A little over a week ago, on October 1, my dad would have become an octogenarian. Even though he’s no longer with us, our family decided to throw him a birthday party anyway.
We ordered carry out from Red Lobster (my dad’s favorite restaurant), bought purple and white balloons (the colors of his favorite college, Kansas State University), and after supper we all went outside and released the balloons in his memory … and shed a few tears.
More than mere sentimentalism, this family gathering was an affirmation of my dad’s immortality, not just a celebration of his almost eighty years in the flesh.
As the balloons were drifting heavenward, my mom asked the question, “When I die and go to heaven, how will I find your dad among the billions of people already there?” We discussed this potential conundrum briefly and agreed that God is big enough to have thought that one through.
I have been reading more of N. T Wright’s works lately and listening to his podcast. He, more than any other theologian, has given me language and greater clarity on what is not always very clear—the subject of heaven.
For Wright, heaven is not as much of a “physical” place as it is the restoration of creation through the resurrection of Jesus. The promise of Scripture is that after death, Jesus will take us to Himself, that where He is we may be also (John 14:3). God will dwell with us, and we will be His people, and God Himself will be with us as our God (Revelation 21:3).
Although our theology of heaven may not assuage our sorrow, it does bring hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). We were created to be in relationship with God. Sin destroyed that relationship. Jesus’ resurrection is the “great reversal” (Keller) of death and destruction into new life and restored relationship. Thus, my dad and all “who have fallen asleep” will be resurrected, and we will all join together to meet the Lord, “and so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:14-17).
Of course, I didn’t have all these thoughts ready on the tip of my tongue as my mom asked her question, but her question caused me to reflect and even prepare for this blog.
One day, you and I will pass through the portal from what is perishable to what is imperishable, from mortality to immortality (1 Corinthians 15:53-55). C. S. Lewis put it this way:
There will come a time when every culture, every institution, every nation, the human race, all biological life is extinct and every one of us is still alive. Immortality is promised to us, not to these generalities. It was not for societies or states that Christ died, but for [humans]. . . . We shall share the victory by being in the Victor. A rejection, or in Scripture’s strong language, a crucifixion of the natural self is the passport to everlasting life. Nothing that has not died will be resurrected (The Weight of Glory, 172).
With passport in hand, one day my natural self will give way to everlasting life, and when I’m ushered into the presence of our Lord, I’m pretty sure I’ll see my dad standing close by.