Other Person — declared quite randomly and with a raised pitch at the end, that, though just one word made it sound like a question “heaven…”
Me — pausing momentarily and raising a wonky eyebrow to indicate interest but a fuller explanation of the question would be required. “Yeah”
Other Person — dead pan and definite “…I’m not sure I want to go”
Me — no words, only the facial expression of a man looking like he’s trying to calculate 345 X 457 whilst having a bit of tummy trouble (90’s friends reference). A painfully confused man.
As a pastor person I often encounter people who’ve come across an aspect of Christian life they’re unhappy with or struggling to accept. A God that allows suffering, demands obedience or purity are well worn conversational pathways. Never before had I met someone who had a problem with heaven.
Heaven is the pay off, the incentive, the light at the end of the tunnel. I’m not sure what Christian counsel I have if you don’t want to go there!
Other person — “I mean, just hanging around with all those do-gooders, forever… FOREVER!
The negative emphasis was so strong I felt socially obligated to consider the merits of the statement. I hadn’t ever before thought it to be anything other than a wonderful place. Somewhere more than worthy of all my greatest efforts and endeavours.
Me — in socially obligated tones “Forever is a long time”
Other person — “And Christians do some weird stuff… and they’re always falling out… you know with all them denominations and that”
I was in a peculiar predicament. It wasn’t a very well aliquoted argument against the merits of eternal life but it had me on the back foot. On the back foot wondering where to go. Wondering where to go and having a look around ‘other persons’ argument.
‘Other person’ had identified something that many of us have a problem with. Other people! Worse still other people that are different. Even worse than that, eternity with other people that are different.
Other person — with definitive double eyebrow raise “heaven is prison”.
I was at a moment in my life where this kind of argumentation had a chance to grab a foothold. My house was full. Full of ‘other people’. Firstly there is an Italian living with us. Often his warmth, charm and cooking skills… particularly his cooking skills make him a blessed addition to the household. But sometimes he sings very loudly. Sometimes he sings and steals my porridge. Sometimes he sings, steals my porridge and kicks all my footballs over the fence. This is more than I can bear!
At the same time as this. My children have instantaneously become huge grown up humans. They’re enormous now and take up so much space. Lockdown happened and overnight we went from 2 adults and 3 tiny kids to 6 adults. Add to that a week’s worth of visit from my wife Jude’s family in Scotland and Tanzania respectively and the house was fit to burst. I counted over a hundred at one point, though I’m prone to exaggerate when stressed.
Now, as I’ve said, the thing with ‘other people’ is not just their quantity (there’s loads of ‘em) nor is it their proximity (loads of ‘em in my house) but they’re all so different. One wanted to watch this, one wanted to watch that. One wanted to go here, one wanted to go there. They fell out, they cried, they repeated themselves, they held strong opinions, they had no opinions…
Loads of Christians, stuck together… and this is just for a week. Not eternity.
Me — forehead furrowed, eyes looking up, wondering what heaven will be like with all those people.
Other person — no words, eyebrows raised and a slow gloating nod of the head, like they’d discovered the real location of Atlantis or invented a type of chocolate that reduces weight and is good for you.
I really need to have another look at what heaven’s going to be like!
“I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice. Salvation belongs to our God, and to the Lamb who sits on the throne…”
Endless eternal Christians… a great multitude of ‘em, more than you can count, all different and just hanging around.
But a Lamb has captivated them… all these different people, enamoured with this Lamb.
Moses spoke about it. Israel, a slave nation found their freedom by it. It was their story. Only a taster though. Jesus embodied it. A lamb slain to give life.
No one is bored or falling out. They’re all pretty pleased to be together, in fact they’re overjoyed, it doesn’t look like they’ve even noticed how many of them there are, how different they are or how long they’ll be there. The Lamb transcends all that.
Maybe it’s possible for us to get on. Maybe that’s the plan. Maybe this is worth looking forward to after all. Maybe we’ll get there and not want to leave.
“All the angels were standing round the throne and round the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshipped God saying: Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honour and power and strength be to our God forever and ever. Amen…!”
Ash Gibson, Pastor, Christchurch Xscape