What image comes to mind when you think about heaven? Do you imagine clouds and harps and winged seraphim? I get a vision of green hills, blooming flowers, and abundant wildlife (as C.S. Lewis described at the end of The Narnia Chronicles). Or perhaps you anticipate a vast crowd of people, friends and family waiting to welcome you.
Our assurance of heaven is a great comfort, especially when we lose someone we love. We can be confident that we’ll see them again and that we’ll spend forever together.
But what happens when that person we love has clearly rejected God’s offer of Himself? Heaven isn’t the only possible destination. The Bible clearly says that those who reject God’s offer of Heaven consign themselves to Hell—a horrible place devoid of God’s loving presence.
How do we cope with the loss of someone who didn’t choose God?
This question is a personal one. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, my mother did not believe in anything supernatural. This wasn’t an apathetic lack of interest. Rather, she deliberately, intentionally rejected anything that reminded her of religion. She proudly described herself as a secular humanist and an atheist. Of course I prayed—for 25 years! When we realized she had only weeks to live, I flew out to see her one last time. Even at the point of death, she loudly disparaged my faith. In fact, the only lucid phrase she uttered during my week long visit was an angry retort when I suggested that God loved her. Shortly after that she became unresponsive. Three weeks later she died.
And what about my dad? As far as I know, he too rejected anything remotely religious. While he admitted there might be some sort of impersonal spirit out there somewhere, he completely discarded his childhood belief in the God of the Bible. He described himself as an agnostic.
So how do I cope with their deaths?
- First, I have to trust that God loves them immeasurably more than I do. He gave his all for my parents, and nothing would please Him more than welcoming them into his presence.
- Next, God will not force Himself on anyone. If someone really doesn’t want Him around, He honors their wishes.
- Third, I don’t know what happened after each of my parents lost consciousness. I’ve heard many stories of Jesus appearing to people as they slept or while they were in a coma. Perhaps He appeared to them too. Or maybe they were able to reconsider what I and so many others had told them about God, and changed their minds in the face of their imminent deaths.
- Finally, I have a clear conscience. I said what the Holy Spirit asked me to say, I did what the Spirit asked me to do. I have no regrets, no sense that I should have done more. I am at peace.
As for the rest, I have to accept that there are some questions I won’t get answered until I can ask God face to face. Perhaps it’s none of my business. That may sound harsh, but consider what Jesus said when asked about the fate of someone else:
Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. … When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” (John 21:20-22)
God clearly tells us to share our faith, but nowhere does He make us responsible for another person’s eternal destiny. What a relief! I’m glad I’m not in charge; some decisions belong only to God.