Rev. Christy Thomas: Varied views of afterlife come with problems

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Many of us hold beliefs in an afterlife of some sort. However, we have significant disagreement in how we think that afterlife will work as we hold mutually contradictory descriptions.

For example, if heaven for one man equals having 70 virgins to deflower as he wishes, then that person’s heaven equals hell for others. If one person’s heaven means being surrounded only by like-minded people, the majority of humanity will be denied entrance.

My point: If our versions of the afterlife mean that others must suffer or be excluded in order to get our ideal world, maybe, just maybe, there’s a problem here.

I read once, and unfortunately can’t remember where, a suggestion that heaven is going to be like a giant airport waiting room filled with people with whom we have had unresolved conflicts. We will have all eternity to work out those conflicts. The plane takes off only when all reconcile and everyone is welcomed aboard.

After all, if people whom I would rather not see again populate heaven, how can it be a place of perfect love? There’s always the chance of running into those people. Will there be a heavenly equivalent to crossing over to the other side of the road or unfriending them on a social network site?

So let’s look at that “heavenly” airport waiting room possibility. Who fills that space?

Each of us will have a different list.

A left-leaning Democrat might find a right-wing radio commentator in the next seat.

A person who lived life as part of a committed same-sex relationship may find the seat across the aisle taken by a well-known and highly vocal gay-basher.

Estranged spouses, long not speaking to one another, sit stiffly in corner seats, unable to avoid each other’s eyes.

An avid defender of care-free childless living discovers the quiet seat carefully chosen in a what looked like an adults-only section is suddenly surrounded with harried parents caring for screaming babies and racing toddlers.

The liberal Christian intellectual glares at the biblical literalist standing in line, busily offering proof texts as to why preferred seating should be offered only to those in complete agreement to a certain list of doctrines, including absolute female submission to male headship, the right to own slaves and the assurance that only a tiny group of elect will actually get to board the plane.

The atheist, certain that religious institutions are the root of all evil and shocked by even the idea of an afterlife, looks at the face of the one who has devoted his entire adult life to top leadership of a massive religious institution.

The European physical fitness and healthy eating guru, long vocal about the sloppy and disgusting avoirdupois of most Americans, lands in the food court, which smells of stale grease. The air is so saturated by fat-producing carbohydrates that she can feel her thighs growing larger moment by moment and she shares a table with a bunch of super-sized Americans delightedly ordering more shakes and fried pies.

The power-hungry murdering dictator faces unending lines of those tortured and slaughtered under his rule — and he’s going to have to ask each one for forgiveness. Worse, each one will have to find forgiveness.

Outrageous scenarios? Perhaps. But what if we must make our peace with those for whom we feel things like hatred, disgust, disdain and disappointment? What if those we have soundly condemned will sit with us until we are able to lay our condemnation down? What if we must offer the forgiving hand and hug to those in opposing camps in order for either of us to board that plane?

And yet, if we don’t, would we ourselves ever be free to receive the fullness of perfect love? Can we receive it if we dictate to God that others must not receive it? Just something to think about.

THE REV. CHRISTY THOMAS is the pastor of First United Methodist Church in Krum. Reach her by calling 940-482-3482 or by e-mail at christy@krumumc.org .

 


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