Inspired by ‘Heaven is for Real’ (2014): director Randall Wallace: starring Greg Kinnear, Kelly Reilly, Thomas Haden Church
Visions of the realms of heaven and hell pervade Christian, Islamic and Buddhist eschatology. But can we be persuaded to believe that heaven is this idyllic dimension, full of extraordinary light and angels, where goodness and purity pervade everything and evil cannot thrive?
A young boy is taken seriously and suddenly ill, and undergoes emergency surgery. His mother desperately rings friends and begs for prayers to be said, while his pastor father finds the hospital chapel and shouts at God in a blaming way. Later, when the boy fully recovers, he mentions his visit to heaven to his father, where he met Jesus and various deceased relatives. This sends the pastor into circumspection and confusion. He refuses to preach and when he speaks to his flock he is filled with doubts and questions, unable to alleviate their doubts and give them the answers to the mysteries of Christian life which is his role. His living and thus his family’s future hangs in the balance, and yet he is unable to come to terms with his son’s experience of heaven.
The propaganda of Christianity as expressed in large organised religious groups since the Middle Ages, has been at pains to make all things that are invisible visible. There has been wholesale indoctrination via beautiful images, architecture and music, of the story of a good man named Jesus Christ, but it has been romanticised and hyped. Images have been bought into, thrust into the spotlight like all commodities and things popular, and so in a material world lacking in the pursuit of the sacred, people develop pride in and become attached to such things. But we are told by the mystics of all religions that we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven if we have even the tiniest grain of pride in our hearts. Clearly the pastor’s son has no pride at all. He therefore makes no separation between the visible and the invisible, and so is able to have such experiences, away from the hot fires of the self-will, anxiety, and benefit-seeking consuming the adults who look on.
After being drawn closer to such scorching fires, making the choice to believe or not to believe in ‘heaven,’ finally the pastor steps away from the heat. He tells his congregation, foundering without his leadership, that they must cast away their pride and open their eyes so that they can all see heaven in their daily life, in the eyes and actions of loving people, and in the simple things around them: in fact, here and now in this life. Without this realisation, we live in a burning hell, scorched by our emotions and desires. The states of ‘Heaven’ or ‘Nirvana’ are accessed by complete submission while we are in the world of form, or the ‘visible’ world. This is so that we can bring unconditional love and divine light to adorn the living hell that some of us choose to live. If we submit in this way, there are actually no choices.
Goodness and light are the opposite of Evil and darkness. In the dark world of “getting and spending,” we are blind, blocked, excluded and separate, in the dark alone. It is only when we let go and stand in the fast-flowing stream of reality, when we surrender, that the fires of attachment are extinguished and we are integrated into the seamless loop of reality which is our origin. George Taylor, one of the astronauts who crash-lands on Earth in an earlier film about similar subjects, Planet of the Apes (1968,) says scornfully, ‘I can’t help hoping there is something more than man.’ He also obviously has some insights into the invisible world beyond matter and form.
We can embody heaven in every moment, not just occasionally, or in adverse situations, or even vicariously as the pastor tries to do through the experience of his son, and the congregation does by refuting his visions but secretly hoping they are true. Every tiny thought which adheres to a negative emotion such as fear or greed, stokes up the fires of Hell and clouds our true mission in this life. It keeps us partitioned away from Oneness or ‘Heaven,’ marooned in the dry dock of the visible world.