The subject of heaven and eternity has come up in several unrelated conversations this week. I’m sure we all have our own thoughts and ideas about what it will be like. The Bible gives us some brief descriptions which, sadly, are often interpreted through the lens of our own perceptions and dreams. In the King James Version of the Bible, in John 14:2 Jesus says, “In my Father’s house are many mansions…” That is an unfortunate translation as it appeals to our human nature that craves bigger and better things. I have heard conversations where people speculate on how big their mansion will be. The size and beauty of “their” mansion is based on how “good” they think they have been, as in: “my mansion will be bigger than your mansion.” I am sure that is not what Jesus meant as He comforted His disciples about their future. The word translated “mansion” literally means an abode, a dwelling place, a home. The idea is that there is room for all who believe.
One conversation revolved around the idea that some people claim to have had an out-of-body experience or what we might call a near-death-experience in which they had a glimpse of heaven. In almost all of those experiences – at least the ones I’ve heard and read about – the person experienced an unexplainable sense of peace, rest, and an overwhelming feeling of pure love, not to mention beauty beyond what we can imagine. In every case, the person relating their experience did not want to return to their life here. Who could blame them?
Whether or not you believe stories like these (and who are we to judge someone else’s experience?), there is a deep longing within all of us for a place of peace and rest. A place where we are loved unconditionally. A place where beauty is unmarred by sin and strife. The Apostle Paul in Romans 8 describes a “groaning within ourselves” as we await the culmination of our redemption. Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells us that God has “planted eternity in human hearts.”
Another conversation from this past week involved preparing a celebration of life for someone who, by all accounts, was kindness personified, generous to a fault, humble, friendly, and always made others feel as if they were part his family. Because of his faith in Christ, he is now experiencing what we are all longing for – heaven and home. From all that’s been shared with me about his life, I think he tried to share a little bit of heaven on earth with those around him. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all did that?
Grace and peace,
NOTE: Pastor Pam Sutherland’s pastorates include St. Paul United Methodist Church in St. Paul, Virginia and Fort Gibson United Methodist Church in Castlewood, Virginia.