The ethical standard of the Golden Rule is generally seen as the “crown jewel” of Jesus’ ethical teaching, especially so when you include the corollary of loving even your enemies. If that is so, do we anticipate that this standard of conduct will apply in heaven? An associated question might be whether we will operate yet as free moral agents in heaven and whether that operation will be constrained by any ethical standard. Another way of thinking about it would be to ask “What will make heaven heavenly and what works to keep it that way.
The average mental picture of heaven might not even raise such questions. The typical church driven description of heaven makes it sound like the union of a perfect worship service and a large family reunion. There is never any hint of interaction with individuals outside our family circle. If that is the way it will be in the hereafter, just us and ours united forever but separate from all the rest, then even that scenario of familial intercourse should raise the same ethical question. We all would likely admit that family relations are the most volatile, so what governs those in heaven.
If one considers the likelihood of heavenly interaction between different groups, then the question becomes a much greater issue. What will control the relations between the different “families” in the heavenly realm? What would indicate that, in heaven, different groups would be isolated from one another such that group interaction is not a reality?
Once you consider these broader aspects of human behavior in heaven, the question of what makes that behavior different from that on earth becomes very intriguing. The only answer I have ever heard ventured was the observation that there would be no “Satan” in heaven to tempt folks to behave badly. Therefore, everyone would behave well. This implies that free moral agents who are not negatively influenced would naturally behave “heavenly”.
Some might say that heaven is a complete mystery but marvelously so, and there is no reason to even speculate or consider such questions. Heaven will be so good that we don’t need to worry about the details. That is how faith works; it doesn’t need answers. In fact to even ask the questions is wrong. That response is adequate for some but I personally don’t expect it to be for everyone.
The commandment of love for one’s enemies, which is admittedly the most mindboggling of Jesus’ lessons, might seem totally out of place in the conduct of heaven. After all, all the enemies are supposedly in that other place, not here. However, do we really think that there will be no one in heaven who fought on the other side in a conflict here on earth? To think so may be a convenient way to shunt this question aside, but is it reasonable? It is very unlikely, in my mind. Only if I assume that exclusively people of my group will get to heaven, could such a consideration be avoided; and, interestingly, that is exactly the picture of heaven that many hold. On the larger scale, if the command to love enemies is operational in heaven, then the segregation of God’s enemies outside heaven in eternal punishment is incongruous.
If, as many probably conclude, that the Golden Rule and the associated commandment to love one’s enemies does not apply to heaven, then where and when does it apply? The typical church is not teaching its application here and now. Those ethical instructions from Jesus are generally dismissed as utopian hyperbole. A wonderful idea but not to be seriously considered in this world. The prevailing church logic says that a naturally flawed people under the influence of demonic forces cannot be persuaded to conduct themselves by any standard which doesn’t require aggressive, even violent enforcement.
Of course, this assumption about human nature and behavior takes us right back to the question about heavenly behavior. Do they throw you out of heaven if you behave badly, so as to keep it “utopian” or is there something else at work, controlling human behavior?
I conclude that our typical mental picture of heaven as a utopian hereafter is probably seriously flawed. It just doesn’t compute for me. That is just me though. Everyone is free to draw their own conclusions.