Heaven has been depicted in various ways by different cultures and religions. These concepts range from literal, physical states of playing golden harps along golden streets to more symbolic representations of inner peace and connection with the One.
In light of collective and contemporary findings, Heaven does not appear to be only a future abode—with its own address and zip code—for a select few. The evidence indicates that Heaven is an open-ended possibility for all, now and forevermore.
In Let There Be Light, Aramaic scholar Rocco Errico, D.D., says that the ancients considered Heaven, which also means sky, cosmos and universe, to be the habitation of God. In addition, he states, “The term ‘heaven’ was also used metaphorically in the Bible to express the idea of peace, order and harmony… Figuratively, ‘heaven’ also means a greater consciousness, i.e., one in which thoughts of lack and fear disappear.
Thus one can readily see that the term ‘heaven’ also depicts a state of being and not just a specified location.”
In Matthew 3:2 and 4:17 of The Bible, Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” In Middle Eastern formulations, the term “at hand” was commonly used to depict something very near or inside. In Luke 17:21, Jesus also said of heaven, “Nor will they say, ‘Lo, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”
When pressed for details, Jesus likened the kingdom to leaven or a mustard seed—both small things with vast growth potential. None of these parables sounds as if he were describing a place in the sky—someday—maybe—for a select few.
For many of us, our perspectives about the afterlife came from orthodox religious teachings about heaven and hell. Taking scriptures literally can be problematic because of extensive alterations via interpretations, deletions, additions and translations. Political and church power struggles and collusions entered into the equation.
Councils voted on whether to include certain books or topics in the Bible. Over the centuries, scribes added or modified texts in an attempt to make the teachings more relevant and timely.
As a result of all this, irresolvable conflicts—such as an eternal place of torment—are taught that freethinkers cannot accept and children can’t imagine.
An elderly female caller shared the following story during one of my radio shows. At age ten, she attended a very fundamentalist church with her family. Upon hearing about God’s unfathomable love in one sentence and an eternal hell in the next, she was understandably confused and upset. After the service, when the preacher asked how she liked the sermon, she said, “I don’t believe in the hell part, God wouldn’t do that!” The minister retorted, “Well, young lady, if you don’t believe that, maybe you shouldn’t be in this church.” Her parents took her by the hand and told him, “Maybe we shouldn’t.”
Over the years, many older people have confided in me that they could never believe in a fiery place of torture for anyone. Such a concept blasphemes a loving God and scares many people away from seriously considering afterlife and soul issues.
These elders have learned to let go of past fears, trust their inner voice, and nurture personal relationships with God. Doing so frees them from archaic and erroneous teachings. Then the potential for experiencing heaven now and always becomes more apparent.
Of the Thomas Gospels, early Christian teachings that were not included in the Bible, Joseph Campbell states in An Open Life, “The disciples ask, ‘When will the kingdom come?’ And Jesus answers, ‘The kingdom will not come by expectation. The kingdom of the Father is spread over the earth and men do not see it.’ In other words, bring it about in your hearts. And that is precisely the sense of Nirvanic realization. This is it. All you have to do is see it. And the function of meditation leading to that is to dissociate you from your commitment to this body, which is afraid to die, so that you realize the eternal dimension is right here, now, everywhere.”
A firsthand experience of heaven can exist right now. Loving, serving and enjoying one day at a time is a key. Releasing fear and realizing how loved and assisted we are throughout eternity is another. Taking quiet time to remember these truths and living accordingly keeps us in touch with the kingdom, moment by moment.
During our radio interview, Aramaic scholar Dr. Douglas-Klotz said that heaven is, “Not a place but a way Creation can operate.” The Aramaic word shmaya, he says, best reflects the concept of “heaven when one recognizes the Oneness that is the universe.”
He continues: “Heaven is not a place in the Aramaic/Jewish conception. Heaven is a way of looking at life. So when Jesus or any of the Jewish prophets used the word heaven, they were talking about a vibrational reality. We can read this that Elohim—the One/ Many—created the universe in two modes: a vibrating, wavelike reality in which we are all connected (shemayim) and also an individual or particle reality in which we all have individual names, faces and purposes in life.”
Further, he states, “It is not as though heaven is somewhere else or a reward we get later but, rather, heaven and earth coexist side by side in this way of looking at life. The whole notion of heaven as a reward or something that is above us or some place we go after we die would be entirely unknown to Jesus and his listeners. It is not Hebrew thinking and only arises in a later interpretation of European Christianity.”
You may have noticed the similar descriptions of reality in this view and that of quantum physics. That such diverse—in subject, culture and time— schools of thought agree so thoroughly lends additional credibility to these models of reality.
When I asked him about the concepts that heaven and hell are levels of consciousness, degrees of closeness to or separation from God and knowledge of our real selves, Douglas-Klotz replied: “This is close to the original Aramaic. The Christian concept of hell is not found in the Hebrew or Aramaic language. The word usually translated from the Hebrew as hell—‘sheol’—means a chaotic passageway through which the soul passes after the body goes back to its various elements. The notion of hell as some sort of eternal punishment would not have been known or even understood by Jesus and his listeners. It was not in their native language.”
The term “chaotic passageway” reminded me of the dark tunnel described by near-death experiencers after a suicide attempt. I asked, “Are heaven and hell, then, at least in part, what we experience when we have our life reviews after death?”
To that question, Klotz answered: “It seems to me that they are, simply based on the language. The word for death in Hebrew, mawet, does not mean the end or the finish of something. It means a passageway into some other reality. This passageway involves, according to the Hebrew Scriptures, a period of confusion and a period of sorting out.”
By the way, whether we are conscious of them or not, we experience life reviews every day. Those reviews determine how we feel, whether life is more heavenly or hellish. And that state of heart and mind can be upgraded whenever we are ready. So, once again, similarities between meanings of an ancient language and validated NDE reports constitute additional confirmation of these concepts.
Reports from NDEs, authentic mediums, past life and spiritual regression subjects, and enlightened religious teachings agree. Varied meanings of heaven and hell include:
- Our states of consciousness now, our level of realization that God is all.
- How we feel depending on whether our lives are in alignment with higher principles, or not.
- What we experience when we die and review how we treated others and ourselves.
All three factors are, of course, under our control. The best example I’ve ever seen about a self-induced hell is a patient I’ll call Hank. He thought his life was so bad that he wanted to die, but the shotgun under his chin slipped at the last second. His face was blown off so he couldn’t talk or see.
Most of the hospital staff were freaked out by his plight and didn’t spend much time with him. I was in theology school at the time and reading books by Kubler-Ross, Ram Dass and others. I felt comfortable talking to him and tried to shed some light into his world of darkness. I told him that we would do everything possible to help him and that his situation could be a blessing if he wanted to make it so.
He made a motion that he wanted to write and, as best a newly blinded person can, scribbled: “God help me. I’m in hell.”
Indeed he was, but one of his making and one that could be changed any moment. He had put himself into a Helen Keller-type predicament and how she handled it is a legend. I sometimes wonder if he ever found those blessings.
Much evidence rejects outright any notion of a fiery eternal hell or eternal separation from the Divine Presence for anyone. In response to this statement, many people ask, “Even rapists, molesters, murderers and those who commit suicide?”
A heartfelt common sense about a God of love argues that all people can eventually choose to join the Light. This includes even those who are so grievously imbalanced as to hurt or kill others or take their own lives.
Christianity is the only major religion that teaches an unending place of torment and that is limited to only some denominations.
I remember lying in bed around age eight and crying because I was worried about the possibility of going hell. I was old enough to understand how horrible that place would be. I also feared that I would be in hell and my parents in heaven; the thought of never seeing them again was horrifying. I repeatedly prayed to God that I wouldn’t end up in hell.
How many other children and adults have likewise been scared to death about hell? Given the collective evidence, isn’t it time to remove that teaching from our language and teachings? Enough people have already suffered and had a wedge driven between them and their Higher Power over this one.
The best rebuttal to the erroneous notion of eternal hell came during one of my radio interviews on a station in Louisiana. An elderly woman called and shared these wise, loving words: “I have six children and I love them all. I don’t always approve of their actions, but no matter what they do, I will always love them. I think that’s the way God is, too.” That started a heart-felt discussion of more accurate understandings of what hell may be.