More of the same in today’s reading.  Eschew idolatry.  Be devoted to the one God,  This is the better way.  He controls all things and could force you, be he won’t.  Don’t resist any longer.  Same message, different words. 

What stands out in this passage is more detail about Paradise or the Garden:

There is good in this present world for those who do good, but their home in the Hereafter is far better: the home of the righteous is excellent.  They will enter perpetual Gardens graced with flowing streams.  There they will have everything they wish.  This is the way God rewards the righteous, those whose lives they take in a state of goodness.  They will say to them, “Peace be upon you.  Enter the Garden as a reward for what you have done.” (16:30-32)

Fifteenth century Persian depiction of Paradise

Maybe you have heard someone say Muslims believe in a carnal Paradise that is described very physically: bountiful gardens, seventy virgins fanning the faithful man as they feed him grapes.  I haven’t really seen the seventy virgins part yet in our reading, but I do have to admit that Paradise does seem to be described in very physical ways that clearly are intended to our natural desires for comfort, provision, and pleasure.  No doubt some of that is simply because one naturally wants to describe the highest of realities in a way that appeals to an audience.  However, it is amazing to me who is never (I think) mentioned when Paradise is described: Allah Himself.  Is that because Allah is so unapproachably holy that even in Paradise He is separated from humanity?  As we can see below, this is very different from how Heaven is described in the Christian Bible.  Without the presence of Allah, Paradise mainly becomes this great reward for the human.  It is everything a human could want.  It is very human-centered. 

Now compare that with this picture of Heaven from the end of the Bible (it’s long but worth it):

1 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea [the sea was a symbol of evil, thus there is only the pure presence of good]. 2 I saw the Holy City [the presence of God makes something holy], the new Jerusalem [the center of which was the Temple, the house of God; God is at the center], coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband [unlike our culture, this intensely relational image focuses on the groom not the bride]. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them [it is all about relational living]. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God [one of the most quoted verses in the Bible indicating it is one of God’s greatest goals: covenant relationship]. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away [what life with God is like].”

 5He who was seated on the throne [which is placed at the center of heaven; God is the center] said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

 6 He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End [“I,” not “you” or “it”]. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. 7 Those who are victorious will inherit all this [yes, there is a reward], and I will be their God and they will be my children [and relationship is the biggest part of that reward]. 8But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death [is there anything that hurts more and is more despairing than the total absence of God?].” 9 One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb [again, relational language].” 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God [notice that “Heaven” comes down,” an indication of how much God desires to dwell with his creation]. 11 It shone with the glory of God [which emanates from God’s presence], and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. 12 It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel [God’s people]. 13 There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west. 14The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

 15 The angel who talked with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city, its gates and its walls [it’s a convoluted collection of images but have you noticed that Heaven is both a city and a bride? Heaven is about the people, not the place; again, this is relational]. 16 The city was laid out like a square, as long as it was wide. He measured the city with the rod and found it to be 12,000 stadia in length, and as wide and high as it is long. 17 The angel measured the wall using human measurement, and it was 144 cubits thick [a perfect people]. 18 The wall was made of jasper, and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass. 19 The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, 20 the fifth onyx, the sixth ruby, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth turquoise, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. 21The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of gold, as pure as transparent glass [a beautiful, priceless people].

 22 I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple [there is no need for the mediated worship of God through the priesthood and the various courts of the Temple; God is worshiped without mediation] . 23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp [God Himself is the source of light]. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. 25 On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there [again, no evil but pure goodness instead]. 26 The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. 27Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful [holiness because of God], but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life [a known people].

 1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb [God is the source of all life] 2 down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations [God returns the world to its Edenic state of perfection and presence]. 3 No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him [God is the King and leader, even in Heaven]. 4 They will see his face [unparalleled, personal access to God], and his name will be on their foreheads [made children of God].5 There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever. (Revelation 21:1-22:5) 

"New Jerusalem" (late fourteenth century French tapestry)

Notice that in the Bible Heaven is described in terms of relationship not reward.  Sure, you get a kind of existence that is unlike anything we can even know right now.  Yes, all that we loath about life right now is removed.  But notice that in the Bible almost no focus is placed on what the believer gets out of Heaven.  God is the focus and center, even literally.  When you strip back all of the metaphors (because how else do you describe the pure presence of God?), Heaven is the unmitigated presence of God.  For Christians, Heaven is about God, not about what we can get out of it.

As I see it, that’s a rather significant difference between these two religions.  What do you think?

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