Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
"Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father's home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going."-John 14:1-4
I was raised a Methodist, Sunday schooled to believe that Heaven existed, though in fairness not much emphasis was placed upon it. When a young child, I lay across my mother's lap during the service, staring up to the rough pine planks of the high A-frame ceiling. Surely God was up there. I never questioned anything taught to me. When it was my time, I would ascend upwards like everyone else who had lived a good and moral life.
Now a Quaker, years later, I've done my share of research on the subject and still never been satisfied. It seems that Friendly beliefs about the afterlife are inconsistent at best. The liberal unprogrammed Friends with whom I have worshiped are much more concerned with good works performed on Earth. There's certainly a place for that, but I've never been able to shake the belief that there is a destination I may end up if I play my cards right. Maybe I'm selfish. Doing right for the sake of rightness alone isn't enough for me. Life is challenging. I seek a respite when my time is up, whenever that shall be.
My vision of heaven has changed drastically over time. It has been shaped by movies, books, television shows, many of which seem to show a stereotypical notion of a place up in the clouds where everything is perfect. When I've asked Friends the question which I have titled this piece, I've gotten a wide variety of answers, most of which deviate dramatically from the way I was taught. Most involve some lofty goal to be accomplished on Earth, often a work of activism that has been transformed into a life's work. But again, I question whether that is truly enough for anyone. I think God wants us to look forward towards Heaven as one of the most profound symbols of his love for us.
Part of the confusion is how infrequently eternal life is mentioned in Scripture. Interpreters of the few passages where Heaven is mentioned downplay the doubts some might have and emphasize the promised reward. This kind of reminds me of a mother disciplining her child, who constantly asks "Why?" and the mother firmly replies, "Because I said so." I'm not sure that I believe major matters like these are so easily explained away and predicated on blind faith alone.
A few verses later, this same chapter states that Jesus is the sole path to God the Father. I was taught to not take offense at how narrow this interpretation is and to be happy that my path to salvation existed in any form. Better to put my doubt aside and be thankful for what I had. Again, I asked why to a multitude of people and was told instead, "Because I said so." In that regard, I rebelled. I have never believed that Christianity was the only way, though I will say that it has been highly instructive and effective for me.
I conclude with a few queries. Do you believe in Heaven? If so, what form does it take in your imagination? If not, why do you reject the notion?