Thursday, August 09, 2007

A Trip To Heaven

The boxes lay stacked around my apartment, and I could barely restrain the groan from my lips as I pulled out yet another bin full of binders tucked away in my storage closet. Dutifully, I opened each one and flipped through them to see what I had saved, and if it could be thrown out. As a pack rat, I was determined that this time I would start fresh. Easier said than done. Examining each binder and piece of paper took longer than I expected, until I came upon a small blue book with only a few pieces of lined paper.

Journal entries?

For my first ten years or so after I became a Christian I journalled frequently. Some of those writings now appeared quaint, others silly, and still others, poignant. It had been a while, so I leaned back and read the entry. When I finished, I clearly remembered writing the entry. What I didn’t remember however, was how I’d actually come to believe my experience to be real.

Everyone in the Western culture has some idea of heaven. We’ve all heard of it through our parents or movies or media, whether we were raised in religious homes or not. The idea of some sort of afterlife, usually paradise, exists somewhere in our subconscious. Some people say it's endemic to human nature. The Bible says that eternity is etched into the human soul. For whatever reason most of us sense, somewhere, that we are not here only to be born and than die, despite the strengths of any rational argument that argues otherwise.

Throughout the centuries, Christians have long declared the reality of both heaven and hell, that someone who rejects God endangers themselves to an eternity of torment, but that someone who confesses to their sins an eternity in paradise. At times, the position was used politically, not as a statement of belief but a statement of policy to keep people from seeking better for themselves. It was this political manipulation of a religious ideal that sent Marx into a fury, who declared religion to be the "opiate of the people." Unfortunately, there was great truth in what Marx was saying. Even worse, the greater truth was being overshadowed by those in power who neither loved God nor understood or cared about the damage of their abuse.

I flipped the worn binder to the side. It was a hard entry to read and digest both for the simplicity of its belief and its assuredness of what had happened. I sat for a while, thinking about what I’d written, and finally decided to look at it again.

…the room was surprisingly devoid of color. Green tables and booths set up in a circle like something you’d find at a Ponderosa or Kelsey’s. It wasn’t my five senses that were heightened as much as my emotions. I felt everything. It took me a while to get my bearings, to realize where I was, but once I did, the first emotion that overtook me was dread.

A deep, core-like fear that I had blown it. That I had wasted my life for God and never really served Him as I should have. I started weeping then, tears and sobs when I realized how much I’d disappointed my King. I tried to get control of myself as I walked past people in the booths – one person in each booth – but I wasn’t sure what they were doing there. As I wiped my shirt, I noticed that my arms had each been tattooed with a chart.

“A lot of strengths, a lot of weaknesses.” One of people said as I passed by.

The comment had no effect on me as I'd suddenly become lost in my grief over an ex-girlfriend I'd hoped to marry. I kept walking, wishing it were all a dream, but there seemed no escape. An endless barrage of tables, of people with charts on their arms, of comments and a strange stillness.

Please, God, just let this be another dream where I can wake up and be normal.

Live my life normally. I wanted to live! The Apostle Paul had once said that to die was to gain, but I hadn’t gained anything. I had lost. I needed to live so that I could put down a better deposit for the future. I had no concept that this was selfish, just an emotional craving for another chance.

That night I asked God for a second chance, and I awoke the next morning, ready to do all that He wanted. I’d been to heaven, or had I?

I’d pulled the journal entry from my binder, and now I let it slip through my fingers onto the coffee table. The rest of the entry detailed exactly why I needed to believe what I say I believed. It was hard to read. I was tired of Christians talking about the afterlife, so much so that they ignored the basic commands of Scripture to bring the Kingdom of heaven here. If it was only about the afterlife, if it was only about "getting into heaven", than what we did didn’t matter much. Especially if we were rich.

The more I thought about it however, the more I wondered. Was Heaven real? Would I really have to speak to God about what I’d done? Or was it all just a myth used to scare people into submission?

The truth is that I didn’t think about heaven very much, because most of the people who talked about heaven seemed, well, like wing nuts to me. They were usually SO ‘spiritual’ you couldn’t really relate to them. And Jesus was anything but that. But today I thought about it, I thought about what it meant if I was actually making eternal decisions in my life. I thought about how it softened and corrected this consumerist ideal of collecting as much crap as you can before you die. If heaven really existed, then being kind and developing character made sense. If not, than why wouldn’t we all just be selfish idiots and get what we could?

I put the journal entries back into the binder, closed it up, and packed it into a box. I wasn’t going to throw this one out. I no longer believed I’d been to heaven, but I believed that heaven existed, and even if it was just a journal entry, it reminded me why it was so important to hold on to that belief.

May God help us reflect on the eternal consequence of our lives, and see that wherever we stand, heaven is a possibility worth considering…