“Are you going to heaven? How will you spend the afterlife?” asks one of those things in Facebook. How will I spend the afterlife? It’s a question more serious than a Facebook quiz. If pastoral ministry in the church means anything, heaven has to be a serious matter.
A friend in Ulster once told of a conversation with a friend who was a pastor,
‘What’s heaven like?’ he had asked the pastor
‘Heaven?’ said the pastor, ‘Heaven for for me will be standing with my dog on a bridge in one of the glens of Antrim; just standing there looking down the glen. And someone will come up and say, ‘What are you doing?’
And I’ll say, ‘I’m just standing here enjoying the view’.
And they’ll say, ‘Are you standing here long?’
And I’ll say, ‘Ach, no, not more than ten thousand years’.
The question arose one morning in a primary school classroom.
‘Reverend Ian, what will it be like in heaven?’
‘What do you think we will be like?’ I asked. There was no answer.
‘Will we see our friends again?’ one asked.
‘That’s what we are told’.
No sooner had I given the stock replay than I remembered thoughts I had once had about what we teach in church about the life of the world to come, all the stuff we say about the joyful reunion in heaven. More than one widow I have met has expressed profound and sincere relief at the demise of their erstwhile partner. Are we saying that having got rid of the old man that they have to face the prospect of an eternity with him? And, if not, why do we teach this stuff?
Heaven was a concern for a good lady of profound faith whom I knew very well and who died in her late 90s. One question that caused her thought from time to time was what age we would be in eternity. Death held no fears, heaven was a certainty, anxiety stemmed from a fear that in heaven she might be the little old lady she had become.
‘”What will we be like in heaven?” It was not a question I could answer, just as I could not answer it for a couple who lost their little son at 21 months old in the little rural parish where I worked for seven years, all I could answer to the question was that I believed that in heaven we would be at our best.
“How will I spend the afterlife?” I don’t think the compilers of the Facebook quiz have even begun to consider the question.