With all the stir lately regarding Rob Bell’s book on hell and what heresies Bell may or may not be promoting, I have chosen to confront some of my own “heresies” regarding, not hell, but heaven. I am not sure where Gandhi is spending the hereafter but I am confident I will be singing with the angels in the sweet by and by. This is, for the most part, something I look forward to but must confess, I have a few misgivings about passing through the pearly gates. So I thought in a spirit of authenticity which I am sure Mr. Bell and his emergent friends will appreciate, I would like to share a few of my heaven fears and hopefully I can convince myself of their errancy.
1. I am a big bluegrass fan and love to listen to men with names like Sparky singing in rattly voices about the day when they will fly away from their lives of toil and sorrow and be with Jesus. The trouble is that as stressful as my life is at times, I like it here. I love my husband and kids; my family; Costco pizza (both cheap and delicious) and Diet Coke. I am blessed that in heaven I will be reunited with many loved ones but if I were to die today, I fear I would miss out on seeing my kids grow up not to mention all the things I still hope to accomplish, see and do. I suppose this is arrogance on my part. If God has numbered all my days then surely He has given me enough to achieve all that I am meant to. And if I trust in His love for me than I can know that when I crossover the river Jordan it will be to something better, better even than the love of my family, the soft fleshiness of my kids’ hugs and even of hot Costco pizza for $2 a slice.
2. Okay, so now I am arriving in heaven. Jim has done quite a bit of research on near-death experiences and for those who are believers, they all seem to start off pretty well. Grandmother is there and maybe my favorite dog. I just died so odds are my body wasn’t feeling so great on earth and that is now all a thing of the past. A significant number of these experiences, however, also include a life review and this is the part that has me squirming in my heavenly robes. First of all, I hate looking at myself. I don’t like having my picture taken or my voice recorded. I run to catch the phone as quickly as I can in order to avoid hearing myself on the answering machine. Now here I am with Grandma and Murdock (I was a big A-Team fan growing up) and Jesus and we are all sitting down to watch my life’s home movies. All the times I yelled at the kids, rolled my eyes behind Jim’s back, the time I kicked a kid in the shin at Christian summer camp. I don’t want to say that this is my idea of true hell but it certainly has a purgatory-like element to it. Of course, Jesus already knows these things. He was there when they happened. They were the reason He was tortured, nailed to a cross and died. Grandmother babysat me enough to know I am no angel, so I guess that just leaves me (and the dog, who I think will love me anyway). My fear isn’t exposure to others but rather finally being confronted with myself—my selfish, corrupted self. But the life review isn’t the end. Confronted with my unworthiness in its full glory, I get to see Jesus with His mercy in His full glory. That seems well worth the embarrassment of everyone seeing me cheat on my second grade math test.
3. My final fear is that no one will like me in heaven. I have lots of heroes to meet up with in paradise. I have visions of myself walking the streets of gold, map in hand, tracking down all those who went before me; a heavenly version of “See the Stars’ Homes.” “On your left is Jane Austen’s palace—built for her by Jesus, of course. And coming up on your right is Charlotte Brontes’ residence.” I have read these women’s books like letters from a friend, but who am I to them? Or what about my relatives? The Bible says there is no marriage in heaven but I like hanging out with Jim and what if we get to heaven and he just wants to kick back with his homeys, Berkeley and Edwards? How do we get face time with Jesus? Is there a sign up sheet? A seniority system? For this fear, I can only hearken back to times of true fellowship with my sisters and brothers and that feeling that the Spirit was binding us all together. If there are no tears and no sorrows then there is no loneliness or envy. Still, just so you know, if I get there before you, I call Austen for at least the first hundred years.