Tag Archives: heaven

The Door of Death

In reflecting on the deadly tornadoes this week, one spiritual question arises about which I am hesitant to write. The question has an answer that has caused harm to grieving people. “Is death always a tragedy?”

A Door into Deeper Joy

In C. S. Lewis’ The Last Battle, the last book of his Chronicles of Narnia, all the children* who once visited Narnia are reunited in a new, wonderful land that resembles Narnia. They wonder how this is possible since the great lion Aslan had told them that they would not return to Narnia. Yet this new land is more spectacular and more real than the old Narnia they had known. Slowly the children come to realize that their last memory of our world had been a terrible train wreck. Unlike previous stories, Aslan had not transported them from our world to the world of Narnia. Instead they have walked through the door of death and entered the outskirts of heaven itself.

Lewis does something incredible in this story. Certainly he could have written about their deaths from the tragic perspective of the survivors still on earth: friends and relative who grieved the children’s sudden absence from life on earth. But instead Lewis gives an imaginative description of their homecoming in heaven, where the joy and delight of heaven grows deeper and more profound each moment.

As Christians we believe in the promise of God that whether we live or die we belong to Christ. In Philippians 1:21, Paul writes, “For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.” The gain in dying is to gain more of Christ and his joy. Death is not something to be feared, but rather embrace as the door to God’s good presence.

So what is the harm in telling a grieving person, “Your loved one is in a better place?” The harm comes from the fact that a grieving person does not want the person “in a better place” like heaven. The grieving person wants the loved one in this life, sharing in the joys and sorrows of their mutual love. In time the grieving person may embrace the truth of “a better place,” yet in the aftermath of death, such words can be biting and harmful. Compassionate silence is better than quick answers.

What perspective do you have on death?

Lord Jesus, help me to see death as the door way into the resurrected life and to be gracious towards those who grieve.

*Susan is not included, but that is a different posting.

Pie in the Sky?

I like pie

I remember an Andraé Crouch song from my childhood, titled “If Heaven was Never Promised to Me.”  You can hear the song here.  Crouch makes the point that our faith in Jesus offers so much in this life that we don’t need to focus on the “afterlife” or heaven to see the value in our faith.  To know that I am “good enough” as I am, to experience God’s joy, love and forgiveness, to have a purpose in living and to share in the fellowship of God’s people, these all bring value and meaning today as I live on this earth.  I can experience vibrant life in Jesus now.  Heaven is simply the desert.

 This focus on the presence has been the primary focus of my pastoral preaching and teaching, except in one key area: funerals.  Prior to my coming to Resurrection, I did a rough calculations of how many funerals or memorial services I had preached at St. Andrew’s.  It was over 500.  And each one was the opportunity to preach God’s promise of eternal life beyond this life.  

My funerals always have a celebration of the deceased’s life, but the celebration truly hinged on the promise that Jesus had prepared a place for her (John 14: 3) where she is now fully alive and free.  Though the sermon would touch on the deceased and her life, my primary message was always for the family and friends gathered. I invited them to trust Jesus and his promises as they grieve the death.  God’s promise of a new heaven and the new earth (Rev. 21) is for all who trust in Jesus.  Funerals give us an eternal perspective.

Preaching about the future glories of heaven is often described as “pie-in-the-sky” preaching, because it places all the rewards in heaven while we suffer though hardship here on earth.  But M. Scott Peck is right, “life is difficult.”   We all experience hardship, pain, and injustice here on earth.  The promise of God’s new heaven and new earth is that God “will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4)   Gehard Forde once responded to the “pie-in-the-sky” charge by saying, “What’s the matter?  Don’t you like pie?”   I do.

How does the promise of heaven impact your faith?

Images of Heaven

Is this a Scriptural Image of Heaven?

Since it is still snowing in Minnesota, I need a brief glimpse of “paradise” to give me hope.  Many of us tend to recreate the new heaven and earth in our own favorite images and struggle with the images that scriptures uses.   Rob Bell in Love Wins has a comical reference to this:

Think of the cultural images that are associated with heaven: harps and cloud and streets of gold, everybody dressed in white robes. (Does anybody look good in white robes? Can you play sports in white robes? How could it be heaven without sports? What about swimming? What if you spill food on the robe?)

All of our images of heaven are somewhat speculative since they are describing something beyond our present ability to comprehend.  All language is symbolic, especially when it comes to God.  C. S. Lewis wrote a wise sermon, called The Weight of Glory.  In it he categorizes the Scriptural images of heaven:

The promise of Scripture may very roughly be reduced to five heads.  It is promised, firstly, that we shall be with Christ; secondly that we shall be like Him; thirdly, with an enormous wealth of imagery, that we shall have “glory”; fourthly that we shall, in some sense, be fed or feasted or entertained; and, finally, that we shall have some sort of official position in the universe — ruling cities, judging angels, being pillars in God’s temple.  The first question I ask about these promises is: “Why any of them except the first?”  Can anything be added to the conception of being with Christ?  . . . . I think the answer turns again on the nature of symbols.

Lewis goes on to describe how we each turn our perception of “being with Christ,” into our own version of what friendship or camaraderie or human love is like here on earth.  Lewis concludes,  

The variation of the promises does not mean that anything other than God will be our ultimate bliss; but because God is more than a Person, and lest we should imagine the joy of His presence too exclusively in terms of our poor experience of personal love, with all its narrowness and strain and monotony, a dozen changing images, correcting and relieving each other, are supplied. 

What image of heaven most surprises or unsettles you?  What could that say about you?