“Turn right at the cemetary,” my daughter directed me yesterday as we set out to find the location of Jakob’s new art classes. As we turned the corner, 6 year old Jakob looked out of his car window at the neat expanse and asked, “What’s a ‘cemetary’?”
“It’s a place where people are buried when they die,” I answered him.
“What do you mean!?” he asked, incredulously. “They bury people when they die? I always thought we go directly to heaven!”
His use of ‘directly’ was cute, but not as cute as his surprise over discovering that for his whole life– all six years of it– he’d missed something this significant.
The conversation, of course, immediately erupted into those very big ideas of life, death, resurrection, New Earth, body, soul, and of course, heaven, with Jakob’s rapid-paced questions being fired off, one after the other. Having discussions with a six-year-old is challenging: any communication must be first processed in the mind in such a way that the information is accurate and appropriate, then it must be translated into a vocabulary that a six year old is able to comprehend– not unlike translating the whole conversation into a whole different language. It’s exhausting!
Even more challenging, a conversation like this must successfully represent the incredible joy and freedom that eternal life will bring for Believers who love God, and not the inevitable fear that rises for little children because of the “unknown–” particularly when it means a separation from the body.
Using the allegory of the body as a “house” that we shed wasn’t particularly meaningful to Jakob. But a lobster made total sense to this little guy who is fascinated with crustaceans and how they molt.
As one who herself is very curious to know about the Home I so often long for– where my Dad and many old friends of mine are now living– I’ve done considerable reading about it, specifically in books that expound on what the Bible reveals about heaven. My sister Dale once commented to me that it’s a good thing the Bible holds back so much information about heaven, because if we knew too much, we would loose any motivation for living here on earth, wanting so desperately to be “released.”
But we have glimpses of understanding that assure us of the vibrant reality ahead. Living on the opposite side of the continent from where my extended family lives, I am convinced, and have frequent evidences to know that my sisters, brother, and their families are alive and vibrant, living in a world that really does exist, although I do not currently have access to it. It helps me to understand heaven. Right now, I know my Dad is more alive than he has ever been, living in a world that is real and vibrant… although right now I cannot be there with him.
Joni Eareckson Tada wrote of the right understanding of what’s ahead in her book “Heaven– Your Real Home” that has never left me since reading it. She likened our understanding of heaven to the greatly limited understanding that a baby knows of life here on earth from his perspective in the womb. Right now, Jakob’s newest baby brother is growing in the comfort of his mother’s womb, and knows no other world. He is warm and content– though in reality he is confined, squeezed, and wrapped in darkness. If he had the ability to think sufficiently, he would still be unable to comprehend that he is surrounded by a such a vast, colorful, vibrant, amazing world of light, tastes, sounds, smells, joys, unbelievable beauty. He is in the world, and surrounded by the world– but he is not yet released into it.
Likewise, we too are surrounded by the glory of heaven–yet we are not released into it yet.
Every time I look into the face of a newborn, my heart breaks with a longing to somehow let that confused, crying little child understand that he/she is so vastly loved by those of us who would give our very lives to protect him/her. And it’s never long before that confusion is turned into amazing, incredible joy and comfort as the baby is laid in the arms of its mother, wrapped in peace and love. Would a baby– if he could– ever choose to go back to the confinement of the womb once he is in a world so full of life?
If we only knew what was ahead. We know it’s real, and it’s more wonderful than we can imagine. “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9.)
Yes, Jakob, it’s going to happen, and it’s going to be amazing. One day, we’ll shake off this old lobster shell and our new bodies will live forever with amazing joy, wrapped in the arms of the One Who loved us so much that He gave His life for us.
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