Fear not, for I am with you. Do not be dismayed. I am your God. I will strengthen you; I will help you; I will uphold you with my victorious right hand. Isaiah 41:10
My wife’s mother passed away recently. Shirley lived on the other side of the world and she passed away whilst my wife was making an emergency dash from Melbourne to England to be with her. Sadly, she arrived too late and I broke the news to her when she had landed part way of the trip, in Doha, Qatar.
Shirley was an amazing woman. She was raised in a Jewish household and very strongly turned her back on her faith. She suffered many things in her life but remained a strong, funny, kind and intelligent lady. She loved her garden and music. Shirley was also a staunch atheist.
But now that she has gone from us and as an atheist, she believed that death was the end. As Christians, my wife and I believe death is but a part of our journey. I have come to the conclusion, after many years of thought, that heaven does not have a gate but rather an open and constantly welcoming door.
I have heard people talk of hell. I have heard people say that only those who believe go to heaven. Some say that when ‘non-believers’ die, that is the end for them. Because God does not welcome those poor wretched people, and that after death comes nothingness.
I, for one, do not believe that God sits on a magnificent throne wagging his finger at us like an omnipotent being: judging and punishing all and sundry. To me that image of a vengeful God has always been wrong. I know the old testament God was written out like that, but I think perhaps those writers have gotten God so very wrong.
Does God punish or forgive?
I listen to Jesus, God’s son, who conveyed a very different image of God. I think a more accurate one too. That old God changed when he sent his son who told us about the true nature of God. Who better than Jesus to deliver us the facts? Jesus sits on the right hand of God, validating us. God is not going to punish you or me or your atheist mother for making choices and had understandings they thought to be best. Sometimes life deals negative stuff that separates us from the real nature of God. If you are certain there is no God? Does that mean you are a sinner?
God is not vengeful: he loves and forgives. God sees into your heart and your brain (where your thoughts and maybe even where your soul resides). He knows who you are. He knows what you are.
In the amazing and beautiful Beatitudes, the bible states Jesus spoke these words (in Matthew 5:4)
“...those who mourn are fortunate! For they shall be comforted. The meek and lowly are fortunate! For the whole wide world belongs to them. Happy are those who long to be just and good, for they shall be completely satisfied. Happy are the kind and merciful, for they shall be shown mercy. Happy are those whose hearts are pure, for they shall see God. Happy are those who strive for peace—they shall be called the sons of God. Happy are those who are persecuted because they are good, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs."
Do not listen to others who may judge. Only our loving God knows the entirety of what is in the next life. Many Christians believe that if Shirley was an atheist, then like a Seinfeld character God would say: “No eternity for you!” But does this hold up to scrutiny? After many years of mulling this over, my advice is: don't listen to these people if it doesn't resonate with your heart. People are flawed and have their own beliefs, as do you and I, and some even have their own agendas. Not one denomination completely agrees within its own walls on the things of God.
One thing is constant and unchanging: people do not decide who goes to heaven or what heaven is. God does. God will not penalise you for being wrong. Do not live in fear that someone you know may not be in heaven: I personally am sure they will be.
God loves us. All of us.
Who is in heaven?
When I first returned to church as a new Christian, my Pastor at the time said in a sermon, “When I die and I go to heaven, I will be surprised to see who is there. There will be people who I thought wouldn’t make it. I will also be surprised who is not there.”
There is no doubt that there will be some people who may not make it. By their own choice, they will keep themselves outside of the party. They will be too busy judging others to walk in to heaven.
1 John 4:8 says, “but if a person isn’t loving and kind, it shows that he doesn’t know God—for God is love.”
Do not be afraid
To all those who have lost someone close to them, think on this: We are human, we are God’s creation and he made us perfect in his eyes. I know that when I die and when my wife passes over, that my Father and Mother and Shirley will be waiting for us with open loving arms. The air in heaven is saturated with love; it will be contagious and wonderful.
Goodbye Shirley, until we meet again.
Christopher wants to see fairness in the world and desires to see the doors of Christianity open to all. He has been a drama junkie for decades. He found God in the 1990’s but too often sees faith and belief being used to promote individuals doctrines. Chris enjoys reading, theatre, good food and good company. Chris loves music but can’t play a note. He has two adult children and a patient wife. He lives in Melbourne Australia.
See previous articles by Christopher Newport