Will I see you in heaven?
Would you know my name, if I saw you in Heaven?
Would it be the same, if I saw you in Heaven?
From Tears in Heaven, by Eric Clapton
I once found myself humming the tune to Tears in Heaven, a song written by Eric Clapton following the tragic death of his four year old son. As I contemplated the lyrics, it suddenly dawned on me why I was dwelling on this poignant song. Only a week earlier, I had learned of the death of someone I knew. But, sad to say, I don’t think anyone wrote a song to mark their passing. This person had spent their long life alienating and bullying the people closest to them, seemingly enjoying their pain. And then I had a strange thought, straight from this song: would it be the same, if I met them in heaven?
The afterlife is a deep mystery; we cannot make many confident statements about the fate of those who die before confessing faith in Jesus. We entrust all to the care of the Lord, knowing that God is more gracious and merciful than we’ll ever be. We do know that an encounter with Jesus can bring dramatic change. When reflecting on his life, the apostle Paul recognised that he had been a ‘…blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence…’ (1 Tim 1:13, NRSV). But when he met Jesus on the road to Damascus, he was transformed (Acts 9). Paul’s witness brings us hope for all humanity, whether they spent their life doing good or evil.
However, this poses another very challenging question. If I saw this person enjoying the benefits of the afterlife, how would I react? Would I rejoice in their transformation like the early church over Paul (Galatians 1:23-24)? Or would I be offended, like the elder brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son?
Paul reminds us that ‘…at the right time Christ died for the ungodly…God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us’ (Romans 5:6-8). Any pondering about the afterlife of this person is just speculation. But it has reminded me of the depth of love that God has for us all. Surprisingly, I find myself with a glimmer of hope for someone who caused so much pain in their lifetime. Who knows? Maybe they will fall at the feet of Jesus and worship him. Perhaps together we will praise the God who seeks to save all sinners. But for now, I need to leave this mystery in the hands of God.
Father, we are astounded by your great mercy; your grace is so amazing that it draws our hearts to praise you. There are still mysteries about how you will bring all humanity to encounter Jesus. But your wonderful love gives us hope that maybe all will fall at his feet in adoration. We have many questions, but we leave them all in your hands, knowing that Jesus is building a world that seeks to include all who have lived. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
Study by Ian Woodley
About the writer:
Ian Woodley is a Minister in the Edinburgh congregation of Grace Communion International
Gilmerton New Church
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