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By Trusting Doubter ~

Now that I am no longer a Christian, I’m no longer afraid of dying; perhaps the opposite of what a Christian might think possible. Now, it’s not that I WANT to die. I like life very much. But I no longer fear what happens after my demise.

When I was a Christian, of course, I was afraid of hell. But I think – although I never could admit it to myself or certainly, to anyone else – I was also afraid of heaven. I never heard or read a description of heaven that filled me with enough desire to live with it for eternity. Eternity is a REALLY long time. It NEVER ends.

Music was often an issue in the churches I attended, and it wasn’t that uncommon for people to up and leave a congregation because of it. If a young pastor came into an aging congregation and began to introduce praise songs many oldsters got their hackles up. Some even felt it was ‘of the devil.’ I was one of those rare individuals who liked both kinds of music in church – hymns AND the more modern and emotion-evoking praise songs (although I guess hymns had a slight advantage because they were less obviously manipulative). But I loved being in choir, and occasionally, in my early years, even performed in a quartet or duet. I also sang around the house all the time. One of my favorite comments by my daughter was that she didn’t realize that other mothers didn’t go around singing all the time until she was in junior high and spent the night with a friend and HER mother didn't sing at all. But no matter how much I enjoy singing I really don’t want to sing praises to God - or even oldies, for that matter - non stop forever.

Streets of gold in an eternal city? I’m actually more of a country mouse. Descriptions of babbling brooks, wild flower-filled meadows, and stands of trees gently rustling in the breeze on a warm sunny day would be a lot more inviting for me than cities filled with gold. It makes me want to reach for my clip-on sunglasses just imagining the glare. And what’s in the buildings that make up the city anyway? Is that where we all live? Are they condos? Are their municipal buildings? Libraries? Restaurants? Maybe, since we’re in heaven, and have no needs other than to praise God forever, they’re exclusively churches, with every option imaginable: small fundamentalist gatherings; large patriarchal evangelical congregations (with praise bands); even liturgical High Churches in the grandest buildings with divine light streaming through the impressive stained glass windows and seraphim and cherubim making up the choir.

And once we’ve had that joyous reunion with our dearly departed-before-us loved ones how long can a rendezvous go on and still be enjoyable? I mean even in families like mine where we all get along well, we still need some personal space to rest and reflect.

Oh yes. I hear when we’re in heaven, we never get tired. Our bodies are now – finally – perfect, so rest isn’t necessary. Does that mean we have to interact constantly with others? Being a relatively quiet introvert, that idea certainly doesn’t excite me much either. Actually, it wears me out just thinking about it.

It would probably be interesting to see Jesus in person. Will he look different than I visualized? I’m sure the first order of business upon arrival in Heaven is to express undying thankfulness. After all, it’s because of him that I would be there, according to all I’ve been taught. So I’d have to put aside any discomfort at approaching someone I’ve never seen before and hug him, at the very least. Or fall prostrate at his feet in gratitude that I didn’t end up in that other place. Or rock back and forth with my hands raised and tears streaming down my face, like the charismatic Christians who always evoked equal parts fascination and aversion in me. Once I feel I have groveled sufficiently, maybe it’ll be time to ask those questions that always ended my inquisitive conversations with pastors back on earth, the ones that were finally answered with:

Well, some things we’ll never understand in this life; some things we’ll only find out when we get to heaven.

But can he answer everyone’s questions at once? Or do we have to queue up to wait our turn? That could be a really long wait. Since we’ll be in a different – spiritual – realm and anything will be possible, do we each have our own personal savior with whom we can communicate without speaking - like those characters in Star Trek - so that we don’t have to stand on-line waiting for our turn for the One and Only? Maybe he speaks to all of us, all at once, answering all possible questions in his daily address. Maybe, as some churches on earth do, he encourages small groups. I suppose, since we’ve got forever, we can take turns attending a small gathering with Jesus as the guest speaker. Visualizing this makes me think of the picture in the Foursquare church down the street that I used to attend with Carolyn when we were girls; the one with a bearded but benevolent looking Jesus, dressed in white flowing robes, and surrounded by adoring and trusting children. I always liked that picture (probably because the backdrop was a lovely country scene with blue sky and wispy clouds) and wouldn’t mind a chance to participate in a gathering like that, where those pesky unanswerable questions would FINALLY be resolved to my satisfaction by an eternally patient, paternal and kind Jesus.

But then what? My questions answered, my reunion with loved ones over, my gratitude expressed, my praise singing getting boring….what happens next?

Are there gardens to tend in Heaven? Can we ride motorcycles off into the great beyond, with our hair blowing in the wind? What if we loved making gourmet meals on earth? Is that an option, or is there only manna day in and day out? Are there crossword puzzles in heaven? Sudoku? What can we do to keep from being bored?

What was that quote, often attributed to Mark Twain?

Heaven for climate; hell for company.

I have come to two conclusions about people who are truly excited about going to heaven: They have customized their idea of heaven to accommodate their interests and desires; or they haven’t really thought it through carefully enough.