Will Heaven Be Boring?

Maybe not the most sanctified question but after reading a fascinatingly sobering piece about the “troubles” in Northern Ireland I had to ask.

Sure the idea of no more suffering has appeal:

1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling placea of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people,b and God himself will be with them as their God.c 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21)

But part of what makes a story like this one in the New Yorker about Belfast so riveting is precisely the presence of mourning, crying, pain, loss, injustice, and death. For instance:

The disappearance of Jean McConville was eventually recognized as one of the worst atrocities that occurred during the long conflict in Northern Ireland known as the Troubles. But at the time no one, except the McConville children, seemed especially concerned. When Helen returned home, she and Archie went out to look for Jean, but nobody could—or would—tell them anything about where she had been taken or when she might be back. Some weeks later, a social worker visited the apartment and noted, in a report, that the McConville children had been “looking after themselves.” Their neighbors in Divis Flats were aware of the kidnapping, as was a local parish priest, but, according to the report, they were “unsympathetic.”

Rumors circulated that McConville hadn’t been abducted at all—that she had abandoned her children and eloped with a British soldier. In Belfast, this was an incendiary allegation: Catholic women who consorted with the enemy were sometimes punished by being tied to a lamppost after having their heads shaved and their bodies tarred and feathered. The McConvilles were a “mixed” family; Jean was born Protestant and converted to Catholicism only after meeting her husband. The family had lived with Jean’s mother, in a predominantly Protestant neighborhood in East Belfast, until 1969, when they were driven out, as internecine tensions sharpened. They sought refuge in West Belfast, only to discover that they were outsiders there as well. Several weeks after the abduction, on January 17, 1973, a crew from the BBC visited the apartment and taped a segment. As the younger siblings huddled on the sofa—pale children with downcast eyes, looking shy and frightened—the reporters asked Helen if she had any idea why her mother had left. “No,” she said, shaking her head. Agnes McConville, who was thirteen, noted, hopefully, that her mother was wearing red slippers when she was taken away. She added, “We’ll keep our fingers crossed and pray hard for her to come back.”

So the dark and conflicted parts of life that make the Coen Brothers movies sing will no longer be part of the titles in my Netflix queue in the New Jerusalem. Hard to fathom.

Not only that, but the very notion of a narrative and a direction in history — part of what defines dramas, stories, movies, and history, a beginning, middle, and end — will no longer be part of human consciousness. Or what will be is some sort of awareness of living in a constant or on-going end.

Again, hard to imagine. Can anyone help (all about) me?


All that Flesh, and No Where to Put It

Mark Jones departs from the Puritan opposition to Advent and Christmas by posting about the incarnation. But once again his excitement to make a point may get the better of him:

This shows us just how much God loves “flesh” (i.e., human nature). God is forever identified with humanity because of the incarnation. Thus, heaven will be a “fleshly” place. Not at all “sinful,” but certainly a place where we will be more truly human than we are now. If our bodies and souls are to be redeemed, Jesus had to possess a body and soul, since whatever is not assumed by Jesus cannot be healed. One is not more important than the other, as though we yearn for the day when we can shed our bodies and live as “free-floating” souls. Far from it. We yearn for the day when our bodies and souls are both transformed into the likeness of Christ’s glorious body (1 Jn. 3:2 “…we shall be like him”…).

Funny thing is, this will be an odd sort of fleshly existence where men and women won’t have an obvious reason for those parts of the human body that Paul says are “unpresentable” (1 Cor 12:23).