What’s On the Other Side?
By Charles Qualls
Death is a part of our lives that we’d just as soon not talk about. Then comes All Saint’s Sunday every November. In 2020, death has certainly been a part of the worldwide scene, as a one-hundred years’ pandemic has settled in and become the biggest story we have. Many of you have lost loved ones, mostly not COVID-related but to other causes. At my house, we recently lost two parents within 90 days.
I think many of us have a natural curiosity about what Heaven will be like. I’ve heard people speculate on this my whole life. Today’s Scripture sure does touch on that. I think when I was a kid I believed we’d all get a designer Heaven for ourselves. I got that because I heard so many people ask or say what their favorite things were, and then speculate that surely in Heaven we’d all have an endless supply of whatever our favorite things were.
One of the best word pictures I’ve heard has to be a story about a person who had dreams of the afterlife two nights in a row. On one night, the person dreamed he had died. He went to what surely appeared to be Heaven. An endless, long banquet table was there. People were seated all around it, waiting for the meal to start. On the table, every nook-and-cranny was packed with a lavish feast. There was more than plenty for every person around the table. Surely this was Heaven. Except that no one had any elbows.
When the meal began, everyone started reaching out and grabbing at all the wonderful foods on the table in front of them! Not able to bend their arms, everyone was throwing food hoping any of it would land in their mouths. What appeared to be a heavenly feast turned out to be a hellish, chaotic mess. The next night, the person had the same dream. All the exact same features, including that no one had any elbows. Except that this time, when the lavish feast began everyone began taking from the table and feeding each other!
We are curious about what is on the other side. What is life like for our loved-ones who are already there? Will we be reunited with them? What will we find waiting for us? We stay curious. Our hymnals are replete with songs that talk about that glad day. From “Guide Me O, Thou Great Jehovah” to “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks.” From “Shall We Gather at the River” to “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder,” we like to sing and wonder.
What an interesting passage of Scripture we had in Revelation 7:9-17 for All Saints’ Sunday. On the one hand, it’s talking about a new realm. Something that will come after that which is right now. But we can get lost in all the symbolism so quickly. I have reminded you before that I think John’s “Revelation” in our Bible gets misused so grotesquely in Christianity.
One of the things in this text from Revelation today that I like is this. “… they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Do you get the beautiful, freeing irony found in that comforting statement? The blood of the lamb has actually cleansed, or bleached if you will, their robes that they now wear. Their former lives are resolved and all is well in God’s presence.
With all that having been said, then what’s on the other side? What is it like in Heaven? What is life like for my loved ones who are already there? Will I see my parents or my childhood dog? I just don’t know.
We get a lot of imagery in Revelation, but truthfully we just don’t know. Except that it’s going to be an awfully safe, nice, loving and restful but worshipful place. Any pain, suffering or anguish seems to be resolved in the great beyond. Revelation makes clear that Heaven will feature God at its center and not me. It sounds like it won’t be the wonderland of my imagination, with all my favorite things there. Instead all of Creation will be united, the Revelation makes clear. United around the worship of God for Eternity.
THE REV. DR. CHARLES QUALLS is the pastor of Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.