What Happens in Heaven?
While most Buddhist schools do not have a concept of heaven, the most popular school, Pure Land Buddhism, is centered around an idea of heaven similar to a Judeo-Christian one. According to a sutra describing the Pure Land, it is made of gold: “its touch is soft and pliable, the smell clean, and the light radiant.” Sweet winds blow through jeweled trees, waterfalls of nectar, treasure lakes and fragrant flowers. Thinking beings can pursue enlightenment surrounded by countless Buddhas and Bodhisattvas to help guide them. There is no illness, old age, or death in the Pure Land, and there is no danger of being reborn on earth or in any other realm where death occurs unless one vows to go there voluntarily to help others. The Pure Land is not an eternal abode. Rather, it is an wonderful, interim place to dwell in the progression toward complete enlightenment.
While many Wiccans believe souls are continually reborn, others believe that once a soul learns all its life lessons, it is granted eternal rest in a place called the Summerlands, a place of eternal summer, flowers, happiness, and sunlight.
While Hindu views of the afterlife focus on reincarnation, one tale describes “worlds obtained by meritorious acts and not by birth nor by the merits of fathers and mothers….Heaven is well provided with excellent paths…The Siddhas, the Vaiswas, the Gandharvas, the Apsaras, the Yamas and the Dhamas dwell there. There are many celestial gardens….Neither hunger nor thirst, nor heat, nor cold, neither grief nor fatigue, neither labour nor repentance, nor fear, nor anything that is disgusting and inauspicious; none of these is to be found in heaven. There is no old age either…Delightful fragrance is found everywhere. The breeze is gentle and pleasant. The inhabitants have resplendent bodies. Delightful sounds captivate both the ear and the mind. …There is neither sweat nor stench, nor excretion nor urine. The dust does not soil one’s clothes. There is no uncleanliness of any kind. Garlands (made from flowers) do not fade. Excellent garments full of celestial fragrance never fade. There are countless celestial cars that move in the air. The dwellers are free from envy, grief, ignorance and malice. They live very happily…”
Though many people believe that Judaism does not provide for an afterlife, heaven and hell do play important roles in rabbinic theology, though they are not directly mentioned in the Torah. Traditional Jews believe there is a heaven right after death and that there will be a resurrection of all souls and bodies after the coming of the Messiah. The afterlife is usually referred to as Olam Ha-Bah, the world to come, or as the Garden of Eden, and the resurrection of the dead is called Tkhiat ha-Meytim. All righteous people get a place in the world to come, but not all places are equal. A person’s status in the Olam Haba depends your actions in this life. Most traditional Jews believe that all righteous people, not just Jews, will have a place in the world to come.
The hereafter is the attainment of spiritual bliss. For Muslims, heaven is a completion of one’s spiritual journey, and the Qur’an uses similes and parables to describe it. Although the Qur’an describes heaven as rivers and streams of honey and milk and other physical descriptions of the beauties of this earth, such as “lofty mansions beneath which flow rivers,” the Qur’an is clear that these are only similes–because a person cannot imagine the beauty of the hereafter. Although physical descriptions are used for heaven, the rewards of the hereafter are beyond our conception. Heaven is described as “dar al-Salam,” the “ultimate abode of peace.”
Christianity American Baptist Churches
American Baptists believe that because of the idea of “soul freedom,” there is no one definitive ideal of heaven, according to Rich Schramm, spokesman for the American Baptist Churches. While conclusions drawn about Heaven from the Bible can be considered reliable, an individual’s interpretation is still a factor.
Heaven is the blessed community of all who are perfectly incorporated into Christ. Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness. To live in heaven is “to be with Christ.” This mystery of unity with God and all who are in Christ is beyond all understanding and description. Scripture speaks of it in images: life, light, peace, wedding feast, wine of the kingdom, the Father’s house, the heavenly Jerusalem, paradise: “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.”
Heaven is the place of God’s throne beyond time and space. It is the eternally happy abode of God’s angels, as well as of the saints who have passed from this life. Though Christians live in this world, they belong to the Kingdom of heaven, and that Kingdom is their true home.
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Lutherans believe life with God is ongoing, in both the present and the future. Similarly, judgments for one’s actions are not reserved for final rest, but are a “present and future reality.” Life after death is not a concept that can be fathomed during our lives. “Christians should go about their daily tasks, trusting in God’s grace and living a life of service in his name.”
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Mormons believe that “Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.” Before this, the righteous who die will go to the spirit world in a state of happiness–“a place of waiting, working, learning, and resting from care and sorrow. Spirits will live there until they are ready for resurrection. Then their mortal bodies will once more unite with their spirits, and will receive the degree of glory they have prepared for.”
Presbyterian Church (USA)
According to the PCUSA catechism, “Heaven is our true home, a world of love. There the Spirit shall be poured out into every heart in perfect love. There the Father and the Son are united in the loving bond of the Spirit. There we shall be united with them and one another. There we shall at last see face to face what we now only glimpse as through a distant mirror. Our deepest, truest delights in this life are only a dim foreshadowing of the delights that await us in heaven.”
Southern Baptist Convention
According to the SBC’s Faith and Message, “The righteous in their resurrected and glorified bodies will receive their reward and will dwell forever in Heaven with the Lord.”
United Methodist Church
The United Methodist Church’s mission statement says that Methodists, and all Christians, should live their lives in waiting for “the fulfillment of God’s universal love, justice and peace on earth as in heaven.”