The late Marcus Borg reported that he was often asked the question, “So, is there an afterlife, and if so, what will it be like?” His answer? “I don’t have a clue! But I am confident that the one who has buoyed us up in life will also buoy us up through death. We die into God. What more that means, I do not know. But that is all I need to know.” (from Speaking Christian)
I have been asked that same question over the years—most often on the occasion of a funeral or in the Easter season. My first instinct is to quote Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:9: “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.” But if I were to attempt a more expansive answer, it might look something like this.
Heaven is HOME. It is where you and I belong, where life begins and ends. I recall a song we used to sing at church camp many years ago, “I’m trampin’, trampin, trying to make heaven my home.” I recall a chaplain speaking to an elderly patient in hospice care whose body simply would not give up. “Why can’t I just die,” she asked. His answer, “Sometimes it takes a long time to get home.”
I read a story about a family stopped at a coffee shop where truckers often congregated. Their car was loaded—inside and out. The license said “Oklahoma” but they were obviously in transition. A trucker said to the young boy in the family, “Your family looks like you’re from Oklahoma.” The boy replied, “Oh, we’re not from Oklahoma anymore. We’re from some place up ahead.”
Heaven is LIGHT. Every meaningful symbol of heaven I have ever seen or read suggests “light.” Another camp song registers in my mind: “We’ve got a home in glory land that outshines the sun.” C. S. Lewis suggests in The Great Divorce that heaven is an experience of intense, warm, enveloping light. Lewis also suggests that some people can’t handle the light! But heaven is unmatched light!
Heaven is SURPRISE. I recently read this bit of wisdom: “Heaven is where the cooks are French, the police are English, the mechanics are German, the lovers are Italian, and everything is organized by the Swiss! Hell is where the English are the cooks, the Germans are the police, the French are the mechanics, the Swiss are the lovers, and everything is organized by the Italians.”
Someone once described heaven as “an event of magnificent hopefulness.” I like that: an event! A surprising event! If you like a good surprise, you’ll love heaven.
Finally, Heaven is GOD. The final truth is the most important. When William Sloane Coffin was in his final days in New England, he wrote this Easter affirmation: “If death…is not a threat to our relationship to God it should be no threat to anything. If we don’t know what is beyond the grave, we do know who is beyond the grave.”
In an interview Bill Moyers was asked: “Do you ever think about what happens when we die?” Moyers replied, “Not very much. It’s who’s there, not what’s there that counts for me.”
People still ask the question: What is heaven like? I can’t tell you much, but I can tell you that heaven is home, light, surprise, and God. And I think that’s all I need to know.
WPA Commission on Archives and History