The notion of heaven seems distant, hazy and largely irrelevant to many Christians. Sure, it probably exists. Yes many hope – perhaps even expect – to get there. But they have no idea what it’s like, are not absolutely certain that it exists, and it isn’t something they base their life on.
Some religious leaders –past and present – have explained heaven’s details while others said that no one knows what it’s like.
I can refute some of that in my own life, for in a time of crises I was lifted to heaven and spent 10 minutes in the presence of God. That 10 minutes transformed my life.
I walked away from that experience with two understandings – that God is Perfect Love, and heaven is forever.
When in heaven, I was immersed in a love as big as all the love all that mothers throughout history have poured out for their children. And for the first time I understood the immensity of forever, for I could see that I would know this love for eternity.
God is love. God loves me. Two simple sentences, only three words each. When fully embraced, they are big enough to encircle our lives. What bliss! What perfection!
Everyone goes to heaven. Perfect Love wouldn’t send someone out into this life, knowing they wouldn’t be able to return. We don’t get to heaven because we deserve it, but because God is merciful.
How can we know whether any of this is true? My suggestion is to spend some time, every day, with God. Pray, meditate, contemplate. Walk, dance, drum, sing. See God in the eyes of a child or the beauty of a flower. Watch God at work in an emergency room.
Turn your thoughts to God however briefly, but deliberately, every day. And if you miss a day, start again. All that God requires of us is our attention. We can be weak, flawed, selfish and self-centered. In fact, we all are. All we need to do is turn our face to God.
God is love. God loves me.
But how is reaching out to God going to teach us anything about heaven?
Heaven is being fully in the presence of God. When we connect with God, in whatever small way, we sample heaven.
When we know that God is love – bountiful, wonderful Perfect Love – we understand that God is merciful. We can mess up again, and again and again. And God will forgive and love us. We can deliberately turn away from God for our own selfish desires. And when we crawl back, God loves us.
Knowing – absolutely knowing – that God is love and God loves us changes so many things. We don’t have to worry. What’s the worst that could happen? You’d die and go to heaven, to live in Perfect Love forever. That’s certainly nothing to fear. Pain, yes; the transition to death, yes because it’s unknown. But death itself? No fear.
I don’t fear failing – even at tasks God has given me. I don’t fear that I will behave badly. I’ve done both, repeatedly, and discovered afterward that God loves me.
A life based on the reality of heaven and facing God also leads to a great deal of soul searching.
I have seen that when we are on this earth, we are largely blind and limited. In heaven, we will see the totality of how we spent our time on this earth. It’s not God’s judgment that we need to fear, but our own.
We will watch how the ripples spread from our good – and bad – behavior. On earth, the only infinite capacity humans seem to have is self-justification. Now we will see inside ourselves, and know the spectrum of motivations – many ignoble – that fueled our self-centeredness.
This life isn’t fair. Justice comes in heaven when the scales are pulled from our eyes and we spend eternity aware of the harm we’ve caused.
There are those things we’ve done wrong, and the things we failed to do. Those of us in the first world are willfully blind to the sanctity of all lives. We choose to ignore injustice, poverty and starvation. I have glimpsed that all of us in this first world will spend eternity surrounded by the souls of those whose needs we ignored.
Doesn’t sound like heaven does it? Not a place many people would like to be. The only thing that could make it bearable is the overwhelming presence of a loving and merciful God. Bathed in that mercy, we will be able to carry the burden of harm we contributed to when we were on earth.
We will also see the good we have done, and will be surrounded by those we loved.
All this has lead me to live a life based on the reality of heaven. I look forward to dying, for I know what waits for me. It is sobering however to realize that I’ll be faced forever with the consequences of what I do while on this earth. I am keenly aware of the pain in much of the world, and bend my charitable giving in that direction.
Does all this make me weird? I suppose it does, for the question is constantly in my head, “What does God want?” I ask because I love God and want to live in obedience. I also ask because I know I will eventually be faced with the answer.