What is paradise like? As a kid I made assumptions about paradise being a place of perfection that was beyond my comprehension. It was useless to think too hard about the logistics of it because paradise was designed by god, therefore making it completely reasonable that it must be everything it needs to be and more. Who would want to miss an opportunity to see what that means?

Looking back now, it doesn’t seem reasonable at all to have accepted that my eternal destination was a hazy place of undefined bliss. Had I even considered that if heaven were real and beyond my brain’s understanding, maybe I would have to change to exist there? Of course I would. How else could it work? Either we change completely, or we enter some kind of virtual reality. That doesn’t seem like paradise….but, as usual, I was happy to fill in those blanks with “magic I am not ready to conceive of yet.”

When we think of what makes us happy, relationships top the list. So one must conclude that paradise will reunite us with our loved ones. Sure, I know it’s comforting and all, but what supports that theory? I posed this question to Google and wasted an entire afternoon viewing the same arguments over and over again. It turns out a lot of people are asking the question, but the only explanation for why they accept the answer must be because they want to. And who can blame them?

If you ask a Christian what the bible says about reuniting with our loved ones in heaven, you will be led to examples like these: Disciples recognizing Jesus after he died (along with Moses and Elijah). David mourning his lost son by saying he “will go to him.” The rich man recognizing Lazarus. The resurrection and rapture (which is frequently used as evidence that our bodies being raised means we will be recognizable).

Most articles “proving” we will know our loved ones in heaven always ends the same way: who cares as long as we are with god?  Which isn’t the wrong thing to say when you have failed to make a compelling argument. After all, that’s the part with the most evidence; assuming you use the bible as evidence, which I am guessing most readers here do not.

Is this really the best the bible offers in reassurance of reuniting with lost loved ones?

There are a few biblical souls who are brave enough to tackle Matthew 22:24-30:

Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and father children for his brother.’ Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children he left his wife to his brother. The second did the same, and the third, down to the seventh. Last of all, the woman died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had married her.” Jesus answered them, “You are deceived, because you don’t know the scriptures or the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.

First, let’s take a moment to ponder this New Testament wisdom on what should happen to a man’s wife if he dies without children. Because if there is no marriage or romance in heaven? It sounds like heaven is for women like the one in this scenario. But Christians are quick to point out that this doesn’t mean she won’t recognize the men; it simply means that relationships among angels are far superior to anything we humans experience.

Of course! Many will stop here and be satisfied. That last verse, among all others, is both the best and worst answer of all. I mean, if I become so changed that marriage and romantic relationships lose meaning, what else loses meaning? I already know I will be different enough that I won’t care if some of my loved ones are missing due to being tortured in hell. Heck, I’ll be worshiping the guy who won’t save them! And angels must be into that sort of thing or else it wouldn’t be paradise.

What will I see when I meet my husband in heaven? Will we be just two shining souls for god who feel a sense of connection from our worldly past? Will we even feel that?

And once this whole drama unfolds I imagine it will be very boring for god. What will he do next? I shudder to think. Maybe we are the millionth planet and species he has toyed with. Where did all the current angels really come from?

We believe what we want to believe. For some that is enough, but for others it feels empty unless the answers are more convincing. It’s why some of us can believe in all of it, while others spend far too long hanging on to something in hopes that they are just missing a piece of the puzzle. Nowhere is this more evident than in the struggle to accept death.

I want to believe that I will never really lose the people I love most. The way our brains heal after a loss and allows us to move forward offers a glimpse of both reassurance and devastation. Hope that we can survive emotionally during our own lifetime, while chipping away at the idea that eternity could somehow preserve meaning for a place and time in our past.

I used to think that maybe every good thing in the timeline of our lives could somehow exist all at once in a perfect place, but that seems silly now. Besides, why do I deserve all that? And I don’t mean that in the way Christians feel their unworthiness entitles them to nothing except by the grace of god. I mean, why would anyone expect more than what we have been handed?  An amazing opportunity to live and breathe and love? Why isn’t it enough?

For all of their self-hatred over their wretched, sinful pride Christians are still incredibly arrogant. God cares for every hair on their head, dies for them, and prepares a place of eternal happiness for them (where they can look down on their tortured enemies for all eternity). Gross.

Most of existence is just a constant flow of thought and emotion. I connect with others whether I am with them or apart. And if they die, much of that remains. I can’t touch them, new words and thoughts are not coming from them, and my brain has to rewire itself to a new plan. Which is significant, but what I possess of them at this very moment will exist for as long as I am alive. We all live as long as someone remembers us. And after that, who are we living for?

It’s hard to go through life knowing we have lost someone who cannot see what happens to us next. They can’t react or give advice. They can’t be a part of our social circle. But we never cease existing to them and they never cease existing to us. Even after we die. It’s just that we can only exist together physically up to a particular point in time.

Maybe you believe heaven takes you out of time and place and reconnects you physically. Maybe death on its own achieves that. But surprise, surprise- the men who wrote the bible failed us when it came to explaining eternity. There is no emphasis on reunions with loved ones or a clue as to how relationships really work when we are all suddenly like angels. And that’s kind of important, right? Didn’t Jesus understand that? Or was he just a man who didn’t know anything at all? Maybe he wasn’t even that.

Some of you do not need to know. You believe what feels best. It makes you happy, and if you die being wrong about that you will not know the difference. Fair enough. But some of us are happiest when we know how a thing works….and we have so little time to figure it all out. Is there something better? These pieces of each other that we carry with us, through our own evolving thoughts and memories, seems closer to what I need than what heaven is promising. And so I have to follow that path and figure out where it leads.

Maybe the paradise that is made up of undefined magic isn’t real, and maybe that isn’t a bad thing. Maybe paradise is something more ordinary. Maybe it exists only in this lifetime. And maybe we have had the power to go there all along.

 

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