My friend and I were talking about heaven and I said, “My bags are packed, and I’m ready to go anytime.”
“No, don’t say that!” she replied.
Maybe she thought I was contemplating suicide — which I wasn’t — and wanted to dissaude me, but in fact, I was saying death doesn’t seem terrifying when you consider what comes next.
Most folks studiously avoid the word death, so it’s rare to hear that Uncle Bob died, when “passed away” and “went home” sound more palatable. And funerals are termed “celebrations of life” because no one wants to admit death is a sad event for the people left behind.
Also, the fear of aging — and what comes next — is so pervasive that old people are called “seniors” instead of “the elderly,” and many folks cling to the laughable notion that 60 is the new 40.
One evening at supper, a friend bemoaned getting another year older with all the accompanying aches and pains, and someone replied, “Well, it’s better than the alternative.”
And it seems this would be true for non-believers who think death is synonymous with extinction, which can be an unbearable thought.
But why is the terror of death pervasive among believers? Christians see Jesus as the messiah, who promised his followers eternal life, so this should make a huge difference in our view of dying.
“Oh death, where is thy sting? Oh grave, where is thy victory?” was St. Paul’s way of assuring us there is something more.
English poet John Donne wrote, “Death be not proud, thou some have called thee mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so.”
Maybe believers dread death because heaven is often described as a place where people perch on clouds, playing harps and singing, which sounds mighty dull — but that perspective is wrong.
“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard what God has prepared for those who love him,” said St. Paul, suggesting heaven will exceed our wildest imaginings.
Sometimes we’re overcome by the beauty of a flower, a luminous moon, a fancy bird or a moving hymn. We can be stunned by the grandeur of cathedrals, mesmerized by the artwork of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, and thrilled by the music of Bach and Beethoven.
Who made the magnificent mountains, beaches, valleys, flowers and birds? A human artist reveals himself in his creations and this is true of the divine artist too.
Who created the people who have given us symphonies, poetry and artwork that uplift us? It was God, who inspires us to pick up a brush, a pen, a violin, a lump of clay.
So heaven isn’t a boring stint of harp playing and cloud perching, but rather an encounter with God, the source of beauty and love.
As Frank Sheed writes, “Man, therefore, who has rejoiced in the beauty that God has placed in the sunset, will rejoice immeasurably more in God himself, the author and source of all beauty.”
It makes sense that heaven would magnify the glorious natural beauties we cherish on earth — exquisite flowers, birds, animals, trees, mountains and oceans— and the manmade treasures of art and music.
I’m not suggesting we should pine for death — or hasten its approach — but rather trust that the best is yet to come.
C.S. Lewis wisely noted, “What a state we have got into when we can’t say ‘I’ll be happy when God calls me’ without being afraid one will be thought ‘morbid.’”
Let’s pray to embrace what we profess to believe — that our real home is elsewhere, and our yearning for undying happiness and beauty was placed in our hearts by God, who alone can fulfill that longing.
When we do so, death seems less dreadful and mighty — and loses much of its sting.
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Lorraine’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.