Did you ever think there might be people in heaven that you really don’t want to run into?
I had a moment, some number of years ago, when I heard a rumor that someone who had done a lot of serious damage to people I love had found God and was in danger of changing his life for the better. I had so much animosity towards this person that, without any more information, I immediately jumped to an absolutely ridiculous conclusion: “Oh, hell no. If God lets him into heaven, I’m not going!”
I’m such a spiritual woman.
I’ve often wondered if my mom felt the same way about my dad. He was also a violent alcoholic, most likely with mental health issues, who routinely sent my mom to work with bruises and black eyes. When he finally committed suicide, we were all assured that, because he was clearly not in his right mind, he was forgiven, and would eventually wind up in heaven (after he’d served out his sentence in purgatory, of course). Meanwhile, in this life, whenever anyone mentioned his name, my mother’s jaw would set, and her face would cloud over, and then someone would rush to change the subject.
What would happen when they encountered each other? Would she feel the same way I did–”If he gets to stay, I’m leaving!” Would she ask for a transfer to the other side of the cosmos?
It seemed to me that Heaven could be a very awkward place–until I realized that I had it all wrong.
In his lovely novel The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis suggests that, in order to enter heaven, we have to be willing to let go of our own shortcomings. We cannot carry our addictions, our need to control, our unforgiveness and bitterness, our anger, or our false idols into the presence of infinite love. We need to jettison everything that is not part of who God created us to be. Because we are redeemed and restored by Jesus himself, our physical, emotional and spiritual deformities are all made new, in the twinkling of an eye, if we are willing. If there is a purgatory, if there is a hell, these are places we choose to occupy as we continue clinging to our self-protective mechanisms and our own self-righteousness.
If my mom and my dad have chosen heaven, they have both been restored. They are both able to revel in who God created each of them to be. Perhaps they spent some time washing each other in forgiveness and love as they reminisced about the qualities that drew them to each other in the first place. Perhaps they reflected on their five beautiful, resilient daughters, and the grandchildren and even great grandchildren that now grace this planet because of their union. Or maybe they are both more focused on the Source of their love, aware that their human connection was just a grace note in that grand symphony.
I don’t know. But I have come to understand that if God lets him into heaven, I’ll be glad to see him there, because that means he will have been restored and released from the torment and brokenness that made him so hard to love here. He will be the incredible, unique, made-in-God’s-image individual that he was meant to be.
And so will I.