Every night, right after bedtime prayer, my kids and I read a story from their copy of “The Little Children’s Bible Storybook” by Anne de Graaf and Jose Perez Montero. As a Catholic mother, I’ve been given quite a few Children’s bibles (at least one at every Baptism), but this is the first one (okay, second really, The Lion First Bible was pretty good, too) that consistently got them asking me to read a Bible story to them before going to bed. What set this one apart from other children’s bibles was how little questions and instructions (given by a caterpillar, a goldfish, or a mouse, depending on the story and illustration) were interspersed here and there, reinforcing key lessons or details of the story, making it engagingly interactive. For example, on a page narrating the call of the first disciples, a seagull perched on a fisherman’s boat asks the reader, “Can you count how many apostles there were?”
The last story of the book, “God Promises a New World,” combines images of Heaven from the Gospels and the book of Revelation. On a page describing John’s vision of God’s Kingdom, a lamb happily kicking a soccer ball asks the little reader to “name three things you think heaven will be like.”
And in one of my proudest moments as a mother, my 5-year-old contemplates for a moment before slowly replying, “There will be trees…there will be Jesus…and there will be Mama Mary.”
For a people who believes in the hereafter, it seems we don’t think of Heaven as much as we should. Instead, we concern ourselves with what this world can give us, what this world thinks of us, and for some, even how and when this world will end. With eternity being so much longer and lasting than anyone’s lifetime, it hardly seems like we’ve got our priorities straight.
But for the precious few who believe in Heaven enough to think about it, what do you think Heaven will be like?
A place where there will be no more pain and suffering, no more disease, no more violence and injustice, no more a lot of things. An eternity of perpetual happiness, resting in the arms of angels, singing hymns, strumming harp and lyre. It will be everything God revealed to John, with all of creation giving glory, honor and thanks to “the One sitting on the throne, who lives for ever and ever (Revelation 4:9).”
But living in a world filled with pain and suffering and uncertainty, I can’t help but look forward to the part about leaving the ugliness of this world behind. Finally rid of this, no more of that. Freedom!
Is this the reward of Heaven? Being free from the struggles, pain and suffering that hound our every moment here on earth, finally free of the darkness we cannot escape?
Contemplating on this, I found myself remembering the times I suffered for the sake of others–feeling helpless whenever my husband or children are sick, my heart breaking at the sight of a friend in despair after having lost a loved one, not knowing what to say to a friend who’s been handed yet another major disappointment. I cannot stop myself from feeling and sharing in their pain any less than they can separate their anguish from the event or condition.
If one part is hurt, all the parts share its pain. And if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy. -1 Corinthians 12:26
I go back to the question on Heaven’s absence of suffering. Can Church Triumphant really isolate themselves from the pain of Church Militant (or Church Suffering, for that matter)? While I do not think their joy would be anything less than complete, I’m beginning to see a different Heaven–not one that liberates us from suffering once and for all, but one that still exists as part of the Body, and therefore, shares in the suffering of humanity.
Perhaps Heaven, after all, is not about the Absence, but the Presence–of God’s love and grace so intimately and irrevocably sustaining us, that should we suffer for the sake of our brethren, we will never give in to despair; we will never run out of hope. After living a life of exile on earth, Heaven is coming home to where we will have everything we’ll ever need–a place where there will be trees, there will be Jesus, and there will be Mama Mary.