Beyond the stars

Kelvin: Am I alive or dead?
Rheya: We don’t have to think like that anymore. We’re together now. Everything we’ve done is forgiven. Everything. —from the movie Solaris

Would you know my name if I saw you in heaven?
Would you feel the same if I saw you in heaven?
I must be strong and carry on
‘Cause I know I don’t belong here in heaven… —Eric Clapton, Tears in Heaven

When his four-year-old son, Conor, died in a terrible accident in 1991, legendary guitarist Eric Clapton was stunned. He refused to perform for nine months, and when he re-emerged on the stage, it was with a quieter and more introspective repertoire. The simple and beautiful song Tears in Heaven is one of the results of Clapton’s grief. It asks a poignant question: Is there a life beyond this one where we’ll meet again, my son?

In a newly-released Barna poll, 81% of the American people said they believe in some sort of life after death, a remarkable finding for history’s most scientifically-advanced society. Some suggest our American optimism and love for happy endings may be the explanation. Perhaps that’s why less than 1% of Americans believe they are destined to spend eternity in hell. (Note: The author had originally inserted a gratuitous joke about lawyers here. It is our position that the question as to whether members of the bar will be allowed through the gates of heaven should best be left to the wisdom of the Almighty. Ed.)

Clearly, our bodies die. But the Scriptures say that we each have a soul, a mystical God-part of our being, which lives on. It is this belief in the human soul that makes abortion, embryonic experimentation and cloning so abhorrent to Christians. Human life is not precious because we humans have inflated egos, but because we are the only living creatures to have been given a piece of eternity by God.

Little children imagine that heaven is out in space somewhere. What comes to mind when you think of heaven? Angels and harps? Love and forgiveness? Reconciliation? Judgment?

I’m hoping that chocolate figures prominently in the heavenly experience.

Solaris, a futuristic, science-fiction movie starring George Clooney and Natascha McElhone, imagines heaven as a place where an omnipotent and kind Intelligence gives us one last opportunity to get things right. It’s a happy-ever-after sort of place, a view that’s especially popular on the street these days. Is that what heaven will be like?

Jesus called heaven “my Father’s home”: There are many rooms in my Father’s home, and I am going to prepare a place for you. (—John 14:2a, NLT) The apostle John experienced an elaborate vision of the end times and described heaven this way:

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, the home of God is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will remove all of their sorrows, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. For the old world and its evils are gone forever.” —Revelation 21:3,4, NLT

Heaven is God’s turf, and there will be nothing there that stands in opposition to God. The terrors and horrors of this world will find no place in heaven. The heartaches and griefs of this world will find no comfortable corner there. God is holy, so there will be no evil; he is eternal, so there will be no death; he is love, so there will be no war or hostility; he is perfect, so there will be no sin.

Which, sad to say, leaves me on the outside looking in.

Clapton got it right when he wrote, “I know I don’t belong here in heaven” If heaven is holy and perfect, how could I ever hope to fit in? In my thoughts and desires, my actions and my inactions, I prove over and over again that I am just not heavenly material. People like me would give the place a bad name. People like me would put junker cars on concrete blocks in the front yard and ruin everyone’s heavenly property values.

Enter Jesus, stage right: Jesus Christ made us welcome in heaven.

The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him… Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners… and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ. —Romans 3:22-24, The Message, (The Apostle Paul speaking)

I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die like everyone else, will live again. They are given eternal life for believing in me and will never perish. —John 11:25,26, NLT (Jesus speaking)

Not one of us belongs in heaven. We would lug our sinful baggage along with us into that holy and perfect world. We would stink the place up. Jesus says, “Let me dispose of that baggage for you. How about a shower and a fresh start.”

At the end of Tolkien’s ring trilogy, as Aragorn lies dying of old age and Arwen, his bride, stands grieving at his side, he tells her this: “In sorrow we must go, but not in despair. Behold, we are not bound forever to the circles of the world, and beyond them is more than memory.”

Jesus himself was the first to be liberated from the circles of the world and welcomed into the city of God. He was the first, but he will not be the last. Don’t despair at death. Put your faith in Jesus Christ, and you, too, will walk heaven’s streets; you, too, will see God face to face.

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