“No eye has seen no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9b)
It’s funny. When I see images of what people think heaven might be like, I always feel a little disappointed. Nothing about it seems to live up to my expectations… and yet, when I try to paint my own mental image, I just can’t get it together.
Back in the late 90s a movie was released called What Dreams May Come. It was the story of a man’s journey through the afterlife and was chock full of amazing and picturesque images that could steal one’s breath away. And for as amazing as that movie was visually, as stunning to behold with the human eye, as intriguing as it was to the imagination, I knew it could never possible even begin to express the sort of beauty I could expect in heaven.
Back before I became a pastor, I had a good understanding of death and resurrection, so I felt as though I handled the presence of death in my life well. But, of course, the only funerals I attended and the only grieving people I comforted, were close friends and relatives. As a result, the heavy weight of sorrow which always accompanies death was all I experienced.
After becoming a pastor my experiences with death changed.
Now, I find myself in situations where I have to comfort people who are connected to me in varying degrees. I have sat with a family I did not know in a hospital chapel after the sudden and unexpected death of their twenty-year old son. And I have sat in hospital rooms with families whom I knew well as a loved one has journeyed through their last moments on this earth.
In that capacity I have come to see death in a brand new light.
For those who have lived out the course of their lives, it is a cherished event, shared by their loved ones, and becomes an integral part of the mourning process for those left behind.
For those who have died suddenly and unexpectedly, the sorrow is more jagged and the likelihood for anger is more likely. Questions about God’s will are more likely to arise. Worries about the state of the deceased’s soul sometimes arise.
But in either situation an amazing thing eventually happens.
Peace settles in. The harshness of loss smooths itself out, tears dry, and soon memories bring smiles and laughter and not heartbreak.
For people of faith, the peace stage often comes sooner rather than later and a lot of this has to do with the ability to simply trust in God to do what is best. And when we are capable of loving and forgiving and cherishing a loved one, how much more does God love that person?
It’s mind-blowing to consider that the person who loves you the most in this world doesn’t even come close to loving you as much as God does.
When that peace settles in, and when people of faith begin to accept God’s wisdom in all things, even in the care of the soul of a lost loved one, joy fills the soul.
It is that joy that always leaves me a little dissatisfied with the images people try to put forth of heaven. Streets paved with gold just seems gaudy to me. Winged angles strumming harps on clouds seems too lazy. Great pearly gates seem too suburban.
But its the best we can do because all we have ever experienced has been on this earth, through this perspective. Those moments of profound joy when we rested in God’s care and enjoyed love and peace were but glimpses of what will come.
The greatest loves we have experienced are nothing compared to the love God has for us. The safest we ever felt is like a restless night in heaven. The happiest moment of our lives will be considered mundane when we are standing ’round the throne.
And as I look ahead to that ultimate day, knowing that everything I do now is in preparations of that glorious day when my race will be won and I join that cloud of witnesses at the finish line, I can’t help but feel joy surging in my heart.
Yes, we shed tears. Yes, we feel sorrow. But those things are always temporary feelings in the midst of death. What comes after–what remains when all else has faded–is the joy of being in the presence of God.
So what do I have to fear?