(an excerpt from “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Heaven… But Never Dreamed of Asking!” by Dr. Peter Kreeft)
The more you love, the more you can suffer…. The dilemma, then, is this: If God cannot suffer, how can He really love us? But if He can suffer, how is He God? To answer this question would also be to answer the question of whether and how we can suffer in Heaven, for Heavenly children resemble their Heavenly Father.
The answer requires us to distinguish between two ingredients of earthly love and caring, an active and a passive ingredient, that are together in fact but distinguishable in thought. Say a parent loves a child who has done something harmful to himself. The parent’s love speaks two words to the child. The first word, the word of active caring for the other, says, “How could you do this to yourself?” The second word, the word of passivity and vulnerability, says, “How could you do this to me?” God loves us with the first love only, and the blessed in Heaven will love as God loves. We cannot blackmail God. We cannot make Him wring His hands by holding our breath until we turn blue in the face. He truly loves and cares, yet He is invulnerable—not by being aloof but by being supremely active, not passive.
If our spirits are similar enough to God, we too can love without sorrow or vulnerability because we love only with the active feeling of caring, not the passive feeling of being hurt….
When a thing is enormously beautiful, it hurts. What Heavenly fact is imaged in this earthly mystery? Perhaps the ultimate fact of all, the nature of God, the inner life of the Trinity as a system of self-dying, self-giving. Perhaps this is the deepest reason of all for pain on earth, and the solution to the “problem of evil”: Why does a good and loving God allow so much earthly suffering? To train us for Heaven’s joyful suffering and to enact, to incarnate, to manifest the ultimate law of reality on our human level: the law of death and life, blessed self-death (no longer blessed for fallen creatures) leading to eternal life.
“He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4 RSV-CE)
I wanted to continue my thoughts from an earlier blog post “The Problem of Hell”… reading Dr. Kreeft’s beautiful philosophical musings inspired me to see things in a new light. For those who enter Heaven and receive the beatific vision, it’s not that God anesthetizes them to any pain or suffering. Rather, they become more like God in active (not passive) love. The kind of love that forgives so completely, that even if a loved one were to reject God and Heaven, they would only ask, “How could you do this to yourself?” With no ego involved, they no longer have the nagging burden of “How could you do this to me?”
In this sense, there can still be suffering in Heaven (even if God wipes away all our tears). Because it is out of love, this kind of suffering is good and holy, in union with the Holy Trinity. It’s an acceptable pain, like a mother giving birth to a child. It relates to Jesus’ words: “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13 RSV-CE) It is a self-dying, self-giving love that continues on in the life to come. Dr. Kreeft also pointed out the kind of aching when something is “enormously beautiful.” God is supremely beautiful, because He is Unfathomable Love. To meet our God Who is Infinite Love, the One Who is all good and yet is rejected, we are then able to be imitators of Divine Love, to be rejected without bitterness or sorrow.
Another thing about Heaven… since it is a spiritual unity—like a body with many parts but with Christ as the Head, or like a bride (the Church) married to the groom (Jesus) for eternity—the beatitude “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4 RSV-CE) rings especially true. In hell, there is no unity, only the division sowed by the evil one. Thus, they can never console each other. But Heaven is the opposite of being alone, of having cold, selfish hearts of stone. I can imagine one’s heart being on fire with good will, and any suffering would only serve as fuel to make that fire grow.
I pray that all of us can make it there, becoming the saints that God created us to be. And may we bring an abundance of souls with us, according to God’s Holy Will.