My 93 year-old Grandma (Strong Willed Woman #1) passed away last week. Given our miraculous existence as Grand Rapids, MI residents, I was able to spend hours upon hours by her bedside as hospice took over and she journeyed through the very sweet and haunting process of dying. This was a first for me – watching someone I love die. My emotional footing was ripped out from underneath me and the same was absolutely true for Gram. We talked about mysterious topics relating to faith and living and dying. She said words she should have said decades earlier, but said them none-the-less. She was afraid and humbled and kept telling us how strange that last week felt. I can only imagine.
As fate would have it, I was reading Rob Bell’s “Love Wins” as Gram took a turn toward her last weeks on earth. The subtitle, “A book about heaven, hell, and the fate of every person who ever lived,” drew me in with the allure of a crisp glass of Rose. Knowing Rob’s “heretic” reputation in the conservative Christian world, I knew he had the strong potential to be my people. And I sure had a ton of thoughts and questions and doubts about heaven and hell, so onward I went.
Finishing the book this morning, I so wish I could have had months to converse with Gram about its contents. I wish I could have talked to her about her life in respect to love winning and conquering all our beautiful, messy selves. Not just those who place themselves in the predestined category, but ALL humans. Even the super messy ones. Even the people who couldn’t possibly be part of the Jesus tribe. Even them. I wish we could have talked about heaven NOW rather than a kingdom in the clouds. About being alive NOW rather than waiting for death to bring new life. There are so many ideas I wish we could have talked about.
What I’m lifting my hands in gratefulness for; however, is this idea that we aren’t expected or asked to have answers. I no longer believe that we have answers or the market on truth. I used to believe that my small evangelical tribe was THE tribe to belong to. We had it figured out and it was our job to direct the rest of the world toward our very happy, narrow path. I don’t believe that any more.
I no longer believe that I’m “predestined” to enter Heaven. Because, so many reasons. I no longer believe in a literal hell of flames and fury where people eternally are punished for their wrongdoings or their bad luck. I don’t believe in a “beam me up Scottie while I wave at those dropped into a pit” theology. That’s not Jesus, love or redemption. I no longer have interest in being part of a denomination because so often we get caught up in our creeds and doctrines and cultures that we forget about Jesus and the beautiful mystery that he is. By defining, we alienate and narrow and I don’t have space for narrowing. I no longer believe that I have to do one.single.thing to earn love and forgiveness and because of this I long to be more like Jesus. I no longer believe in a literal 7 day creation, but I do believe that God created this universe and that evolution played and continues to play an enormous role in how we walk this earth. Did the whole earth really flood as Noah placed two of every animal in the ark? I don’t know and I just don’t care. I believe in the power of the Bible when the Spirit is invited in to speak. Those are the times I walk away in awe. When the Spirit in NOT invited, the Bible can be a weapon. That I have come to believe.
I DO believe that this big beautiful earth will be redeemed one day and we will ALL be invited to witness and participate in that. What that means exactly? I don’t know and that’s okay. Because I don’t believe that heaven is a far away place in the clouds. Heaven is right here in a million ways every single day. Heaven is knowing that this guy named Jesus came, saw and conquered death so we can all LIVE. Together. With him. For him. Through him. And because of him. That’s enough. And if and when that gets even better? Praise God from whom all blessings flow.