Heaven and Earth

Robert Lamberton, Homer the Theologian: Neoplatonist Allegorical Reading and the Growth of the Epic Tradition (Berkley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1986) 216-217.

Proclus was a fifth century Neo-Platonist who treated Homer as an allegory. One problem many readers of Homer had was that he presented the gods as engaged in strife. For various philosophers, the gods were not influenced by passion in that way, plus even Homer often depicted them as “living eternally at ease on Olympus, which is to say, beyond our changeable sphere.” How could Homer view the gods as tranquil and peaceful, while also presenting them as fighting one another?

Proclus discusses one solution to the problem of Homer’s strife-prone gods: “the progressive fragmentation of the divine influences, which are unified at their source but become increasingly more divided as they proceed down to the level of angelic and demonic ranks in touch with the material universe and filled with strife.” My understanding of this scenario is as follows: picture a scale of “heaven” and “the material world.” In heaven, there is unity, but as you enter the material world, you encounter division and strife. I’m not sure if Proclus is saying that the gods in heaven are united, while the strife occurs among lower angels and demons. That very well may be his view.

I’d like to think that heaven is a place of both diversity and unity: angels and the spirit beings are different, since each one of them is a unique creation of God. Yet they are united in their love for God and one another. Acts 2:1 says that the disciples were “in one accord” when Pentecost occurred, and there are Christians who like to abuse this passage to make all Christians into clones of each other. But I’d like to think that it has more to do with love, not people compromising their identity.

In addition, speaking of heaven, I like Jonathan Edwards’ sermon, Heaven, A World of Love. Edwards says that we’ll need not be jealous of those who will be “above” us in heaven, since those “above” us will be “above” us precisely because of their humility, love, and servant mindset. Plus, those in the “lower” echelons won’t have jealousy, since their love will be magnified in heaven.

I often wonder if we are preparing on this earth to be part of that world of love, or if (as Edwards seems to imply) God will magically transform our hearts to become loving once we enter heaven. At Harvard, a Christian I knew said, “You know, a lot of Christians assume we’ll go to heaven and our hearts will be magically warmed so that we’ll embrace each other, even our enemies. But, if this is true, why’s Scripture want us to work at reconciliation?” If we’ll be transformed to become good in heaven, then why do we need to strive on earth for that holiness without which no man will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14)?

Yet, the material world is not heaven. It’s a place of strife. Love is an ideal to follow, yet it’s hard to feel unity with everybody. Even Jesus ran into conflict with people, and he didn’t have the petty jealousy or fragile egos that many of us carry around. His problem was that people did not value the righteousness that he valued, preferring sin and selfishness instead. I think of a section of Frank Peretti’s The Visitation, in which a man pretending to be Jesus Christ is losing his cool with people in his audience. Someone in the audience jokingly remarks, “Welcome to earth, God!” I don’t think Jesus is anything like the false Messiah in that book, but I do wonder what it was like for him to leave the peaceful, ordered, tranquil, righteous realm of heaven and come to this chaotic mess of a world.

When I was at Harvard, a Christian speaker told us that, as we grow in Christ, we’ll get the sense that this world is not our home, but that we’re meant for someplace else. I remember a Christian at DePauw saying something similar: “Why is it that I’m so happy at church but I get cranky when I get up in the morning and take a shower? Because I want to be with my Father!”

I’m somewhat mixed on this. Why don’t I feel at home in this world? It’s largely because of my difficulty fitting in, or simply because this world stinks! There’s a lot of strife on earth! Proclus had it right. I’d love to be in a place where people are warm and accepting. Russell Miller yearns for such a “city” in his post, The abyss (though, for him, the city’s not in heaven).

But is this world not my home because I’m on a different page than most of the people around me: I’m righteous and value the things of God, while those around me are the opposite? A pastor once told me that “it’s loneliest at the top,” meaning that, the closer we get to God, the more alone we become. My answer is “Not really.” Jesus was out-of-place in this world because he was pure while the world was not, but that’s not the case with me, for I carry many of the world’s attitudes inside of me. But I hope to grow.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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