Thoughts of Heaven (3)

20 07 2008

CONTINUATION from the previous blogs

(Start reading from end of Blog No.2)

In my mind’s eye, I saw us both feeling rather shy, aware that previously we really hadn’t known each other. How do we really ‘know’ anyone this side of heaven, because our knowing is all about receiving messages from outside the person? I hear your words, and I read your body language, but beyond that I don’t know what you are really thinking or feeling. Yet in heaven I have this feeling that there will be this openness and, if we can look back, we’ll realise that we knew so little of each other. And there’s more: what about the fact that I’ve lived so many more years on earth since he died?

This makes me feel that those who worry about ‘their loved ones’ going or not going to heaven, are actually way off track. They envisage missing them in heaven because they envisage having the same feelings for them, and yet the reality may be that with different bodies and the ability to utterly know another being, that will mean that it will be such a different experience that it cannot be compared. If we get scared at that thought, it simply means we can’t visualize how wonderful that experience will be. Is this why Jesus decried the Sadducees’ talk about marriage in heaven? (Lk 20:35) Is it because the experience of relationship will be so much deeper and more meaningful than anything we had here, that looking back will mean that all relationships will seem as shadows and therefore there will little meaning in the new existence?

There is another thought about heaven which often crops up and which I believe is valid, and it is that heaven will be so much more ‘real’ than our experience here. I use the analogy of colour and no colour. If heaven is so much more wonderful then I imagine, then a reasonable comparison is like saying that everything that we know now is, by comparison, shades of grey and the new existence of heaven will be bright colours. But therein is the problem: how can someone with full colour sight explain what they see to a person who is utterly colour blind and only sees greys?

This concept of heaven being ‘more real’ comes up in the writings of C.S.Lewis. In his children’s book, The Last Battle, the children die in a train crash and go to heaven. They enter another land from the land of Narnia where most of their adventures had occurred and, to simplify the story, they respond to the cry, “Farther up and farther in”, and move into the land only to find it is a replica of Narnia except more real. I used to have a copy of his The Great Divorce (until someone borrowed it and forgot to bring it back!) but if my memory serves me right, he sought to convey the same thing there, that in heaven everything is more ‘solid’ or real and the ‘further in’ you go, the more solid or more real it is. Of course, as a Christian, he expresses the Biblical picture – of an ongoing life with full self-awareness and sense of personality and personhood, a place free from wrongs and free from pain. In other words, it is a place of pleasure and ultimate fulfilment, a place of life and light and colour and wonder.

This picture of a very real and wonderful afterlife stands in stark contrast to atheist, Philip Pullman’s picture in the last of his ‘Dark Materials’ trilogy where, in the afterlife, ghosts were trapped in a dark nothingness world but then the heroes release them and they dissolve into the rest of the physical world – Pantheism! It is playing with words; it is in reality a non-existence as we know existence, which is the fullness of life – energy with personality and self-awareness. If you don’t believe in a spirit world, then of course evaporating into nothingness is the best you can hope for. I’m glad the Bible paints a very different picture. It’s a wonderful hope and without it, existence in this world is just that, a temporary meaningless existence that will soon be gone.

So there I was, pondering the thought of seeing my dad again. Perhaps it will be, perhaps not. I’ve often thought that God would let us look back, if only for a brief moment, so we can see the reality of what has been in this world and see how much more wonderful the next is. One thing I’ve always been sure about, is that if He does allow us to look back with no limitation of understanding, I am utterly confident that we will never be able to blame or criticise Him for anything He said or did, or didn’t do. Understanding, I am sure, will remove all questions. The reason I hope it will only be momentary, this looking back, is that if our understanding is allowed to be total, we will see our lives as they really were and weep for our wrong understanding of life and also for the wrong thoughts, words and actions we had while here. I have a feeling that it will only be momentary because I wonder if suddenly we’ll see all the wrong sucked away to the Cross in its unique place in history. Suddenly we will understand. But if that is so, then it makes me feel I ought to make some more effort this side of heaven to understand what it’s all about, while I have the time. There’s a new day coming and I’d like to do what I can to be ready of it.

I’ll close with a more recent memory than that of my own dad. It involved my wife’s dad, who I also loved and respected. When he died, I visited the body in the Undertaker’s parlour (is that what you call it?). For a few minutes I stood there gazing on the body, quietly giving thanks to God for the life I had known and been blessed by. Without thinking, as I turned away to go, I simply looked up and said, “Be seeing you, dad,” and left. I will.

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