankind finds joy in Fairy-Stories is because they are acts of sub-creation. We enjoy them because through them, we are enacting a reflection of our own Creator.
These words sprang off the page. The same reason Tolkien enjoyed writing LotR is the reason we enjoy restoring the hurting: we are enacting a reflection of our own Creator. I had forgotten that for a minute. This gives a really good, solid reason why we ought to enjoy acts of mercy.
Anyways. All these thoughts happened in the span of about a month, more than a year ago. Finishing up writing this now feels pretty silly and meaningless. Even starting to write it a while ago felt silly. But, I think the whole story is interesting for a few reasons.
First, it gives you a little window into the odd mental struggles I go through. These sorts of conundrums happen to me relatively often. It is difficult to communicate this experience with people, but I want to because 1) of the balm of self-expression, and 2) it helps others get to know me. So, I wrote it down. I’ve found that is a good way for me to communicate.
Second, it’s a good illustration of what the Second Doctor meant when he said, “Logic merely enables one to be wrong with authority.” Too much abstracted thinking in too focused a path can lead to conclusions that are difficult to get out of, but which are faulty. Sometimes when we find ourselves there, the best thing to do is step back for a minute, talk with others to get an outside perspective, and simply be patient.
Third, some of the thoughts are certainly interesting in themselves. I especially like the important point that heaven will not have humanitarian pursuits. That’s fun.
And finally, I felt a desire to write, and also felt burdened by the topics I have been very slowly working on the past many months. So, I decided to write something less important and meaningful, and more meandering and whimsical. Thank you for indulging me.