As Christians around the world celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ this Easter, heaven is naturally on the minds of many.
The widespread belief among Christians that we, like Jesus, will live after our death, has led many to ask what heaven is like. Throughout history Americans have offered many different answers to this question.
Although their interpretation of biblical passages has guided most Christians in describing heaven, their cultural settings, dreams and hopes have also shaped their portraits as expressed in music, art, and literature.
During the last decade, several major cultural trends — especially increased anxiety, the prominence of our entertainment culture, the impact of the therapeutic worldview and concerns about the breakdown of the family and the impoverishment of personal relationships — have shaped American views of heaven.
Some conceptions of paradise provide a soothing antidote to the anxiety-arousing and disconcerting events that lead many newscasts and newspaper headlines. Heaven promises a pleasant respite from the world's perils, tragedy and despair.
For others, the afterlife is principally about introspection and self-actualization. It is the place where individuals listen to their inner child, repair their self-esteem and finally attain closure. Influenced by a culture that promotes and prizes personal happiness, still others make happiness a key feature of heavenly life. Finally, for many, heaven is primarily a place of reunion with family members and friends, characterized by love, intimacy and comfort.
As Christians celebrate Easter this year, they rejoice that Christ's resurrection promises that those who trust in him as their Savior will someday join him in paradise. Until that occurs, Christians will continue to debate the features and wonders of heaven.