Is Heaven boring?

Question: I sometimes feel reluctant to give up the world, because the world seems exciting and interesting, while Heaven sounds boring and less than satisfying. How would the Course have us deal with the fear that giving up the world for God is a sacrifice?

Short answer:I believe that the Course would have us do three basic things to overcome this fear:

1. Look with unflinching honesty at our experience in the world, in order to realize that in truth it has been painful and totally unsatisfying.

2.Seek out the experience of God, in order to realize that in truth it is joyful and totally satisfying.

3. Compare the two experiences, in order to learn that giving up the world is no sacrifice at all, because only God can truly satisfy us.

The fear of sacrificing the world for God is a major roadblock on the spiritual path. While this fear is ultimately rooted in the ego's fear of God's Love, on a more everyday level it is simply an inevitable consequence of the way we normally view the world and God.

In our minds, the world is where the action is. It has its pains, to be sure, but these are more than compensated for by its pleasures. It gives us dazzling sunsets, the scent of roses, Beethoven's symphonies, the thrill of romance, and so much more. In comparison, God's Heaven—especially the Course's description of it as formless and changeless—seems dull, lifeless, and unreal. It comes off as an amorphous blob—what a friend of mine once described as "cosmic oatmeal." Seen this way, God's Kingdom looks awfully unsatisfying, and so it is not at all surprising that we fear giving up the world for God. Who would want to give up the delectable banquet of the world for a tasteless, gloppy bowl of cosmic oatmeal?

From the Course's standpoint, however, our conventional view of the world and God is totally upside-down. The world seems so appealing to us in comparison to God only because we have a profoundly distorted perception of the two options. In truth, the world is totally unsatisfying, and only God is totally satisfying. The goal of the Course's spiritual program is to shift our perception of the two options. If we see them as they really are, we will see where true satisfaction lies and be motivated to choose God.

How do we make this shift, and thus give up our fear that giving up the world for God is a sacrifice? The basic process is summarized below.

1. Look with unflinching honesty at our experience in the world, in order to realize that in truth it has been painful and totally unsatisfying.

The Course tells us frequently just what a painful place the world really is: "The world you see is merciless indeed, unstable, cruel, unconcerned with you, quick to avenge and pitiless with hate" (W-pI.129.2:3). It is not difficult for us to see the truth of this line; all we need to do is look around us. Everywhere we turn, we see death and destruction: nature's law of tooth and claw, the horrors of human history, and the slings and arrows of our daily lives. Pain is woven into the very fabric of earthly life. The Course's view of life on earth-life governed by the ego, at least—is succinctly summarized by the words of the Buddha's First Noble Truth: "Life is suffering."

We tell ourselves that life is worth living in spite of the suffering, because life has its pleasures as well as its pains. We may live in a slaughterhouse, but at least it has sunsets and symphonies. The Course, however, sweeps away this solace by telling us that earthly pleasure in all its myriad forms is nothing but pain in disguise. "The illusion of pleasure [is] the same as pain" (T-19.IV(B).12:7). The "pleasures" of this world do not truly satisfy us because, like the pains of this world, they reinforce a belief that is ultimately painful: the belief that we are limited, vulnerable bodies, at the mercy of a capricious world that tells us what to feel (see T-27.VI.1-2). Earthly pleasures may mask the pain of this belief, but only temporarily; when the pleasure fades, the pain remains. This, I think, is why we so often feel a letdown after particularly exciting or pleasurable events in our lives.

"All real pleasure comes from doing God's Will" (T-1.VII.1:4). All other "pleasures" are pseudo-pleasures. They are superficial substitutes for God's Love, temporary palliatives that will never fill the gaping hole in our hearts. No matter how many fixes of the pleasure drug we get, we will always crave more, and what is craving but pain? As long as we seek satisfaction in the world, we are condemned to a life governed by the ego's cruel dictum: "Seek but do not find" ((M-13.5:8, et al.).

This is what Jesus says in the Course, but he doesn't expect us to just take his word for it. Instead, he invites us to look for ourselves to see if what he says is true. Over and over, the Course asks us to take an unflinchingly honest look at what the world is really like (e.g., T-13.In.2:2-11 and T-13.VII.3:1-5). It gives us Workbook practices designed to convince us of the futility of seeking happiness in the world (e.g., Lessons 128 and 133). And it implores us to give up that seeking, not because God demands sacrifice of the world's pleasures for His sake, but because seeking those pleasures has truly brought us nothing but pain:

Give up the world! But not to sacrifice. You never wanted it. What happiness have you sought here that did not bring you pain? What moment of content has not been bought at fearful price in coins of suffering?…Be speeded on your way by honesty, and let not your experiences here deceive in retrospect. They were not free from bitter cost and joyless consequence. (T-30.V.9:4-8,11-12)

The key here is honesty. The Course never asks us to give up earthly pleasure cold turkey—indeed, many worldly pursuits that we find pleasurable can even be redirected to serve the goal of salvation, if we give them over to the Holy Spirit for His use. What the Course does ask us to do is set aside the lens of dewy-eyed nostalgia through which we normally view the pleasures of the past. The forms of earthly happiness we seek in the present are usually forms that we believe satisfied us in the past. But did they really satisfy us? Did that high school romance or European vacation or championship season truly bring lasting joy, or was it a fleeting jolt of giddy excitement that came at a price, and brought disappointment and disillusionment in its wake?

If we honestly examine our lives, I think the sobering words of the Course passage just quoted will ring true for us. I know they do for me. Coming face to face with that truth is the first stop toward letting go of our fear of "sacrificing" the world for God.

2. Seek out the experience of God, in order to realize that in truth it is joyful and totally satisfying.

Just as the Course tells us frequently how painful the world is, it never tires of telling us how wonderful the experience of God is. "Revelation is an experience of pure joy" (T-5.I.1:3). Whether the experience is a direct revelation of God, or an indirect reflection of Him through the vision of true perception, the trinkets of the world pale in comparison to the shining radiance of the Kingdom. We are told that through opening ourselves to the experience of God's Love, we will learn that "there is no other love that can satisfy you, because there is no other love" (T-15.VII.1:2). We will discover the indescribable joy that only God and His Kingdom (the Sonship) can give us.

Just as with his description of the world, when Jesus says that the experience of God is incredibly joyful, he doesn't expect us to just take his word for it. Once again, he invites us to look for ourselves to see if what he says is true. He does this in many ways. One way is by inviting us to imagine just how joyful the experience of God might feel. For instance, in the second paragraph of Workbook Lesson 107, we are asked to try a simple thought experiment, which I will summarize here:

  1. Call to mind the most peaceful, love-filled experience of your life.
  2. Imagine that experience lasting forever.
  3. Multiply the intensity of that experience ten thousand times.

Have you done all that? Do you have some idea of how this might feel? Here's the lesson's punchline: "And now you have a hint, not more than just the faintest intimation of the state your mind will rest in when the truth has come" (W-pI.107.3:1). I love this thought experiment, because it puts the lie to the idea that Heaven would be boring. Whatever the experience of Heaven may be, if it is at least ten thousand times greater than the greatest peak experience of my life, it cannot possibly be boring. Cosmic oatmeal it is not.

Above all, the Course helps us confirm what it says about the experience of God by giving us the means to experience Him for ourselves. Jesus says, "I am leading you to a new kind of experience that you will become less and less willing to deny" (T-11.VI.3:6). The Course's main route to the experience of God is through forgiveness of our brothers. In the service of this overarching goal of forgiveness, the Course provides numerous practices aimed at sparking an inner experience of illumination.

While the Text contains a number of practices that serve this goal (e.g., T-15.II.6 and T-31.I:12-13), the Workbook in particular is specifically designed to lead us to the experience of God and His reflection in the world. It gives us lessons in which we affirm our desire for such an experience (e.g., Lessons 129, 185, and 190). It gives us practices in meditation, listening to the Holy Spirit, and asking for the holy instant (e.g., Lessons 41, 44, 49, 106, and 182). In Part II, it gives us daily prayers to God, which we are to say directly to Him to invite a "wordless, deep experience" (W-pII.In.11:2) of His Presence.

The Course promises that if we actually do what it instructs us to do, we will find out for ourselves just how deeply satisfying the peace, joy, and Love of God really are. My own work with the Course has confirmed this for me. While the trinkets of the world still exert a pull over me to be sure, my brief glimpses of God's glory have been enough to put a significant dent in my fear that giving up the world for God would be a sacrifice.

3. Compare the two experiences, in order to learn that giving up the world is no sacrifice at all, because only God can truly satisfy us.

As we continually look at our experience of the world and deepen our experience of God, we naturally compare the two in our minds. Over time, we come to see that even the most gorgeous sunsets and breathtaking symphonies cannot possibly make the slaughterhouse preferable to our Heavenly home. We see more and more that the world brings us pain, while God brings us joy.

In the Course's view, seeing this contrast is crucial to our awakening. When we fear giving up the "excitement" of the ego's world for the "boredom" of Heaven, we are associating joy with the ego and misery with the spirit. But Jesus says it is truly the other way around (see T-4.VI.5:6). He teaches us what really gives us misery and joy, through the process described in my first two points. In this way, we gradually learn just how much more satisfying the spirit is, once both options are viewed without the ego's blinders.

Through this process of comparison, we eventually see the true nature of the choice the Course asks us to make. We think it is a sacrifice to give up the world for God, but in truth it is a sacrifice to give up God for the world. This is the message of Section 13 of the Manual, one of the Course's best discussions of the idea of sacrifice. This section gives us a startling answer to its title question: "What is the real meaning of sacrifice? It is the cost of believing in illusions" (M-13.5:1-2). For the sake of preserving our "exciting and interesting" illusory world, we have sacrificed (in our minds) the reality of our infinite happiness in Heaven. We have sold out the Christ in us for thirty pieces of silver. We have squandered our inheritance to wallow with the pigs.

Once we really get this, we will have no fear whatsoever of giving up the world for God. "Does one whose vision has already glimpsed the face of Christ look back with longing on a slaughter house?" (M-13.4:4). Seeing the true nature of things, we will have all the motivation we need to throw the world away forever and leap into God's everlasting embrace. It will take time, of course, to fully give up the fear of "sacrificing" the world for God. The Course promises that the transition from the world to God will be gentle; we are never asked to give up anything before we are ready. But we will move ever faster on our journey to true happiness as we remind ourselves of what our Father really asks of us:

Here is the only "sacrifice" You ask of Your beloved Son; You ask him to give up all suffering, all sense of loss and sadness, all anxiety and doubt, and freely let Your Love come streaming in to his awareness, healing him of pain, and giving him Your Own eternal joy. Such is the "sacrifice" You ask of me, and one I gladly make; the only "cost" of restoration of Your memory to me, for the salvation of the world. (W-pII.323.1:1-2)

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