I never thought much about heaven. The idea of dead friends and relatives dressed in white robes singing hallelujah while they wandered inside the pearly gates seemed a little…. well….. boring. Not that I didn’t want to be with God, but it seemed easier for me to find Him here in everyday life. I didn’t need to consider eternity.
When Neil died I became far more interested in heaven. There was so much I needed to understand. Is heaven a parallel dimension where the dead can see and hear us but we can’t see them? Is it a jeweled city of marble palaces and heavenly music playing unceasingly? Is it a physical place on the other side of the universe in an alternate galaxy? And at the end of the world, where will all the billions of resurrected bodies fit? So many questions plagued my thoughts!
Then I had a dream of Neil. In it, I walked out onto the patio where we always enjoyed morning coffee and evening sunsets. I found him waiting on the bench at the picnic table. “What are you doing here?” I asked him. Pointing up to the sky, he said, “The Big Guy sent me to tell you a few things.”
“Ummm…Ok…” I answered hesitantly.
“First of all,” he said,” it really is a better place. You’ll like it.” As I nodded, he continued. “Second, there isn’t any pain or sadness, so missing you and the girls doesn’t feel unpleasant. There’s no such thing as time either; I just saw you and I know I’ll see you again.” He looked at me so earnestly that I wasn’t at all troubled having this strange conversation. He clearly wanted me to appreciate the depth of his words. “But the best part,” he smiled,” is that I’ll be waiting for you when you get here, along with all the other people you love who got here first.”
We chatted for a few surreal minutes about some of the interesting people he had a chance to meet, and then I woke up. There was no dramatic ending to the dream, no romantic farewell, but the peace I felt was far greater than any hug or kiss could have given me. I got out of bed, poured a cup of coffee, and thought about Neil’s words.
The idea that it simply wasn’t possible for him to miss us was a novel one to consider, and reminded me of the Book of Job. Neil had always been fascinated by that book in the Bible. It tells the story of poor Job, who loses everything -his family, his property, his wealth and even his health. His friends insist he must have done something wrong to deserve such punishment, but Job claims he has not. He contends that bad things can happen to good people and in one of his speeches begs God to explain why. Finally, God appears to him and through an awesome show of power conveys that human intelligence is just too limited to understand these deeper mysteries.
I used to be disappointed when I read those words. It felt like God was giving Job a pretty lame answer – like when we tell our kids, “Because I said so!” This time, though, the words seemed comforting. With my perspective refreshed by my dream, I contemplated the idea that my finite brain might not be physically able to comprehend the infinity of heaven. Maybe God was saying, “The reason you don’t understand heaven, Colleen, is because you can’t. Your brain is simply not equipped to do it.” Oh, that makes sense, my doctor voice said.
I’m okay with that answer. I know it won’t stop my human nature from wondering, or my curiosity from imagining, or my dream self from wanting Neil to tell me more. But I can accept that I won’t completely understand heaven until I get there. I can take Neil’s word for it: I will like it and it’s a better place. And that’s really all I need to know.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9.