Listening to Oprah’s “SuperSoul Conversations,” with leading spiritual teachers, I’ve observed eight recurring questions Oprah asks of her guests. As I’ll likely never be a guest on Oprah’s podcast, I thought, “Why not write a series of blogs, based on Oprah’s questions?” This is what I might tell Oprah, if given the chance.
“What do you think will happen when you die?”
I’m not worried about death, at all. As a Christian, I believe in eternal life. I believe, waiting for me on the other side of death, is a place called Heaven – my eternal destination. But, to be 100% honest, I don’t really have a clue what any of that actually means. And, I’m totally ok with that!
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not excited about death, itself, or the process of dying. With the exception of the fortunate ones who die peacefully in their sleep, most of us die from illness, physical deterioration, or accidental trauma. I’m also not looking forward to leaving or saying goodbye to the people I love. I’m not happy about all I’ll miss out on, in this life, when I’m gone. I’m not looking forward to the pain and suffering – physical and emotional – so often associated with death and dying.
But, death as a passing from this life to the next? No problem.
And, yet, I really don’t know what happens when we die.
We have hints of what is waiting for us.
Those who’ve had “near death” experiences report seeing a light, and being greeted by Jesus and/or loved ones, before being told their work on Earth isn’t complete.
As death approaches, the dying often seem to see and hear loved ones, calling out to them, welcoming them. I’ve seen the dying open their eyes, and lift their hands, as though reaching out to someone beyond our view.
Jesus talked about preparing rooms for us in his Father’s house. He told the thief on the cross, next to him, they would soon be in Paradise.
The Apostle Paul believed dying, and being “absent from the body,” would mean being “present with the Lord.”
The Book of Revelation paints fantastical pictures of a heavenly city, with streets of gold, surrounding the throne of God, where there’s a permanent ban on death, suffering, sorrow or tears.
I suppose I glean a bit from each of those, as I ponder the life-to-come. But, mostly, for me, Heaven remains a mystery, and I’m VERY “ok” with that. I don’t know what it will be, and I’m not a bit concerned. I seriously doubt I have the ability to comprehend what Heaven actually is. I’m just absolutely sure it’s going to be wonderful!
I’m amazed how frequently I hear people communicate some anxiety about the afterlife. And, I don’t necessarily mean the question of Heaven or Hell – but, that too. Rather, I hear people say, “When I get to Heaven, I’m going to ask God why…” – with the intent of demanding an explanation for some perceived earthly injustice. I hear people ask, “Will I recognize my loved ones? If I remarry, after my spouse dies, who will I be married to in Heaven? What kind of body will I have in Heaven? Will my pets be there? What does the Bible mean by, ‘resurrection of the body’ – when does that happen? What are we going to do in Heaven? Will I be bored?” Are we really worried Heaven won’t measure up to our expectations? Are we really worried we’ll get there, and be disappointed?
I have my own ideas and hopes for Heaven, and I too have a long list of questions I wish God would answer. But, I have a VERY strong suspicion none of that will matter when I get there. I strongly suspect that when I die I’ll close my eyes to this life, open my eyes to the next, and have absolutely no memory of any of those ideas, hopes or questions. I’m certain Heaven will surpass my wildest expectations, and I’ll be happy to be home. I imagine God asking, “Did you have something you wanted to ask me?” and me drawing a complete blank, with a silly, sheepish, gleeful grin on my face.
I also believe Heaven isn’t far away.
Jesus said the Kingdom of Heaven is “at hand, nearby, close, within.” He taught us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come, on Earth, as it is in Heaven.”
Hebrews says we’re “…surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.”
Celtic Christians believed there are “thin places” in this world, where the distance between Heaven and Earth are very thin.
Jesus also taught, “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17:3) The Apostle Paul said, “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:6) Jesus was speaking in the present tense. Paul spoke in the past tense. In Christ, we’re already eternal. We’re already citizens of his eternal kingdom. We are, even in this life, seated in the heavenly realm.
If that’s true, death is really just a transition – a passage – from one life to another, different, far, far better one.
A common metaphor for death is the Jordan river, through which the Israelites passed to enter the Promised Land, and in which John the Baptist baptized, to wash away sin. Perhaps that’s what happens in death: the washing away of the pain, suffering and struggle of this life, so that we can enter fully into the “promises” God has in store for us.
I went through a phase when every time I heard a hymn or Gospel song referring to the Jordan, I wept with joy. I’m not in a hurry, but I’m ready for my swim, whenever my day comes!
When the 14th century mystic, Julian of Norwich, was sick and dying, she received a “showing,” or a vision, from Jesus, telling her not to worry, “…all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”
I believe that – all shall he well, in Heaven – with all of my heart, and because I do, I’m not anxious about the next life, at all! I KNOW, beyond a shadow of a doubt, without the slightest fear, hesitation, or uncertainty, that when I die I will be with God.
That’s what Heaven is: to be fully present with God!
And, since I know God is already with me, in this life, I know I’ll be even closer to God in the next. What more could I ask for?
What more do I need to know?