Heaven and/or Hell Metaphysically Interpreted
The Mystical Teachings of Christianity by Jim Lewis
In doing research on the subject of this chapter, I came across a book that is of interest because it reveals a limited interpretation regarding heaven. The author, Jonathan Weaver, was Bishop of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ. A well-educated man, he held a Doctor of Divinity degree, and was highly regarded and respected.
In the book, he portrays heaven as a place inhabited by God and celestial beings. He did not say definitely where it was, but the impression I received was that it was up in the sky; he had pictures of people on earth dreaming about the beautiful city in the sky. It was a glorified looking city, inhabited by winged beings. Weaver stated, “It is a fact none will care to dispute that we shall be out of this world in a comparatively short time.” He was making the point that the world would soon come to an end and that those who had been saved would soon be on their way to the beautiful City of God, or the “better country”, as he called it. The title of the book, written in 1899, is Heaven, or the Better Country. I am not recommending the book for reading but merely showing the conservative view which is still held by many Christians today.
Practically all peoples of the earth have believed in a heaven or heavens. They have looked forward to going to a place where there is eternal bliss, peace, and happiness. They did not know where this place was, but assumed that it was up in the sky, beyond the dome of the blue.
In the primitive concept of the universe, the earth was portrayed as a circular disc surrounded by water, both below and above. In Genesis it states, “The waters above and the waters below.” The sky was a dome that separated the waters; it was supported by four pillars. Before the time of Jesus, the Hebrews believed there were various levels or degrees of heaven. In fact they believed there were seven heavens. Our Scriptures reflect this in the use of the plural in referring to heaven. In Genesis 2:1 we read, “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished.” Other examples are from the well-known Psalm 8:3, “When I consider the heavens,” and in Psalm 97:6, “The heavens declare his righteousness.”
In the Gospel of Mark (Chapter 1:10) after Jesus was baptized, we are told, “And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him.” The New International Version of the Bible corrects or, I should say, changes this to the singular “heaven”. I can imagine editors and transcribers doing this very same thing, making changes and corrections and adding to the Scriptures to suit the beliefs of the time.
Jesus, in Luke 12:33, tells the people they should seek the Kingdom, for it is the Father’s good pleasure to give it to them, but that they should sell what they have, give alms, and provide bags or purses to hold the good that is for them and that will not deteriorate. In this way they build “a treasure in the heavens”. Here again the N1V changes “heavens” to the singular.
Paul reflects these many-layered heavens in II Cor. 12:2: “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven.” And Jesus also was speaking from this many-layered view when He stated, “In my Father’s house are many mansions” (John 15:2). It was believed that one progressed through the heavens to the ultimate Seventh Heaven. It was believed that God inhabited this Seventh Heaven. He had trouble with Satan on the other levels and therefore it was thought that God had a celestial army and that wars were waged in the heavens. However, one day God would be totally victorious over Satan, a fallen angel.
Some of Jesus’ statements were interpreted in the light of the accepted beliefs. I doubt the people at that time could even grasp a true perspective of the universe and I doubt the majority could accept it today even if Jesus were here to tell it to us.
The idea of a celestial city comes from taking the apocalyptic writer of Revelation literally. He calls this glorious city the New Jerusalem. In Revelation, chapter 21, he describes the beauty and dimensions of the city: he states the wall around the city is 144 cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of the angel or perfect glorified man. The walls were made of jasper and the buildings of the city were of pure gold. This is a mystical teaching about the new man, the Jesus Christ type individual with spiritual mastery; it should not be taken to refer to a city in the sky where good people will go after death. That, however, is just the interpretation that the majority give it to this day.
On the other hand hell was thought to be the place of eternal punishment for the wicked. It was not only a hot place but also a cold place; the soul was punished either by burning or by freezing. There are well-educated people today in positions of responsibility and importance in this world who hold to this primitive view. They believe that Satan is the god of this place and that once a soul goes to hell there is no possible chance of his ever getting out. If one wants to avoid eternal punishment in hell he should make sure he is saved, for he has only one chance—the few years spent here on earth. If he doesn’t make it here, it is unfortunate, but God will not change and forgive this one lost time. Yet when Peter asked Jesus how often we should forgive those who offend us, the answer was seventy times seven, or every last time. We are supposed to be more loving and forgiving than God, for there is one time He will not forgive. When we add to that the concept of punishment in hell forever and the severity of this punishment it is no wonder that many have turned from this traditional view of God.
Heaven and hell are symbols, not places for people to go. Knowing this should be a relief, but there are many who want to believe in them as places. Mystically they represent states of consciousness. Hell is the consciousness of error based on mistaken views about God, man, and the universe. It isn’t a consciousness created by God, but is one formed by man through his misuse of the power of thought. Satan is a ruling belief in consciousness that motivates much of our negative behavior. He was considered to be a fallen angel and, mystically, he was. There is only one power—God power. The power of negative thought is a fallen angel; it has the possibility of good, but can be very destructive when used negatively.
Eventually everyone will be redeemed from this “hell” consciousness. It will not be a vicarious redemption, for it must be done individually and personally through the transformation of consciousness.
The word heaven comes to us from the Greek “Ouranos”. Gaea was Mother earth and Ouranos was Father sky. Ouranos denotes expansion. The kingdom of heaven is an expanding consciousness of truth or, we might say, an expanding awareness. To be consistent in our interpretation we should keep in mind that heaven always relates to consciousness and consciousness is relative. Not everyone is at the same point of development in consciousness. Jesus represents the highest development of spiritual consciousness.
The “Kingdom of God” is the absolute, the eternal, unchanging Truth. Jesus used several parables to portray this idea about the nature of consciousness. We have touched on some of these such as the mustard seed parable. It is interesting to note that in reading Matthew’s account of the parable that he changes “Kingdom of God” to “Kingdom of Heaven”. Compare Matt. 13:31-32 with Mark 4:30-32. Mark’s Gospel was written first and he says, “How shall we liken the kingdom of God?” Matthew writes, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed.” The seed represents the absolute, the principle, the idea. It is planted in the earth or revealed in consciousness. It grows, expands, or develops, and the manifestation is fantastic. The seed becomes the greatest of trees, a place of habitation for many birds. A consciousness of truth is also susceptible to all types of ideas and concepts—birds of heaven.
Matthew changes Mark’s writing to avoid using the holy name of God. At least this is the explanation given by some scholars to explain these changes. However, there are other occasions where Matthew does use the name of God; he isn’t consistent. Another possibility that some would find unacceptable is that possibly there was more than one author for the Gospel. A conservative would insist that the Gospel was written totally by Matthew. A liberal Bible scholar would question whether any of it was written by the Apostle Matthew. It is beautiful and valuable regardless of who wrote it.
Another parable that Jesus gives to help us understand something about “heaven” is the Parable of the Seed Growing of Itself. It is recorded in Mark 4:26-29. The Kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter his seed on the ground. He then goes about his daily living, going to sleep and rising each day and night. In the meantime, the seed is germinating and soon there are outer signs of growth, first the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear. He doesn’t know or understand how this happens, he just knows it will and he trusts that it will. When the corn is ripe he harvests it.
The seed is the idea of truth seeking expression in our consciousness, the earth. We don’t know how an idea held in consciousness grows, but we do know that it does. The more we trust in this process of growth and expanding of consciousness the better and more satisfactory the results. We go to sleep day in and day out and we rise up day in and day out. Then one day, if we have believed and have been faithful, we see the first beginnings of new growth. Many want to plant the seed in consciousness and get overnight results. If the individual was in the properly developed consciousness as Jesus was, it would surely be possible to get immediate, instantaneous results. But since we are not, the process of growth and expansion of consciousness is more gradual.
The Parable of the Leaven also reflects the idea of growth and expansion of consciousness. In Matthew 13:33 we read, “Another parable spake he unto them: the kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till it was all leavened.” An idea held in consciousness affects us totally—mentally, emotionally, and physically. The same is true about a false concept held in consciousness. In other parables Jesus describes this growing together of truth and error and how to deal with it, not through resistance, but by non-resistance, and at the time of harvest casting aside the negative and undesirable.
As one grows in spiritual understanding he will gain more power and mastery over his consciousness. The potential for total mastery is already there. Jesus stated this in another one of His gems that has been taken literally. It is recorded in Matthew 16:19. He is talking to Peter and He says, “I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. This statement has been used by the Church leaders as authority to control people, to tell them what is right and permissible and what is wrong.
Peter, mystically, represents faith, the perceptive faculty and he does have the keys to the development of consciousness. We have bound ourselves to whatever we perceive a thing to be, whether it is an idea of truth or whether it is a misconception based on appearances. We also have the power to change our consciousness; the key is a symbol of authority. There is only One Power, God Power. Whatever power we express is God power and it expresses through us according to our level of understanding or, you might say, according to the condition of our consciousness. If we have a consciousness based upon what is really true, then the results will be good. If on the other hand, our consciousness is based upon half-truths and much error, then the results will not be good. We are free to express as we choose; God has given us this freedom and He wants us to be free and He respects that freedom.
In the consciousness of truth symbolized as heaven, we have the possibility of infinite expression of good. Jesus stated it as “all things are possible”. Healing is always possible even when one is not healed. Unlimited and infinite abundance is possible. Peace beyond all human comprehension is possible. Joy and happiness supreme are possible. All good is possible. In this heavenly consciousness, in the awareness of pure truth, we know God and we feel our oneness with Him. In this realization we feel secure and we are free from the miseries of hell, the consequences of negative consciousness.
© 1981, Dr. James C. Lewis
All rights reserved by the author.
Reprinted with permission.