What Is Heaven Like? And Why Does Suffering Exist? Fr. Mike Schmitz Explains

You’d be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t contemplated what heaven is like (whether they believe in it or not) or gone through a trying time and wondered why suffering exists. Both of these questions can come up for various reasons at various points in our lives and both can feel difficult to answer even for the most ardent believer.

On Tuesday’s program, Megyn was joined by Fr. Mike Schmitz, a Catholic priest based in Duluth, MN, and host of the Bible in a Year podcast, to take a closer look at both topics and what scripture tells us about them.

What Is Heaven Like?

If you’ve ever imagined heaven to be a universe of puffy clouds and harps, you’re not alone. But, as Fr. Mike told Megyn, that image doesn’t quite capture it. In his view, a lot of attention is paid to hell and even purgatory because “the goal is to stay away from those places.” But the actual goal, as he explained, is heaven, and yet we don’t spend much time meditating on what it is like and what God has already told us about it.

“We picture it as kind of floating around, bouncing from cloud to cloud, maybe you have your harp, maybe you’re in a place of peace, which sounds great for maybe a day and a half,” Fr. Mike joked. “I don’t know that we’re passionate about what God has actually revealed to us.” In the Catholic tradition, the Nicene Creed is recited every Sunday at mass and includes a line that says, “I believe in the resurrection of the dead.” This means that, “ultimately, we get our bodies back,” Fr. Mike shared. “So, in eternity, we have resurrected, redeemed bodies.”

The Bible gives us a peak at what this looks like in its description of Jesus after his resurrection. “His resurrected body is what,” Fr. Mike asked. “It’s agile. It can go from Emmaus – 12 miles away from Jerusalem – to Jerusalem in a moment… it can pass through walls… it doesn’t get sick or break down.” In turn, we can expect the same for ourselves. “What that means is those resurrected bodies that God wants us to have back in eternity will take up and occupy space – not just floating around from cloud to cloud, but in a world or worlds that are just as real and maybe even more real than the one we’re in now,” he added.

So, while we may be thinking of heaven as, in Fr. Mike’s words, “clouds, floating, robes, and harps,” the reality is that scripture says, “eye has not seen and ear has not heard; it has not so much as entered into the mind of man what God has in store for us.”

Why Does Suffering Exist?

Megyn recently shared the emotional story of the Blake Barklage, a 17-year-old who suddenly and unexpectedly died of cardiac arrest in 2021. “Events like that have many of us asking why – why would God allow it,” Megyn said.

It’s only human to question why tragedies like Blake’s passing happen, and Fr. Mike referenced St. Thomas Aquinas’ take on the topic. “I think St. Thomas Aquinas had said the only real argument against God’s existence is that is the reality of suffering, the reality of evil, because if God is all good and he’s all-powerful, then why is there suffering,” he said. “He’s either not all good, meaning he doesn’t care; or he’s not all powerful, meaning he can’t do anything about it.” Unless, of course, there is another option.

Consider the origins of original sin. While it may seem like a story of Adam and Eve eating an apple, Fr. Mike shared that it’s actually a story of trust and freedom. “Here’s this God who’s made this world, he made it good, he made you good, he’s revealed himself as being good, and he’s asked you not to do this thing, but he’s also given you freedom,” he said. In that freedom, Adam and Eve decided to eat the fruit instead of trusting in God. “This is one of those pieces that has marked our heart ever since then, which is, ‘God if you’re good, then you want me to have the thing, and if you don’t want me to have the thing, then you must be holding out on me,’” he continued. “It’s this wound of trust.”

As Fr. Mike explained, the next logical question(s) would be, “why don’t you just stop Adam and Eve from choosing this? Why don’t you just stop me from making that stupid decision? Why don’t you stop the illness from progressing?” But we know that God doesn’t stop us from making choices or saying no. Why? “God has made it clear that it’s more important that we become people who are able to love than people who are simply safe,” he said. “And if I’m going to love, if I’m going to say ‘yes’ with all my heart, I have to also be able to say ‘no’ with all my heart – otherwise, it’s not really free.”

Fr. Mike said that, in Christian revelation, God doesn’t remove pain, but he does redeem it. The central image of Christianity is Jesus on the cross. “And it’s not just the body of a human being, it’s a body of God himself, who took on a human body, who took on human nature, and, in that body, he lived, he suffered, he let death overwhelm him, he let the feeling of abandonment overwhelm him, he let it crush him, he actually let it kill him, and then he rose from the dead,” he explained.

So, even as our hearts are breaking and we struggle to make sense of why bad or sad or painful things are happening, one thing we cannot say, according to Fr. Mike, is, “God, you have no idea what I’m going through.” Christians believe that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross for our redemption, but Fr. Mike said it was also so that we could trust. “What God has done with suffering is he’s entered into it, so I can say when I’m in my suffering, when I’m on the cross, I know that I’m not by myself. God, you’re with me.”

You can check out Megyn’s entire interview with Fr. Mike Schmitz by tuning in to episode 399 on YouTube, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you like to listen. And don’t forget that you can catch The Megyn Kelly Show live on SiriusXM’s Triumph (channel 111) weekdays from 12pm to 2pm ET.