Heaven, also known as the Firmament, the Paradise, Empyrean, Elysium, Paradiso, the Promised Land, Jannah, the Good Place, and countless other names, is the preternatural realm of good and the home of God, and many angels. It is the opposite of Hell. Heaven is the good-natured paradise beyond human thoughts. It is usually described as just a beautiful land full of clouds. Its attributes are joy, compassion, community, harmony, peace, bliss and love. Heaven is the transformation of chaos into order. There are many ways to enter into Heaven, such as to have faith in Jesus Christ according to the Christian narrative or believing in Muhammad as the final Prophet according to the Islamic narrative. Heaven is the home of all that do God's work and help people and put all their faith into God.
Heaven is a concept of the afterlife (what happens after somebody dies) in many religions. Some people who believe in heaven say it is a perfect place. They believe heaven is where people go after they die if they have been good in life. Some people also believe in Hell, a place people go when they die if they have been bad in life. Ideas of Heaven and Hell are not the same in all religions.
While there are abundant and varied sources for conceptions of Heaven, the typical believer's view appears to depend largely on his particular religious tradition. Various religions have described Heaven as being populated by angels, demons, gods and goddesses, and/or heroes (especially in Greek mythology). Heaven is generally construed as a place of happiness, sometimes eternal happiness.
In Western religions, the belief in heaven appears to have supplanted the earlier concept of Sheol(mentioned in Isaiah 38:18, Psalms 6:5 and Job 7:7-10). Jewish converts including the group known as the Pharisees believed to this concept of heaven and hell. The larger, dogmatically conservative Sadducees maintained their belief in Sheol. While it was the Sadducees that represented the Jewish religious majority it was the Pharisees who best weathered Roman occupation, and their belief in Zoroaster's heaven and hell was passed on to both Christianity and Islam (in which heaven is referred to as Jannah).
In Christianity, heaven is a return to the pre-fallen state of humanity, a second and new Garden of Eden, in which humanity is reunited with God in a perfect and natural state of eternal existence. Christians believe this reunion is accomplished through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ in having died for the sins of humanity on the cross.
The popular belief of most faiths is that one enters heaven at the moment of death. This, however, is not part of the doctrine of most of Christianity (as indoctrinated in Swedenborgianism for a Christian religion that does have this doctrine). It along with other major religions maintains that entry into Heaven awaits such time as, "When the form of this world has passed away.".
Two related and often confused concepts of heaven in Christianity are better described as the "resurrection of the body", which is exclusively of Biblical origin, as contrasted with "the immortality of the soul", which is also evident in the Greek tradition. In the first concept, the soul does not enter heaven until the last judgement or the "end of time" when it (along with the body) is resurrected and judged. In the second concept, the soul goes to a heaven on another plane immediately after death. These two concepts are generally combined in the doctrine of the double judgement where the soul is judged once at death and goes to a temporary heaven, while awaiting a second and final physical judgement at the end of the world.
The idea of Heaven as a physical place has existed since the dawn of religion and human civilization. In some early religions (such as the Ancient Egyptian faith), Heaven was a physical place far above the Earth in a "dark area" of space where there were no stars, basically beyond the Universe. Departed souls would undergo a literal journey to reach Heaven, along the way to which there could exist hazards and other entities attempting to deny the reaching of Heaven.
One popular medieval view of Heaven was that it existed as a physical place above the clouds and that God and the Angels were physically above, watching over man. With the dawn of the Age of Reason, science began to challenge this notion; however Heaven as a physical place survived in the concept that it was located far out into space, and that the stars were "lights shining through from heaven".
In science fiction, several films and literature sources have suggested that, through advanced technology, Heaven can be reached by the living through conventional means. Such was the case in the Disney film The Black Hole, in which a manned spacecraft found both Heaven and Hell located at the bottom of a Black Hole.
In the modern age of science and space flight, it is widely assumed that Heaven is not a physical place in this universe. Religious views, however, still hold Heaven as having a dual status as a concept of mind or heart, but also possibly still a physical place existing on another "plane of existence", or perhaps at a future time. Obviously, there is no scientific evidence for the existence of such a dimension, an area of the universe, or alternate reality where Heaven physically exists; however in these belief systems, the failure of science to prove or find evidence for its existence is generally of little or no relevance.
Getting into Heaven
Religions that teach about heaven differ on how (and if) one gets into it. In most, entrance to Heaven is conditional on having lived a "good life" (within the terms of the spiritual system). A notable exception to this is the 'sola fide' belief of mainstream Protestantism, which takes emphasis off having lived a "good life" and teaches that entrance to heaven is conditional on faith in Jesus Christ alone, and not on any other good or bad 'works' one has participated in. Dual-covenant theology is a variant of this belief that exempts Jews from having to adopt Jesus as savior as a condition for entry to Heaven. Many religions state that those who do not go to heaven go to a place of punishment, Hell, which may or may not be eternal (see Annihilationism). A very few (the followers of universalism) believe that everyone will go to Heaven eventually, no matter what they have done or believed on earth.