The Pilgrim’s Paradox – To Bind or to Loose in the Kingdom of Heaven
Barbara walked slowly down the brightly lit corridor. It was a pulsing, almost blinding aurora, originating from where exactly she could not tell. It seemed to wrap around her from all sides, enveloping her and yet, somehow emanating from within her at the same time. It was a most peculiar sensation in this most peculiar place. The light seemed to draw her forward from somewhere far ahead of her and at the same time compelled her from somewhere deep inside, like two magnets drawn to each other with an almost irresistible force. The pace of her movements increased, until her feet could no longer keep up and she began to float, swiftly yet peacefully. In the endless brightness that surrounded her, all concept of time and space vanished in the most disorientating but comforting way. She relaxed into the weightlessness that overcame her and enjoyed the strange sensation of being embraced, suspended by, and filled with Brightness.
Forms began to take shape ahead of her and, suddenly or eventually – she could not tell which for it was impossible to gauge time in this place – she found herself before a man standing in front of the biggest gates she could imagine.
“Hello Barbara,” said the man, “I am St Peter. Welcome to the Final Judgment.”
“Goodness me!” Barbara exclaimed, “Am I in Heaven?”
“Yes indeed,” St Peter replied, “You have been a good and faithful servant. Your belief in Jesus as Lord and Saviour and your penitent heart have held you in good stead. Come, join us in the great feast of eternal joy.”
The gates opened for Barbara to enter, but as she began to move towards them a thought caught her heart. She was already experiencing a great treasure of peace and contentment in her body before even entering this Life To Come, but there was something that weighed heavily on her.
“Please sir, I have to know. Are my family all here? Will I see them again in this place?”
St Peter replied, stoicly, “Yes Barbara, your husband and your daughter will be joining you in the joy of life eternal.”
“And my son?”
“Unfortunately not my child. You, as well as anyone, should know that unrepentant sinners cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven. His homosexual lifestyle was too much for God Almighty to bear. It has condemned him to an eternity of pain and torment.”
Upon hearing this verdict, Barbara fell to her knees, sobbing. “No No NO!” she cried, overcome with grief. “Please, is there anything I can do? I must save him from this.”
“You know full well that this was what would happen if he continued down this path. All you can do now is to enter into your Father’s rest and enjoy your inheritance.”
“But how can I do that, knowing my Steven is suffering for eternity?”
“You will soon forget him once you enter into the Kingdom. All your tears and suffering will be wiped away.”
“How could I possibly forget my only son? I am going to be tormented for eternity by the knowledge of his suffering. How can I enjoy Heaven knowing that he is in Hell? Even if I enter into the Kingdom, it will be nothing but torture for me.”
“It is what it is,” St Peter said, “But if you struggle to forget him, we can help you. Say the word, and I will wipe all memory of Steven from your heart and your mind. But be warned, doing so will erase the effect of every experience you had with him. All the pain, all the joy, everything you learned and grew into by being his mother, gone. We can remove all connection you ever had with him for the sake of your happiness.”
“But I would no longer be me! My whole identity is tied up in being his mother. My relationships with my husband and daughter are also wrapped up in who I am as a mother to Steven. Will all of that be affected too?”
“Most certainly. But don’t worry, the joy of the Almighty will cover over the void in your lives created by this decision.”
Barbara broke down in abject horror and misery. Heaven was not what she was expecting it would be. Looking back on it, she did not really know what she was expecting it to be. No one in the Church had ever told her how specifically these consequences of repentance and unrepentance would affect her. Her thoughts widened to everyone she knew in life that did not come to church; her muslim co-worker, her atheist uncle, the drunk homeless man who took advantage of her church’s foodbank but rejected the hope of the gospel message that they tried to impart to him, the friendly Sikh community that had set up a small worship centre a couple of blocks from her house, and her best friend who had grown up with her in church, but had walked away to adopt a “new-age” faith that she just could not come to terms with. Would she also have to let go of everything that these people had imparted to her, everything that she had learned from them, all of the ways she had grown through her relationships with them in order to enjoy the Hereafter? Who would she be forevermore without their influences in her life? Would she even be Barbara anymore, enjoying the Life to Come? Or someone else entirely?
“Please sir, there must be some other way. How selfish would I be to accept such an arrangement? Surely you can do something to change Steven’s fate? Or the others I know that rejected the gospel?”
“I cannot. Remember the teachings of your faith. According to the truth of your own beliefs, so must it be.”
“But I can no longer accept those beliefs. According to them, I must either be tortured myself for eternity by their torment or cease to exist as I now do. The good news I was taught to believe is not good news. It is a lie. Heaven cannot truly exist in the presence of an eternal Hell. I would rather spend eternity with my son than without him.”
St Peter stared at her, wide-eyed at her words. “What are you saying my child? Are you turning your back on God Almighty?”
“If God Almighty cares so little for me to put me in this position, then yes, I would rather spend eternity with my son.”
St Peter’s countenance changed then, surprisingly for Barbara, from one of shock and authority to a gentle, loving expression. “Barbara, you have finally begun to see things as they truly are. In life, we humans knew only in part what can only be fully understood in eternity. Rightly or wrongly, you were raised to believe certain things about God, about Christ. Your own beliefs condemned those people you love - and yourself - to an eternity of suffering. It was not God that condemned them, nor Christ. Judgment was passed from the Father to the Son, who himself came to judge not the world, but to save it.
The Christ passed the Kingdom keys of forgiveness on to us and taught us about God's unconditional love, desiring that we might realise just how destructive the power of holding on to offence is. You have begun to understand this today, and now the choice is up to you. Will you repent of the offence that your son’s homosexuality, or the unbelief of your friends has caused you? Will you forgive them and allow them to enter the Kingdom of Heaven? Will you allow yourself to let go and enter into the Father’s rest? Truly I tell you, they are all waiting for you to share in their joy.”
Russell has a heart for community and reaching out to the marginalised and forgotten. He is getting to know the God of infinite goodness and is living a joy-filled life with his wife Belinda and three children in South-East Queensland, Australia.
See all previous articles by Russell Croft