We all have an idea of Heaven. We all have an idea of what we do in Heaven. Even a staunch Atheist has some basic concept of what Heaven is supposed to be like according to the general, social consensus. Its the place of eternal life; The city around the throne where you can softball God some questions and spend the rest of your eternal life being blown away by the answers.Its the Pearly gates that lead into golden streets and mansions that have been prepared by Jesus himself. Its where you can stand forever in your new, heavenly body and worship the Lord forever.
Its the land of no pain, no sadness, and no grief.
But what if it isn’t?
I was talking with a friend the other day about C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce. He had just finished it for book club, and I had never actually read it (It’s now on my to-do list). He summarized Lewis’ description of a Woman in Heaven and her Son in Hell, and the relationship of love and hate between the two, and how it was explained. This got me to thinking.
If you are in heaven, in your new heavenly body, and there is no pain, sadness, etc., what do you think about when you think about those in Hell? Is the presence of God so awe inspiring that there is no room to think about anything else? Since there is no sadness, are those who are Hell-bound forgotten? Is there a tranquil understanding of why they are in Hell and the acceptance of how things are becomes solidified in your mind? That doesn’t seem like the place God reveals his presence in.
If there’s one thing I assume about God’s character, it’s that he desires us to continue growing, and that he wants us to confront that which hinders us. If there were no room for growth, we would be perfect, and I imagine that Heaven isn’t the place where Human development stops; its seems like its the only real place it can truly start.
If God’s presence is great that everyone in Heaven forgets about those in Hell, do we also forget about those on Earth? What about the experiences and people that brought us to a love of God in the first place? Is everything prior to Heaven just wiped from our memory? After a good mind-scrubbing like that, would we even be the people that fell in love with God in the first place? Maybe it does happen like that, but I know that God doesn’t forget, even those who are in Hell.
So, what if we just accept the fact that we are in Heaven for whatever got you in there, and that they are in Hell because of whatever gets you in there? Do we just stare at them and think “Thank God I didn’t do that.”? It seems unloving to look at someone in agony and not feel pity for them as a fellow human. So how would it be possible to see our family and friends on the other side and not have the same love that God had to send Christ down in the first place?
So if you can’t forget about the sadness of having a loved one in Hell, and you can’t ignore their suffering, how will we deal with this pain in a place that knows no pain?
Maybe that’s it. Maybe we finally have to deal with it.
Now, I realize that Revelation 21:4 says that there will be no more mourning, crying, or pain. For this exercise of the imagination, let’s just say that it’s speaking in hyperbole, something not uncommon at all in the Bible. But for a moment let’s just say that those are products of the unhealthy and selfish reasons we experience grief. Reasons for this grief is the kind of sorrow that dredges up when a relative dies and you selfishly wish they were with you. Instead, let’s focus on the part where God wipes every tear from your eye, and how he makes sure that there is no more sorrow.
On earth, in regular, human bodies, we build psychological defense mechanisms to mentally protect ourselves from trauma. These can be as simple as a Denial, in which a person refuses to accept the reality of a situation, or can be as complicated as Repression, where memories are locked away and become inaccessible. There are quite a variety, and if you have ever heard of the 8 stages of grief, you get a little bit of a picture of how we, as humans, have a lot to work through in order to handle emotions properly. These emotions can hang on to us our entire lives, burdening us, weighing us down without us or those around us even realizing it.
“I’ll keep all my emotions right here, and then, one day, I’ll die.” -John Mulaney, New In Town.
So where do they all go? I think they stay with you. They’re a part of you; and just like when you become a Christian, they don’t change overnight, regardless of your death. Instead, everything that made your old body develop defense mechanism in the first place is stripped away. No more societal pressures; no more condemning family; no more rejecting systems. There is only the loving presence of God, and the community of accepting brethren than are in the same position you are.
As for internally…well, you have a new body. I imagine it can handle things a little bit differently; and instead of holding things in, its found a place where it can safely let everything out. Its time to let go. And that’s exactly what happens. All the pain you held back when your mother died, all the heartache at the miscarriage of your third child, the divorce, the suicide… it comes flooding out. You’ve never felt like you could afford to let it show, or maybe you didn’t even know how much it hurt you, but now it shows. God sits there with you and all the others who are crying so hard, and you fluctuate between crying over the sorrow and laughing over its weight being lifted off of you, as you spend eternity working out what had caused you so much grief on earth. He sits there with you and wipes away the tears after every good cry.
You have finally found it: The Safe Space; The City of Refuge; The Perfect Place to Grieve.
Now, you look at all those on the other side of The Great Divide, and you weep for them. Honestly, and with genuine pain. Your heart goes out to them, same as God’s does. And you love them. You ask what you can do to help them? You ask if you could take their place so that just one of them could come to experience the love you have. You turn and ask God if you could be Jesus to them.
P.S.- Shout out to Hannarchy for the Photo.