The Qur’an describes Paradise allegorically, using lush and potent imagery that appeals to the five senses and to man’s generic aesthetic sense. You write that while these descriptions are fundamentally allegorical, yet it would only be just of God to reward us in a physical realm because we were tested in a physical world.
If this is the case, I would like some more insight on the nature of the eternal bliss and peace of Paradise. Will certain moral values lose their importance, and perhaps their existence, in heaven? For example, patience is a virtue that is praised by the Qur’an, yet would there be no need for demonstrating patience in heaven because we will have all that we could ever wish for? Similarly, assisting the weak and needy is a basic moral/ethical value, yet would there be no need to assist the weak and needy in heaven because God will provide bountifully for everyone there? I suppose what I am really asking is if there will be a continual moral/ethical evolution in Paradise. It seems logical that if we are to grow morally and ethically during the life of this world to earn entry into Paradise, that Paradise itself, which will endure forever, should generate the same kind of growth. Yet how can it do this, if after growing morally and ethically in this life, we are rewarded with sunny gardens, fountains, fruits, drinks, meats, couches, golden cups, beautiful spouses etc.? How can a moral and ethical evolution proceed if all of a sudden all of our natural appetitive desires are fulfilled eternally? It might be said in response that there is nothing immoral about the amenities and favors offered in Paradise, but even so, this implies a primarily appetitive evolution that does not violate morality rather than a primarily moral/ethical evolution that regulates the appetitive (the latter of which was the case in this life). It almost seems as though the appetitive aspect of the human overtakes the moral/spiritual aspect.
Moreover, can it be the case that we are to cleanse our hearts, minds, and souls (which obviously implies moral and spiritual growth) to render ourselves deserving of selection into Paradise, only to arrive there and have our physical, appetitive needs taken care of, even if at the expense of moral and spiritual evolution/growth? I know I have posed several queries here, but they are meant to be disparate permutations of the same basic question.
Please offer your thoughts.
Some clarifications need necessary to answer your question:
Firstly, all kinds of virtuous behavior should not be construed as ‘moral values’. For instance, take the case of patience. Patience is not a moral value, but is, in fact, a virtuous behavior, which must emanate from our strong trust and reliance on God’s knowledge, wisdom, mercy and omnipotence. Patience, in fact, is a required virtuous behavior in human beings because of the nature of the test that man is put into during the life of this world, where the attribute of God’s justice is generally not immediately applied on all moral situations. With the advent of the Day of Judgment, as God’s absolute justice and mercy would reign supreme, there would no longer be a requirement for patience in man. Thus, patience is required of a true believer in God’s knowledge, wisdom, mercy and omnipotence due to the nature of the test during the life of this world. Had the nature of this test been different from what it now is and at the termination of this test, the very nature of man’s life would no longer require the virtue of patience.
Secondly, the application of all moral values is always contingent upon the circumstance in which a person lives. For instance, it is a great moral virtue to be kind to one’s parents during their old age, IF one’s parents live to an old age, during one’s life. Obviously, however great and significant this behavior may be, it is not required of an orphan, merely on the grounds that his parents are no longer alive. Similarly, irrespective of the significance of helping the needy and the poor, it is contingent upon the existence of the needy and the poor. Had there been no needy or poor around us, there would not have been any requirement of helping them.
I suppose what I am really asking is if there will be a continual moral/ethical evolution in Paradise.
The fact that Paradise is in fact the permanent abode of cleansed souls seems to point out that moral and ethical values do indeed play a significant role in the life of Paradise. Nevertheless, the practical application of these moral and ethical values in the life of Paradise may not be easily imaginable during our present frame of reference. Another extremely important factor that should be kept in mind is the one that I have pointed out at the beginning of my response that it is the nature of the life of this world, which sometimes makes it difficult for us to adhere to the natural call of our moral and ethical being. Thus, we see that it is because of the circumstances that a person lies, even though he is fully aware of what IS right. This, as is clear from the revealed literature, would not be the case in the life hereafter.
The foregoing clarification should suffice as answers to your questions. Nevertheless, if you feel that any of your questions needs to be addressed separately, please do let me know.
I hope this helps.
November 11, 2002