It’s been amazing to watch the rolling waves of reactions to the death of Robin Williams earlier this week and the conversations beginning about what it is to understand those battling with depression and addiction. I don’t know if it holds true for other parts of the world, but this country is awful at discussing things like that—we are the country that loves those who pull themselves up by their bootstraps, we are the country of the lone cowboy riding off into the sunset, and we are the country that does not readily tolerate the idea that some things are not in our control.
I come from a family with many and varied addictions and understand the debilitating blackness that is depression. Neither are favored subjects of mine, and one of the many reasons I loved Robin Williams so was that he was not afraid or ashamed to say this exists, this is a problem for me, and I am working to be more than that. It is a special kind of bravery not only to name that which holds you tightly but also to understand and proclaim that there is more to you than this, there must be more and it deserves being seen.
My mother called me earlier this week, heartbroken at this news (of course, she still believes Princess Diana is not, in fact, dead but on an island somewhere having faked the thing because she tired of the paparazzi; my mother loves her celebrities deeply and does not deal with loss well). She had recently seen Heaven Is for Real and wanted me to reassure her that Robin Williams was in heaven and that this film about heaven made it true, that it would be a place God would love to invite Williams. (No, I’m not okay with being her go-to for all things religious, and honestly I would appreciate your prayes as I figure out what God is wanting me to do with that aspect of this relationship.)
I’ve not seen “Heaven Is for Real,” so I don’t know how believable or anything it is. Here’s a summary, in case you haven’t heard of it. What Mom wanted from me was an answer on whether I believed this boy and whether God loves those who commit suicide, which are two different conversations but point back to an uncertainty about this looming death, this awfully big adventure. The best thing I’ve found to answer the idea of how the Church (in this case, the Catholic branch) views suicide is here. As to the idea of whether or not I believe the original story of the kid who went to heaven, I realized I don’t much care.
I mean, if the kid went to heaven (since it’s based on a true story), cool. Far be it from me to say that God stopped being able to transport living people like that (*cough Elijah cough*). But if not, that’s fine too, because I think sometimes people need the idea of heaven being lovely when earth is less so.
The thing of it is, though, that we get really caught up in what heaven looks like and who all is there. We want to map heaven, which is kind of silly if you think about it, especially considering how much difficulty maps here have introduced. Does heaven have clouds? Golden streets? Kids with wings? (I hope not that, I’m really not a fan of kids—and flying kids would just be awful.) Sure, why not. I doubt one person’s heaven looks exactly like anyone else’s heaven, partially because physical won’t mean the same thing and partially because I don’t think a loving God would make me spend eternity in your Pepto-Bismol pink cotton ball. I realized I don’t really have much of a concrete belief in heaven beyond “yup, there is one.” I have a few more ideas on hell because I read up on it, but even that I don’t think about it in a visual sense. (Odd, considering how spatially oriented I am.)
But the other piece of it is that the kid in the film and my mother were both really concerned about who was in heaven and who wasn’t. Is Robin Williams in heaven? I’d be delighted if that were the case, and I do very much hope so, but that’s kind of not my area. God called Peter to stand at the gates, not me. (At least, that’s what all the jokes say.) And the bigger thing for me is this—if we keep our stories and our hopes of heaven about the people we miss, we’re missing the point. Yes, it will be super awesome to see lost friends, and I can tell you there are a lot of historical figures I demand to head to the heavenly Starbucks with me for very long conversations. But, with apologies to Sartre, I don’t think heaven is about other people.
Heaven is about God.
Think about it: in heaven, you get to hang out with the Deity Who created you forever. There is no more second guessing, no meetings that interrupt either of you, no miscommunication because God had a nebulous Facebook status that ticked you off, no phone calls He has to take, no worries about whether the way you phrase something will upset Him. You and God are totally present with each other.
How freaking cool is that?!?!
I am not heaven’s bouncer (thank goodness), and I have no doubt I’ll be utterly surprised by the people I meet there. But for right now, I have been given the commission to create a bit of heaven right here, in the Kingdom that Christ built (with the rat that ate the malt) by being present with us, His beloved creations. I have not been asked to decide what happens after people’s deaths—I have been tasked with going to them while they live and saying hey, I’ve noticed you, do you need anything?
Reader, do you need anything?
Some of the Pharisees asked Jesus, “When will the kingdom of God come?” Jesus answered, “God’s kingdom is coming, but not in a way that you will be able to see with your eyes. People will not say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ because God’s kingdom is within you.” (Luke 17:20-21, NCV)