I wondered if I was pushing the envelope by bringing up questions of the afterlife, until I realized that it isn’t so much Heaven and hell I’m questioning, as our perception of it. Reading descriptions of either can be mind boggling at best, and woefully inadequate at worst. Consider the overwhelming imagery of Isaiah, Ezekiel, and John in the Book of Revelation. Their descriptions seem to grasp at words that simply can’t describe the indescribable, as they resort to worldly comparisons to define something of a different realm. And a read of the Books of Enoch, the Apocalypse of Peter, and Dante’s Divine Comedy can burn more than a few brain cells with their graphic, unapologetic landscapes of Heaven and hell. Despite attempts throughout the ages to describe the afterlife, words fail to capture the inexpressible joy, or horror, of what lies beyond the veil of this world. It leaves us to our own devices to interpret what it means.
There’s no doubt that our beliefs about the afterlife bear on how we live. Simply whether or not you believe in it can have a striking impact on how you choose to live in this world. I remember the story of C.S. Lewis taking a walk with a friend when he saw a tombstone that described the deceased at a devout atheist, and saying “what a shame, all dressed up and nowhere to go.” Lewis saw loss, but what did the man buried there see? We don’t know. He counted on nothing. Is that what he got?
It’s a complex question. One thing that’s helped me bring it more into perspective as I work on Trigger is a book titled Love Wins – A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, by Rob Bell. Bell proposes that looking at Heaven and Hell as an “out there” destination beyond this life is a cop out, and cheating yourself of living the full benefit of your faith on this Earth. In fact, he proposes that Heaven and Hell are amongst us right now, and we see and choose examples of each in daily life. Furthermore, he proposes that we have no right to pass judgement on who enters Heaven or Hell, because there are too many questions that only God can answer regarding our final eternal destination. Instead of scaring people into faith, we should show them how faith can help them to see the Heaven beside us in this world, and choose to live by it rather than abandoning ourselves to the hell of human nature, chance, and circumstance. As C.S. Lewis put it, our decisions do take us closer to Heaven or hell, and the journey happens now.
I realize this isn’t for everyone. In fact, I was told when I started Love Wins that it was controversial, and that not everybody is on board with this broad view of reality. It does sound “New Age” on the surface, and requires you to open your mind to the uncomfortable fact that reality is bigger than the world we see and experience. All of creation is, and somehow, we’re uncomfortable with the unseen realities around us unless somebody close to us is facing that awful reality of death. Then it touches us and forces us to make uncomfortable realizations of how now resonates in eternity.
If this sounds like too much for you, then I encourage you to take a look at it from a different angle. I mentioned a quote from C.S. Lewis above, and his intellectual insights and wit may be easier to swallow than string theory, multiverses, and how it all works together for a bigger reality. That Hideous Strength, Space Trilogy – Book Three brilliantly shows the widening gulf between a husband and wife where the husband has chosen the descent to hell through his career, while the wife elevates in spiritual discovery with Christian friends who take her in while her husband pursues a job lead. It is dated and you have to get used to reading Lewis’ style, but the message is timeless and powerful and puts it in a fictional setting that may be more comfortable with the in-your-face modern style of inspirational self help books. Plus, the book can stand alone despite being part of a trilogy.
Trigger isn’t questioning the afterlife, but rather, how we perceive it. All we have are ideas and interpretations, but no doubt exceeds any possible expectation, and it’s probably closer to us than we think.
That’s all today. Take care, and have a great rest of the week.