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Credo XVII

“I believe in…the life everlasting.”

I didn’t cry when my dad died. I didn’t cry at his funeral, nor at his memorial service in Minneapolis, nor at his internment ceremony. He was 89, had been very sick for a long time and was very much diminished. The euphemism “passed away” seemed quite appropriate. He slipped from this life into the next. I felt like I had spread my mourning out over the previous five years and I was over it.

Then about a year after his death I traveled to Minnesota to see other family members. The cemetery is near the airport and I thought I would stop by on my way home and take a photo of the headstone for my mother. It had not been installed at the time of the burial. I found the plot, walked over, snapped the photo. I looked about to the rolling hills and distant trees and passing roadways. Then I unexpectedly burst into uncontrollable sobbing. I could not stop. I could not get in my car and drive away. I could only stand there and weep.

The fact that what had once been Dad was marked by such a small stone overwhelmed me. He led such a big life! Nearly ninety years, from farming with a horse-drawn plow to witnessing space travel, coming of age in the Great Depression, an Army officer during World War II, a sixty-year marriage, three kids, a career, a legacy of kindness and gentleness. So much, so big, and so gone.

There is no everlasting life in nature. All living things die. Each individual organism, plant or animal, goes through the cycle of birth, growth, reproduction (possibly), and death. No exceptions. We all die.

I have trouble imagining life everlasting. On the other hand, I have difficulty imagining that death is the end of a life like my dad’s. I can’t understand life everlasting, but I yearn for it. And I am not alone.

All major religions have a concept of everlasting life in some form. The Hindu tradition has reincarnation until the unity of the soul with the universe; the Buddhist tradition has nirvana; the Jews, the Muslims and the Christians have heaven. In the mythologies, various forms of afterlife appear. In spite of the certainty of death, all cultures throughout history have imagined everlasting life. There is a universal longing for this, and a collective intuitive sense that tells us that the end of our biological life cannot be the end of our consciousness.

As Christians we have specific promises: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. Later, while hanging on the cross, dying, Jesus gives his promise to one of the convicts crucified by his side: “Today you will be with me in paradise.” A few decades later, Paul wrote a graphic description of his vision of the resurrection: For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.

We don’t know what life everlasting will be like, but we have a few clues.

First, we will be in close relationship to God. Like Adam and Eve walked with God in the Garden of Eden, it looks like we’ll walk and talk with God. Like God came looking for Adam and Eve in the Garden, He will seek us out. Note what Jesus said to the thief: You will me with me in paradise. Note what Paul’s vision said: We will be with the Lord forever.

That promise is something like the hope of Buddhists and Hindus, the ultimate unity of the soul with the universe, eternal peace, transcendence from the material world and all the associated lust.

I wonder if the Eastern religions are right in some form. What we experience after death could be ultimate consciousness. But ultimate consciousness of my life includes awareness of every action I have taken at every moment, and awareness of every consequence of that action for good or evil. I might celebrate the occasional times when I got it right, but mourn eternally for the myriad times I got it wrong. And I will face an eternity of grief for the sins I have committed, the people I have failed, the suffering I have caused or failed to relieve.

I am terrified to face this, except for the promise of Jesus. He will comfort me, He will forgive my sins, He will make things right that I have made wrong.

I hope for all sorts of things in the life everlasting.

I hope to be able to sing in heaven. Inability to carry a tune seems to be a hereditary curse in the Lohse family. I just think it would be great to open my mouth and wail out the tune that’s in my head and have it come out sounding that way. Maybe that’s the way it will be for my cousin Terry Joe with his speech impediment from cerebral palsy and my friend Allan with his expressive aphasia from a stroke. They could not be understood in the world; they will be understood in heaven.

I’m hoping for some things. I’m hoping to see my folks and my brother again, and maybe my best friend, Mike. I hope Mike is there. He was a good friend to me and a good man, but he didn’t spend much time in church and I don’t know what he thought about Jesus and salvation. Does God’s mercy extend to a guitar-playing fishing guide and horticulturist who played hard and laughed easily? I hope so.

We’re told there is no marriage in heaven. But I hope to spend some more  time with Mary, maybe going over the parts of our marriage here on earth that we got right and resolving the parts we got wrong. We have laughed a lot here; I expect we’ll laugh a lot there.

I hope there will be dogs in heaven. Well, good dogs anyway. I expect Sophie and Fluffy and Mr. O’Shaughnessy will be there, but I’m hoping that pitiful cocker spaniel, Jasper, will be somewhere else. That also goes for Bruno the Doberman that lived down the block where I grew up and bit my dad one day as he walked home from the bus stop.

I wonder about a lot of things and speculate what it will be like. I wonder about time. Will time itself be changed? How could we have music without time, and there must be music in heaven. What will it feel like to have eternal patience with everything? I wonder if I’ll get bored, but I don’t think so. My ultimate purpose cannot be boredom. I don’t imagine any of my skills here will translate well; I don’t think God will need a neurosurgeon. But I expect He’ll have something else for me to do.

Sometimes I imagine golf in the Kingdom. Would I always shoot par? Would everybody always win? Would that even be fun? Will I go fishing? Maybe, if my assignment is to create hell for bad rainbow trout. I wonder if God will send me out on assignment like Clarence in the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” sent back to Earth to keep George Bailey from jumping off the bridge.

I wonder if eternal life, maybe purgatory, will be like the movie “Groundhog’s Day” where the main character lives the same day over and over and over again until he finally gets it right. Maybe I’ll get “do-overs” for all the mistakes of my life, reliving them until I get it right.

So many things I don’t know. Nothing to be afraid of, certainly, but many things to speculate about.

What I do know is this:

Life everlasting is like life in the Garden of Eden. I will have communion with God. We’ll take a walk together once or twice a day. I’ll have purpose and some tasks, presumably using the best of what I love to do and what I am most gifted at doing, and no rush to get it done; I’ve got lots of time. And I will have the love and fellowship of other human beings. Adam only had Eve, but I believe the communion of saints will continue into the life everlasting. There will be many playmates. I will be like an angel. I will be a child. These are the things promised, the things I can expect. After that, I don’t know.

But I do hope I’ll be able to sing.

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One thought on “Credo XVII”

  1. I do believe we share similar stories! My Dad died when he was 52 years young. A long time ago in 1954 – and still miss him). The 2 of us missed out on a lot of 1 on 1 fellowship. After reading your message a few times, I believe you and I are being trained to sing many duets together to glorify Jesus! Maybe even a trio?!?!

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