Heaven is a funny place in our theology.
We understand that we will see the same social relationships and individuality of souls in heaven as we do here below; indeed we teach that home is quite literally a heaven on earth, as the form of sociability carries forward to the next realm. Mormons essentially believe, it seems to me, that Heaven is one big family reunion, with eternal chains of familial salvation running from us to Adam.
I am elated and horrified by this concept. Look around at your family, your ward, at the blogs you frequent. Now assume for a moment that each person you meet has a roughly equal chance of being in heaven along with you. Yes, I realize that’s a big assumption, but play along. The relative that grates on you, the insufferable boor at the Ward Talent Night, the blog admin who snarks at you and impudently bans you — mormonism requires you to confront the idea of spending eternity with each of them. You liberals, who cringe at the preachy, self-righteous conservatives parroting Church leaders all the time: welcome to Heaven. You conservatives, meanwhile, had better get used to hanging out with the long-haired socialist liahona peaceniks you disdain. There are many mansions up there; were it not so, Jesus would have told us.
The sociability of heaven is particularly difficult with respect to our family relationships. “Families are Forever” is cold comfort to those with difficult or distant family members; what is heaven if you’re stuck there with the mother who drove you to bulimia or the father who never had time for you while alive? Those with family members who have gone astray are similarly perplexed: what is heaven without those you love?
The question of personality and individualism in the afterlife is not entirely obvious. Some argue that the act of leading a Christlike life tends to efface differences of opinion and shades of personality. I agree with that notion, but I do not believe that acting in a Christlike manner equates to homogeneity of personality. Certainly, our mormon interpretations of what it means to be Christlike will inevitably focus on praxis, and less on attitude or overall personality. In the mormon world, it’s entirely possible to conceive of someone living a Christlike life who nevertheless happens to be a jerk (after all, as the Bloggernacle tends to illustrate, one person’s jerk is another person’s personal hero). We need to be prepared for a heaven filled with such Holy Jerks.
The concept of jerks in heaven is distressing, to be sure, but the alternative sounds even worse to me: a heaven without diversity of culture or thought. I yearn for a heaven with music, art and humor of all kinds, and innately I realize that such a harvest cannot come from a single kind of plant. If we are prepared to accept a Heaven with such bounty, perhaps we need to also accept a heaven where the divergent artists, musicians, comedians and personalities can also dwell. This may be the real challenge of living after the manner of Christ.