We pick up today where yesterday’s surah left off.  We are told about “that which is to come” (the name of this new surah) in the tripartite afterlife. 

Most of the imagery of Hell or Paradise is now familiar.  Paradise has its lush gardens, running water, flagons of drink that does not intoxicate, comfortable couches, and beautiful maidens specially created as rewards for the faithful (56:35-38).  Scalding waters and winds, misery and longing for relief that will never come are all that wait those sent to Hell to “burn” (56:94).

What is new here is detail about the three possible destinations, not simply two as one would expect. 

Then you will be sorted into three classes.  Those on the Right — what people they are!  Those on the Left — what people they are!  And those in front — ahead indeed!  For these will be the ones brought nearest to God in Gardens of Bliss. (56:7-12) 

Nothing I see in this passage explains why believers are sorted into the two Paradises.  While it seems obvious that those in the Garden of Bliss straight ahead of God are somehow better or purer or more righteous, that is never explicitly stated in this passage.  Both Paradises are exactly that — paradise.  Rewards, comfort, and pleasure abound in both. 

Lest, the point of the afterlife get lost in all the details of the three destinations, it is clear that Paradise is first and foremost about being close to the presence of God.  This one fact is what distinguishes the better Paradise from the right-handed one: what makes the first Paradise better is that these believers are allowed to stand straight in front of God with the closest proximity of all.

That by itself is an interesting way to conceive of Paradise.

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