Friday, February 13, 2009

About heaven: people you don't like who are there

A few days ago Reverend Billy Graham in his daily column, which I love to read, addressed a question where the writer asked how he or she should deal with the idea that he or she doesn't like certain people who he or she knows will be in heaven. The writer is obviously assuming that he or she will achieve heaven, and will thus endure the company of people from his or her church etc who he or she does not like.

"There will be no discord in heaven"

Q: How can we be happy in heaven if it's going to have people in it that we don't necessarily like? There are several people in our church, for example, who are really hard to get along with, and frankly I can't imagine being around them for eternity.

Reverend Graham wrote a really fine reply. He pointed out that heaven is the place of supreme happiness because all sin, hurts and upsets are removed for all are changed before they enter into heaven (including the people who annoy you and of course, you and your biases yourself). Reverend Graham closed with the suggestion that people, while they are alive, work on being more like Christ (he implies that people should work on those irritations and biases while one can, to be more like Christ).

I always marvel how Reverend Graham writes beautiful and helpful replies in only three to four short paragraphs. Not being limited by space, I am more wordy and will therefore add a few thoughts onto his reply.

One reason I want to add these extra points is to help the type of person who has such a mindset, so that I can address some of their fears and make the transformation that Reverend Graham suggests easier.

1) When one reads the Book of Revelation, you see that St. John sees only a few dozen of the personages of heaven. In other words, this one true glimpse that an apostle has of heaven reveals that it is not a place where everyone who ever existed is in a giant receiving line, or a mosh pit of billions. There is organization and purpose even in heaven. Therefore an individual soul will by no means "meet" or "encounter" everyone who is in heaven. You are highly unlikely to ever see the people you disliked on earth. Souls exist in different areas of heaven according to their spiritual totality and also their purposeful eternal existence. For example only several dozen elders surround the throne of God. By that fact that St. John observes and records for posterity one can infer that there are logical groupings of souls in heaven, not a willy-nilly mingling.

What to conclude from that as an "action step?" Strive more for being at the "good place" near Christ, near God, rather than worry about avoiding some humans. If you focus on being as spiritually close and true to being like Christ (genuinely, not Machiavellian), you will find yourself in a more elevated place of heaven with those of a like minded spirit and purpose.

2) Who inflicts the most hurt on a person in their lifetime? Not usually the person who works your last nerve and who you dislike, but someone in your own family, whether a relative or an ex-loved one. Yet just about everyone hopes to see their family in heaven, even those family members who have been hurtful (assuming we are not speaking of grave abuse and mortal sin, in which case one must pray for their soul's survival at all).

So there is a pettiness to focus on acquaintances you do not like while forgetting that the most hurtful wounds are from family, and you of course hope that they all will be transformed and saved. If you feel that way about a family member who has hurt you at some time in your life, you obviously cannot be a hypocrite and worry about someone annoying and "hard to get along with." Instead of worrying about those who have a petty relationship with you, focus on praying that all your family members will change and be saved.

3) Before one enters heaven one's eyes are opened to one's own role in failed relationships. As part of judgment each person is purified of their sinfulness (Catholics call that purgatory, while Reverend Graham phrases it: "All their sins and their selfish way will be destroyed, and they will be exactly the way God meant them to be! They'll no longer be short-tempered or unloving or boastful or thoughtless. Instead they will be like Christ.")

One way that is achieved, in what we Catholics call Purgatory, is that you have to "walk in the shoes" of the other people with whom you have had unfortunate and less than charitable interactions. You learn about and feel the internal hurt that some "cranky" person might have had that you were unaware of, and you realize how good in soul they actually were. You then feel bad and regret the times you were uncharitable and did not work with them to give them the benefit of the doubt. That is why Purgatory takes a VERY LONG TIME for certain people.

4) If anyone should be resentful of the "hard to get along with" getting into heaven, it ought to be the angels. The angels see everything through God's eyes and they know all that YOU have done that is not so splendid, yet they rejoice, as Jesus reminds everyone, for even the worse sinner who arrives in heaven after repenting. Angels don't say "There goes the neighborhood" and neither should you, and you'd be wise to keep that in mind.

5) Never forget that millions and millions of the souls in heaven are the uncountable numbers of children who have died. One is "outnumbered" by the peacefulness and innocent light of those who died as pre-born, as babies, toddlers, or young children. It's hard to have a snarky attitude (even if that were possible in heaven) when one is surrounded by billions of the humans who died as the very young and pure.

I hope that you have found this helpful.