In Heaven as on Earth:
by M. Scott Peck, Hyperion, 1996, 224 pages.
In this imaginative novel, Scott Peck sketches a “very singular vision” of what we can expect to experience in life after “life as we know it” on earth. Contrary to what many Christians believe, Peck suggests that what we are told in Scripture about how things will be after death is quite limited and mostly cloaked in metaphorical language and mystery. So this book would be an especially hard read for literalists who insist that heaven has streets of “real” gold, and hell is a “real” fire that burns forever without consuming its fuel.
As his title intimates, Peck suggests that life on the “other side” is not totally discontinuous with life on earth. Eschewing both the notions of immediate bliss for the righteous and torment for the wicked, Peck illustrates through the experience of Daniel Turpin, his main character, and the souls he meets on the other side, that experiences in the afterlife are in some senses reflections of life as it was lived on earth. However there is a period of adjustment during which souls are aided to make decision about “which way their souls will go”. While most end up choosing pathways similar to the ones chosen on earth, there remains opportunity for “refinement” and “change of direction”.
In his introduction, Peck states that he draws on three sources to create his “unearthly” novel. First is C. S. Lewis’ vision of hell in The Great Divorce in which most passengers board the bus for the return trip to hell after having visited heaven because they cannot abide the openness, honesty and selflessness they saw there. A second source is the Catholic notion of purgatory, which for Peck is seen more as an intermediate state allowing for refinement and preparation instead of a temporary punishment for sins committed. And third, reports of near-death experiences, especially those recorded by George Ritchie and Raymond Moody. Of course, throughout the novel Daniel Turpin also reflects on various passages found in the Bible.
Essentially, Peck proposes that the afterlife is a dynamic place. It is more than simply ending up where one has chosen to go while on earth. It is a place of potential – an eternity’s worth of discovery and growth. There are things to do, others to meet and services to offer God and others. But how far one goes in this direction will depend on ones’ orientation and continual choices one keeps making.
Readers should not expect in this novel a solid biblical exegesis of all passages related to the subject at hand. It is a work of imagination and innuendo based on hints of the afterlife wherever they can be found. In the process, Peck exposes many foibles and misplaced priorities that are part of the human story on earth. Perhaps this is what creates the enduring value of this work rather than the speculation about how things might be on the other side.
While creative and imaginative, Peck’s novel is colored by a Greek philosophical understanding of the nature of “body and soul” – albeit the same notion held by many Christians. From my perspective it leaves in limbo a lot of questions emerging from the biblical text that might have been addressed. Nonetheless, it is worth your while to follow Daniel Turpin on his heavenly escapades.