If I have ever encountered a person who does not intend to go to heaven, does not believe they are going to heaven, or does not somehow believe that they are going to make it to a better place in the end, I have been unaware that the person felt that way. The idea of heaven seems to be universal for humans, regardless of the name that a person may give the place, state of mind or some other portion of one’s consciousness is in consideration.
With some research about the idea of heaven or something that happens to a person following death, I learned that the Hebrews were arguing among themselves about heaven and related ideas around the time of Jesus. The two most important groups were the Sadducees and the Pharisees.
The Sadducees believed that the soul is not immortal, that there is no afterlife, and there are no rewards or penalties after death. They rejected the idea of the resurrection of the dead. They believed that God does not intervene directly in human affairs since God gives humans free will.
The Pharisees believed there was “the world to come” and that the dead would be resurrected. They believed that wicked people were punished in the afterlife while righteous people were rewarded. Pharisees believed that God intervenes to a limited extent in human affairs. They also believed that people have free will but that God has foreknowledge of human destiny. A group called the Essenes carried this idea of foreknowledge of human destiny farther with the belief that God predestines everything that happens. This belief of the Essenes is shared by many Moslems.
A group such as the Pharisees could be subdivided by ideas that further divided Jewish thinking. An example is that within the Pharisees, not all held the same beliefs concerning the soul and resurrection. According to Josephus, who himself was a Pharisee, at least some of the Pharisees held that only the soul was immortal and the souls of good people would be reincarnated and “pass into other bodies,” while “the souls of the wicked will suffer eternal punishment.”
There are those who claim to believe that we are somehow predestined to live the life we live. Some carry it so far as to profess that we walk through life taking steps that have been predetermined by God. I feel that even such people believe that each of us can affect outcomes in our lives to some degree due to the free will we are given. If all outcomes were predetermined, what sense would life make? Why have any discussion of morality, justice, and other basic facets of society? I believe we are given free will which we tend to exercise constantly. Also, if a person is predestined, it would not matter what decisions you make as you live since you cannot change your destiny anyway. To me, it seems caring would be pointless. Life would be boring.
An illustration to support my belief is from the story of the butterfly effect. The story tells how when a butterfly flaps its wings to move from one place to another, even that tiny movement of air displaces objects around it, changing their positions and other qualities. The cumulative effect of changes set into motion by even such a small force can lead to progressively greater changes such that it could even change the weather across the world. The moral of the story is that we all have an effect upon each other with our words and actions or inaction.
Many of those who practice Buddhism, Hinduism and related east Asian religions believe in reincarnation and karma. A brief explanation is that the goal is to reach a state of eternal peace where one’s soul has escaped the cycle of reincarnation, life, and death, basically reaching what Christians would consider heaven. An interesting concept believed by many in these eastern religions is that the last bondage to break in order to break the cycling of life, death, and reincarnation is to lose the desire to break the cycle of life, death, and reincarnation (basically, it is achieved when one does not live life with the goal of reaching heaven). Karma is basically the net results of good and bad deeds in one’s life and it determines whether or not one moves closer to or farther from heaven or nirvana as one proceeds from one cycle to the next.
The basic Islamic belief is that of resurrection and either the reward of heaven or the punishment of hell. Most of the other religions with fewer adherents tend to have some version of heaven andor hell involved.
All of the various Christian denominations, sects, and cults believe in a heaven for the afterlife. There are variations in the belief. There are some who believe that a soul is predestined before birth to heaven or hell. Some believe that heaven is a reward for righteousness or following the rules. Some believe that the individual person, due to God granting free will, actually determines for himself whether or not he or she enters heaven. Then some believe as I believe, that the kingdom of heaven is at hand or that it is within oneself. In this last case, heaven is present and is something a person can bring through relationship with God through Jesus. The way a person lives each moment can affect everyone around them and through a relationship with God through Jesus the heaven within is released to the world. It is a gift that God has given all of us to share, but we must learn how to release it and share it as we live. It is similar in ways to the idea of karma.
Volumes have been written and could be written on the subjects of heaven and hell. It is not my point here to discuss or explain in any great detail the differences between the variations in belief among the world’s religions. My basic premise is that all humans (yes, that includes atheists) with the capacity to think as functioning adults or even as a nearly functional adult, believe there is something like heaven and perhaps also believe in something like hell whether they admit it or not.
This returns me to the subject of this post, “buying a stairway to heaven”. A question for readers to consider with this post is, “Am I trying to buy (or build) a stairway to heaven?” Consider whether or not you are trying to earn your way to heaven by giving money to a church or to some charitable or social cause. If so, how much money does it require? Are you trying to follow rules to get to heaven? If so, what are the rules and what is the required success rate for keeping each of the rules? Are there any rules you can break that eliminate the chance of getting to heaven? How many times must one pray or attend church, temple, or mosque to make it through the gates? Or, after everything else that you have tried, are you somebody who still seeks the stairway to heaven and all you ask of God is for guidance in finding it?
Some religious groups believe that all that is required is that one professes a belief or set of beliefs to make it to heaven. Some people believe it depends upon some act or acts such as baptism, joining a church, prayer, or recital of a creed. If you happen to be in a group that believes you are predestined to either heaven or hell, it seems life could get rather depressing and hopeless rather easily. Some believe that there is a massive ledger kept on their lives and that God has a formula of some sort that determines just who makes it into heaven and who is cast into hell. Most Moslems believe that there are five basic activities to accomplish in life to make it to heaven. Some believe that as little as one special activity will get them to heaven. It seems that the institutions of most religion have a way of making it difficult to determine when one has done enough of the right things to reach heaven. The adherents of the belief system can then become caught in a never ending process of chasing heaven by meeting more and more of the demands of the religious authorities.
Through a careful consideration of the entirety of the Bible and by applying the teachings of Jesus, my decision on finding the stairway to heaven is that the first step is shown to us by Jesus in Matthew 22: 36-40 (known as the greatest commandment). Jesus goes on to tell us how the kingdom of heaven is near and repeatedly reminds us of the importance of our treatment of God’s creation (does it sound like karma?), in particular our treatment of other people. Do we share with others and assist those less fortunate and who are blessed less than we are blessed?
I have been through the popular Christian rituals of being saved, baptized, prayer, communion, and Bible study. I have studied the other major religions. I have questioned God many times. I have listened to many preachers, priests, and other religious people. My reading list is longer than I care to admit. I may be wrong. All I am asking is that you consider what I say for yourself. I am comfortable with it.
After many years of increasingly consistent practice of the greatest commandment, I have found that I feel much the way that is described as the last step in the Buddhist way to nirvana. The goal of making it to heaven is no longer a goal to me. Heaven ceased to be a goal for me many years ago as my understanding of Jesus grew. It was long before I learned much about the beliefs of Buddhists and Hindus. Most important to me is the way I walk the path and how I interact with the world as I walk it. If you have read my other posts, you may recognize that Grandma Duke tried to teach me the importance of living moment to moment with Jesus when I was just a little boy. The problem is that so many other people and most of our society added to a building confusion for me as I grew up and I did not really pick up on what Grandma said until later on in life. For me, the concern for reaching heaven was replaced by a confidence in the teachings of Jesus and where that would lead me.
And she’s buying a stairway to heaven. Inspiration from Led Zeppelin. Music is so often a spiritual experience for me.
I am sure Grandma made it up the stairway although I do not remember her talking about heaven or any concerns about it. Maybe she had ceased to chase it and had decided to live it. I believe we all have the same calling.