Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, Or what's a heaven for?
—Robert Browning

According to a recent snippet in Harper's magazine, the reach of American entrepreneurship has exceeded that of the builders of the Tower of Babel and extends into heaven itself. Afterlife Telegrams offers to deliver messages to the dead for a price of $10 a word (with a five-word minimum) by way of terminally ill patients who promise to deliver the messages upon "passing into the afterlife."

In the fine print of the agreement, however, it warns customers that it cannot guarantee the message will get through. "The truth is," Afterlife Telegrams solemnly warns, "no one knows what happens when someone dies."

According to a spate of books reaching back several years, however, it is clear that lots of people have thought they knew what happens when someone dies, and they have described it in considerable detail. Indeed, the description of heaven and other aspects of the afterlife occupies a prominent place in the history of Western ideas. Describing heaven has rarely been the result of idle speculation or objective biblical theology, but has customarily been about what is, and what should be, going on in this world.

Rose Bowl or Garden City


Several recent books present startling historical arrays of portraits of heaven. Colleen McDannell and Bernhard Lang's Heaven: A History has won considerable notice for its sweeping coverage of both popular and élite accounts of heaven. Jeffrey Burton Russell covers much the same ground in his more recent survey, A History of Heaven, but is stuck on Dante's vision. In The Early History of Heaven, J. Edward Wright examines views of heaven outside Israel and the church that might have influenced biblical concepts. ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

July/August
Subscribe to CT and get one year free.
Tags:
From Issue:
Read These Next
Also in this Issue
Put Yourself in Jesus Shoes Subscriber Access Only
"Within 48 hours, a supermarket chain pulls shoes with Jesus' image from the shelves"
Current IssueEvangelism, Iranian Style
Evangelism, Iranian Style Subscriber Access Only
Amid persecution and a travel ban, Iran’s youth want community and transformation from within.
RecommendedDo Children Go to Heaven When They Die?
Do Children Go to Heaven When They Die?Subscriber Access Only
God's love for children is clear in Scripture, but the 'age of accountability' is harder to find.
TrendingKay Warren: 'We Were in Marital Hell'
Kay Warren: 'We Were in Marital Hell'
Through God's work in our lives, we've beaten the odds that divorce would be the outcome of our ill-advised union.
Editor's PickThe Refugee Ban Is Back, But Church Connections Might Trump It
The Refugee Ban Is Back, But Church Connections Might Trump It
World Relief wants clarification over today’s big Supreme Court decision.
Christianity Today
Harleys in Heaven
hide thisJune June

In the Magazine

June 2003

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.