Heaven

 
Author:
Gooder, Paula
Publisher:
SPCK (2011)
ISBN:
9780281062348
Purchase:
Buy this book from Amazon.co.uk

Heaven, Paula Gooder says in her introduction, somewhat redundantly, "is one of those great mysteries that somehow symbolize what we don't know about ourselves and the world around us" but, then, she quite properly justifies her approach by noting that it never does any harm to state the obvious. And in this case she might be particularly perceptive because she goes on to note that the attribute of heaven as our possible dwelling place is strictly secondary to its primary purpose of being God's dwelling place whether we 'get there' or not. Heaven isn't quintessentially personal and future, it's divine and present.

Methodically, Gooder starts with Hebrew cosmology and shows how heaven and earth were not separate but bound together, emphasising the closeness of God to his Chosen People, exemplified in the idea of heaven on earth in the Temple's Holy of Holies. Nonetheless, she points out, the notion that humans might share God's heavenly space came relatively late to Judaism, After which  the analysis becomes just a little laboured, dealing with God's chariot and heavenly creatures; but it picks up with a fascinating  discussion of angels but misses a trick by giving short shrift to fallen angels and "The Satan".

Then, out of a thicket of conflicting evidence, the main thesis rises, clear and unequivocal, based on the writings of Saint Paul: we will rise again in some bodily form; believing in life after death is part of believing in Christ. But what happens between our individual deaths and the end time, the Day of Judgment, is, forgive me, up in the air. You will be relieved to know that there is no Biblical evidence for 'hell' but you might be just a little puzzled to be told at the end that the whole superstructure might simply be metaphorical. Well, yes, all language concerned with God must necessarily be metaphorical but if that is true in the case of the last clause of the Nicene and apostles Creeds what about all the other clauses? If we are entitled to say that Jesus was Incarnate, literally Incarnate, are we entitled to insist on "The Resurrection of the body and life everlasting"?

Somehow, you feel that Gooder does most of the spade work and then does not like the look of what she has dug up. The necessary caution of metaphor in divine matters needs to be tempered with faith in faith and a lively hope.

I can see why she Gooder is rapidly emerging as the acceptable theological face of Anglicanism but, if we are to be so committed to metaphor, I prefer something a little more risky in my encounters with God. Good as far as it goes but it could and should have gone a lot further.