Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.”
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
–Revelation 21:3-4 (ESV)
I hate to keep picking on Joe and Heidi, but their continual battle with cancer is a continual inspiration to me. More than that, it’s their courage, faith, and humor in the face of living a nearly impossible life that is the real inspiration. It puts to shame most of us who complain about our rather modest discomforts.
The first thing I thought of when I saw the photo of Joe and Heidi dancing, and knowing something about the hardships they face was, “this is what it must be like to watch people dancing in Heaven.” Then I thought about the “no more tears” portion from John’s Revelation. Then I thought about writing.
And here I am.
But what if, as John Lennon suggested, that there is no Heaven. What if we face insurmountable hardships, heartbreak, tragedy, and sorrow with no hope and no end except a black and empty death? How would that change us? What would it make human behavior like?
Or is this why the world is in the shape it’s in today? Because the majority of the world, as Lennon suggested, believes there is no Heaven…no accountability…no God?
I know I’m going to experience some serious “blowback” about that comment from secular humanists and atheists who see themselves as the greater moral force in the world and I can’t say they’re not. It doesn’t take a belief in God in order to do good. However, I think it takes such a belief to give it all a greater meaning beyond our temporal context. But some atheists cast themselves in the superior role because they don’t do good just to satisfy some abstract and alien being sitting in judgment on a throne. They do so because…um, why? Because it’s the right thing to do? But how do they know? How does anyone know?
Where do we get the idea that something is good and some other thing isn’t? What is “good” and what is “evil?” How do you know? If you’re an atheist, there is no moral structure attached to your belief since not believing in God isn’t value laden. It simply means you don’t believe a supernatural being created the universe and is involved in our lives.
What if there is no Heaven for Joe and Heidi? What would it mean in terms of the overwhelming fight they’ve been waging against cancer? Have they been praying to empty air? Has the courage they’ve gotten from faith been in vain?
Based on Lennon’s lyrics, he seemed to believe that if we deconstructed all human (and supernatural) infrastructures, organizations, groupings, and distinctions, the world of human beings would be a better place. Maybe it would be, I don’t know. It won’t happen because human beings absolutely need to identify, label, and organize their environment in order to make any sort of sense of it. All people groups use two basic names. One for themselves and the other for everyone else. Those names mean something to them and to us. Of course, they might not mean the same things.
When I say I’m a Christian, I mean a particular thing. Other people hear that label and perhaps comprehend it in a different way than I do. Some people hear that label and comprehend it in the most negative possible light. In their world, they have one name for themselves, which means they’re “good”, but the name “Christian” or “Jew” means something that bad, wrong, immoral, or evil (and where did the concepts of good and evil come from, anyway?)
But from inside my point of view and from inside my faith, I don’t perceive my faith to be evil. I know I am not a perfect person and I have made mistakes. I’ll make mistakes again. I don’t brag about it or enjoy it, but that’s part of what it is to be a flawed human being living in an broken world. And after all, human beings broke it.
I’m accountable not just to other human beings (my wife, my family, my employer, the government), but I’m accountable to a force that is larger than human institutions and an intelligence that comprehends the infinite mysteries of the universe. For me, there is a greater sense of morality and ethics that exists and One who is the origin of what it is to be good or to be evil.
What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” –Romans 7:7 (ESV)
Sometimes it helps to have an external standard to help us define our role in life. For those of us who have faith, God is that standard. For those without faith, I suppose our government, or the news media, or a social organization will have to do. I can’t tell anyone else how to live their lives, but it would be wonderful if others would stop insisting they have the right to tell me to abandon my faith. But that’s the way of the world. If faith isn’t strong enough to withstand the winds of criticism from society, it will never stand up against the brutal storms of some disaster like cancer.
So Joe and Heidi showed me what it’s like to dance in Heaven this morning. As I looked at their photo, all of the sorrow and grief and hostility of the world surrounding me momentarily faded away. Imagine there is no Heaven if you want. But grasping hold of my faith not only gives me peace about the future, but the strength to carry on in the harsh and uncertain present and to try to do a little good in the world I live in every day. I pray, whoever you are reading this, that you can find the same.
In your worldly business, just do what needs to be done and trust in G-d to fill in the rest.
In your spiritual business, however, you’ll have to take the whole thing on your own shoulders. Don’t rely on G-d to heal the sick, help the poor, educate the ignorant and teach you Torah.
He’s relying on you.
-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Make it Your Business”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
And don’t forget to dance.