Forever begins when you’re here and they’re there
“Where is heaven?” my theological 9-year-old asks.
I give the seminary answer. I abbreviate it, but share the thoughts of some renowned philosophers and theologians have offered through the ages. I land (pun intended) with Paul Tillich, a 20th century theologian who suggests that God is the ground of all being. Tillich muses that God isn’t “out there” or “above us.” He suggests the opposite. God is the base of it all. He adds that God is within us.
If you still hold onto the relationship you have with a loved one who is with God in heaven, you are engaging Tillich’s thoughts that heaven isn’t so far away.
“I talk with my husband every day,” a vibrant widow in my congregation says. “He isn’t really gone.” A light comes into her eyes when she adds, “He’s there—somewhere.”
That “somewhere” is heaven if you follow Jesus. And heaven is a distinct or separate place. It is a holy and peaceful place.
But it isn’t far off.
How do I know this? I can’t explain except to say (or actually repeat) what I know of God through the Word of God, the Bible. It’s this. God is love (1 John 4:8). Here the Apostle John offers what is not an end but a beginning. God is love. God’s essence, being, orientation, and definition is love.
Love is good. Understatement! Why would love stop? In fact, the Apostle Paul says love never fails (1 Corinthians 13). Love never stops. Therefore, death cannot stop love.
So don’t stop love either. In your loss, keep on reaching for and talking to your loved one/s.
The worst theology I ever heard was about the time I was 9-years-old. “Now is the time to say goodbye,” I heard at my grandmother’s funeral.
Rather than this forced goodbye, I invite you to appreciate what another widow in my congregation believes. She says, “Heaven begins here.”
When we are on the hard end of a hard day/week/month/year, it doesn’t feel like heaven is here. In fact, it seems as if it’s the opposite. But talk with your loved one. Death didn’t part you.
And heaven (God as the ground of all being) isn’t distant.
The story of the prophet Elijah being taken into heaven is found in 2 Kings 2, which is a part of this past Sunday’s lectionary text. Here Elijah’s life and ministry on earth is coming to end. Yet Elisha, the mentor of Elijah, isn’t letting go of the relationship. As a result of his instance to stay with Elijah, Elisha is given the gift Elijah had: the ability to part waters.
Part with the thought that you have to say goodbye to someone you love.
My dad died 23 years ago. I have experienced many deaths in 23 years, but realize the one I talk with most is my dad. These conversations may seem one-sided to some. I never think of them this way because what I experience when I literally talk to my dad is peace. Oh, I may be teary-eyed about something in the here and now. In fact, an upset of some kind precipitates the conversation, or, when I’m looking at the beauty of nature around where we worked together, I softly say, “Look at this, dad.”
Elijah actually does not die. He is carried up to heaven in a whirlwind (verse 11b). In a way, my dad did not die either—at least not completely, or in some finite, graveside, see-you-later sense. No, my dad is nearby. I am not a theologian on Tillich’s level, but the simple, unexplainable truth is that my dad is close enough to talk to.
2n our whirlwinds, we are the ones who keep heaven distant.
2et heaven be close. Will your eyes be teary-eyed like mine? Maybe. But these are good tears.