Heaven has been a hot topic lately. One weekly newsmagazine had a section on heaven that included a survey of what people believe about heaven. Most folks still think heaven is far off, the results showed. On a sad note, the Heaven's Gate group in California, searching for heaven, thought that suicide was a method of leaving their bodies so they could make spiritual progress.
Where is heaven? What is it? The astronauts didn't find heaven in outer space. Is it filled with angels and music? Is it where God is? Is heaven where we go when we have been good on earth and then die? What about hell? Does heaven have an opposite?
These most basic of theological questions all come to mind in thinking about the subject of heaven. Humankind has been searching for centuries for the harmony and joy that heaven supposedly brings. Death has very often been seen as the way to reach heaven.
The teachings of Jesus Christ do show the way to heaven, and make clear that it is not through death. Jesus repeatedly referred to the kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven. The prayer he taught his disciples begins, "Our Father which art in heaven" (Matthew 6:9). Mary Baker Eddy, who founded this newspaper, provided a spiritual interpretation of the Lord's Prayer in the Christian Science textbook; it says in relation to that first line of the prayer, "Our Father-Mother God, all-harmonious" (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 16).
Heaven is actually a state of consciousness governed by God. It is a conscious awareness of peace, of one's unity with God, and of joy as present and real. As Jesus said, "The kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:21). So it's not in outer space; it's in "inner space." Heaven is not a physical place but a place of understanding.
Most people have felt a deep joy and a feeling of well-being at least from time to time. That hints of heaven. The ability to gain that heavenly feeling is within us all. And it involves knowing our relation to God, our heavenly Father. The way to heaven, as shown in the Science of God's law, Christian Science, is to understand that God is Love, and that we are made in His image, spiritual. The Scriptures say this.
Knowing ourselves as blessed, cared- for children of God is important in order for us to feel the peace of heaven within us. God is totally pure and perfect, and He preserves eternally all that He creates. We don't have to go anywhere to find our identity or feel God's love. We do have to realize the heaven that is within us right now.
Through the centuries heaven has seemed a far-off reward, a relief from the sins and sorrows of this world. But the Bible teaches that salvation is now, and that we are the children of God now. For instance, you can read in First John: "Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God. . . . Beloved, now are we the sons of God" (3:1, 2).
One time my life seemed like hell. I was attracted to a married man who was also attracted to me. I felt guilt (which is a form of hell) and knew that the attraction was wrong. For all the heaven that the attraction seemed to promise, there was only heartache. The happiness was false and deceptive. I removed myself from the situation, but was left suffering self-condemnation. I turned with all my heart to God. I focused my thoughts and prayers on the truth that no matter how hellish a situation is, God is always present to guide us. I began to realize that, in spite of my troubles, God had always seen me as His good and pure child, and did right then. With this, the feelings of hell disappeared, and in their place was a deep and honest feeling of joy and harmony-of real heaven. And, actually, my whole life changed for the better within the space of a few months.
Right now heaven is within us. Nothing can separate us from good, from God's love. The millennium, a comet, or a charismatic leader cannot supersede, threaten, or defeat God's plan for each of us. We don't need to put off heaven into the "hereafter," for if we do, we are unwittingly denying that God exists here and now. The gateway to heaven is in knowing more about God and about our relation to Him.