Why is Heaven pictured as a big fluffy city in the clouds?

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That image falls extremely short of what eternal life truly is.

In Western culture we are raised with a particular image of heaven: a luminous city set in the clouds, with gold pearly gates.

Where did this image come from? And is it an accurate view of what heaven will be like?

Across many cultures throughout history, heaven (the afterlife or the city where gods dwell) has been depicted as in the sky. In Greek mythology the gods lived on the peak of Mount Olympus, which was always shrouded from view by clouds.

Classical paintings of Mount Olympus portray it either as a city with physical buildings on top of the clouds, or simply a landscape in the sky with big fluffy clouds that the gods sit on.

In Christianity much of the same imagery was transferred in artistic representations. This was due in part to various scriptural references that mention the “clouds of heaven.”

For example, Daniel recorded the following heavenly vision, “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him” (Daniel 7:13).

Alluding to that same vision of Daniel, Jesus said to the High Priest, “hereafter you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64).

While an image of clouds is consistent with a scriptural and classical representation of heaven, it inevitably falls short of the reality of eternal life.

St. John Paul II commented on this topic during a Wednesday audience, “In the context of Revelation, we know that the ‘heaven’ or ‘happiness’ in which we will find ourselves is neither an abstraction nor a physical place in the clouds, but a living, personal relationship with the Holy Trinity. It is our meeting with the Father which takes place in the risen Christ through the communion of the Holy Spirit.”

Heaven is so much more than a celestial city, it is the culmination of our deep and abiding love of God. It is a “wedding feast,” where truth, beauty and goodness meet, a place of eternal joy that fulfills all the longings of our heart. That it much more attractive than any painting we could ever imagine.

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