Saturday night in North Mississippi as I sketched couples attending the church banquet where I would soon speak, the woman said, “You are from Alabama?”
She said, “We’re from Alabama. Winston County.”
I said, “I’m from Winston County. Graduate of Winston County High School at Double Springs.”
She said, “We’re from Haleyville.” A much bigger town at the edge of the county.
We chatted about that, making connections. Afew minutes later, she was back.
“Your Facebook profile says you are from Nauvoo, Alabama.” A small town to the south in Walker County.
I said, “We lived five miles out of Nauvoo on a rural route. But I never lived in Nauvoo itself. We lived just inside Winston County, which meant we went to high school in Double Springs instead of Carbon Hill.”
Later, I changed the note on Facebook to say my hometown is Double Springs. Which it isn’t, of course. In one sense, I have no home town, having grown up in the open country, some 13 miles from Jasper, AL and 10 miles from Double Springs. And not only that….
“Heaven is a fairy tale for people afraid of the dark.” –Stephen Hawking
I’m afraid of the dark.
If we’re talking about the endless kind of darkness that offers no light anywhere, no hope ever, and nothing but nothingness, who among us would not panic at the thought of that?
I expect people like Mr. Hawking simply find the idea of Heaven too good to be true, and thus conclude that it must be a product of man’s delusional yearning for “pie in the sky by and by.”
And yet, there are solid reasons for reasonable people to believe in the concept of a Heavenly home after this earthly life. Here are some that mean a lot to me. By no means is this list exhaustive. It’s simply my thinking on the subject.
“Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. Even so, amen” (Revelation 1:7).
I’m going to go out on a limb here and make a few predictions about Heaven.
As with every religious charlatan who ever came down the pike, there’s no way to prove me wrong for the time being. But unlike the con men, I’m just thinking out loud here. After all, who among us does not like thinking about Heaven, our abode forever and forever?
The first surprise, I have no doubt, will be to find yourself awake. “Wow,” you think. “I died. I really did. I remember everyone gathering around the hospital bed and them all crying. And I recall that last surge of pain and then everything went black. And lo and behold, I wake up. How wonderful is that?”
“As for me, I shall behold Thy face in righteousness. I will be satisfied with Thy likeness when I awaken.” (Psalm 17:15)
When I awaken. A given fact. It’s going to happen. But as much as we say we believe that, I’m confident the first sensation we will have on the other side of that curtain is to find our eyes open and the new realities of our situation setting in.
“I would have despaired had I not believed I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait on the Lord. Be strong. Let your heart take courage. Yes, wait on the Lord” (Psalm 27:13-14).
I believe I will see.
I believe I will see the goodness of the Lord.
I believe I will see the goodness of the Lord (over there) in the land of the living.
Without that faith, I would have despaired.
Believe or despair. Those are the choices.
There are no other alternatives.
No matter how we try to dress atheism up as a noble choice of clear-thinking people, its only logical outcome is darkness and oblivion. The only thing such a philosophy produces is despair.
The Lord’s goodness will be on full display in the “land of the living.” This world is not the land of the living but of the dying. The land of the living lies just over the hilltop.
It awaits the faithful.
“…the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34).
We don’t begin to have a clue.
God is doing a zillion things He has not deigned to mention to us mortals.
It’s not our business to know, for one thing. He has reserved most of what goes on in the universe for Himself. “The secret things belong to the Lord our God…” (Deuteronomy 29:29).
All that we know about the operation of the created world is a sliver of the full story.
How can it be that before the world as we know it was formed, the Heavenly Father was already at work making plans for us to arrive and dwell with Him forever?
I do not know. Neither do you.
What unimaginable reality may we expect to find when we get to Heaven if Father has had all these eons to make it?
What does this say about pre-history, the story of what God was doing before the Big Bang of Creation.
We hang our heads in humility. We read the final verses of Romans 11 and say, “Yes, yes. This is how it is!”
“That’s not in question.”
“That’s not the issue here.” This is not about deserving.
“You are unworthy and will always be unworthy.”
“Get past this.”
“It’s all about grace.”
“Now, get on with what you’re supposed to be doing.”
It was sometime in the early hours past midnight, and I was hoping to get back to sleep. Sometime in that vague area that blends wakefulness and sleep, the Lord and I were having this conversation about my burdens and His sufficiency. That’s when I pulled out the unworthy card and began playing it, as I am wont to do.
“Ah, Lord. I am so unworthy. I am not righteous enough. Not holy enough. Much too carnal. Weak beyond description. Flawed and marred and inept. I am unworthy.”
When He answered, I knew by long experience to get out of bed and write down what He said.
“As for me, I shall behold Thy face in righteousness. I will be satisfied with Thy likeness when I awake” (Psalm 17:15).
The next time you hear someone say the Old Testament knows nothing about eternal life or Heaven, I’d like to suggest what your response should be.
Tell them, “It would be good for you to read your Bible before making such a statement.”
Job asked the question of the ages when he said, “If a man die, will he live again?” (Job 14:14) Every generation of every culture in every civilization before and since has asked that, and each has answered it in its own way.
Five chapters later, Job answered his own question.
“Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him” (I Corinthians 2:9).
I think about Heaven a lot. So many people whom I love with all my heart are there and I miss them every day.
I wonder what they are doing and if they think about us. I wonder if my brothers are really playing rummy with our dad, the way we say they are. Are they going fishing and is our mom visiting with her wonderful parents whom she had not seen in half a century?
What will Heaven be like? After all, in addition to loved ones in Heaven, there are also uncounted millions of brothers and sisters of all races and tribes whom we have yet to meet. There are “myriads” of angels, and best of all, our wonderful Lord and Savior Himself.
Who would not want to go to Heaven?
My friend Barbara Hardy used to say when she got to Heaven, she was going to ask for a size 10 body.
A pastor friend used to say that in Heaven, he would be able to eat all the lemon ice-box pie he wanted without gaining an ounce.
Joni Aereckson Tada has said that when she gets to Heaven, the first thing she plans to do is ask Jesus to dance. (She’s been a quadriplegic all her adult life.)
Some more serious things I wonder about Heaven include…
“I said to him afterward, ‘Hey, are you O.K.?’ And he said something like, ‘It’s no fun getting old. And I am so (freaking) old.’ But he said it in one of his funny voices, like he was some ancient old guy. Like it was a joke.” –A story told by an unnamed colleague on the set of Robin Williams’ television series “The Crazy Ones.” During a break in the shooting, Williams had gone off and sat by himself. He looked exhausted and sad.
It’s no joke, this business of getting old.
The August 25, 2014 issue of TIME devotes the last half-dozen pages to the life and art of Robin Williams, the comic genius who ended his own life last week.
I thought when I first heard the news and before reading anything about his chronic depression and repeated addictions that he feared getting old and decided to abort that process. Nothing I’ve read or heard since has changed that opinion.
No one should interpret any of this as my attempt to psychoanalyze Mr. Williams. Obviously, his situation–the circumstances that led him to make the decision to end his life on his own terms–was complicated by a thousand factors, as would be true of any of the rest of us. Someone said he was in the early stages of Parkinson’s.
I understand about the fear of getting old.
To the friend who thought she was good enough to go to Heaven, I asked, “If you can be good enough to get there on your own, what was the purpose of Jesus coming earth?”
She looked at me blankly.
To the one who said he hoped he just might possibly be good enough to slip into Heaven, I asked, “Then, what was the point of Jesus coming to earth if you can do this by yourself?”
He’d never thought of that.
So many people are confused about why Jesus came to earth. Even a great many of the most religious people, those who hang His image on their walls and bow before statues dedicated in His honor or who populate the kind of churches I’m in every weekend, seem not to be clear on why He came to earth.
One would think that would be of the highest priority, to know why Jesus came and thus to align one’s life with that.
What follows are three statements of Scripture, inspired by the same Holy Spirit but delivered by three different writers at various times, with all echoing the same life-altering truth. They state clearly and simply what Jesus accomplished by coming to earth, and thus should be known and treasured by every disciple of the Man of Galilee.