There are big philosophical questions in life: Where did we come from? Why is there so much evil in the world? What happens after we die?
The question of death and life after death is one of the main reasons people give for believing in God. We are painfully aware of both the fragility of life and how precious it is. We grow up and live our lives generally in the company of others: family, friends, lovers, colleagues and associates. We share their lives and they share ours. When someone from this warm circle dies, there is an emptiness left in our life. It would be pleasant to believe that they are just somewhere else, in another room with a closed door between us, but still the person we knew and loved.
Presented with the question of death, believers refuse to accept the fact of a lifeless body, and proclaim that the deceased has, “gone to a better place”. This is more of an avoidance of the question than an answer.
In the September 22, 2011, Sioux Falls Argus Leader, Billy’s reader asks a question about her dead son. The reader says, “I thought that in time I’d get over our son’s [accidental] death… But it’s been over a year now, and if anything I’m more broken up now than I was when it happened. Why is that? Why can’t I stop grieving?” You can read all of Billy’s answer here.
There may be nothing sadder than parents outliving their child. In many ways, the parents want to see their lives continued in the life of the child – it is a form of immortality that does not depend on imaginary beings or locations.
Billy responds to the mother by stating his personal assumptions about life after death. He mentions his late wife, Ruth, who died in 2007, saying she “… went to be with the Lord.”
In Billy’s world, those who accept Jesus as a personal savior go to heaven. I have previously discussed the question of what happens to those who are never given the chance. Let us just consider the case of Ruth Graham. Billy assumes several things. He assumes that God and heaven exist. He assumes the requirements for getting into heaven to be with God. Finally, he assumes that Ruth met those conditions. As with an iron chain breaking due its weakest link, in a chain of assumptions, if any assumption is wrong, the claim at the end of the chain is wrong.
The last thing I want to do here is say anything bad about Ruth, or her character, her convictions, or her faith. Billy is probably correct in his assumption that Ruth believed as he does and that she believed in Jesus as her savior.
Let us, for a moment, assume that Billy is wrong in that assumption, but right on the others. In Luke 16, a rich man suffering in hell is able to see a beggar in heaven with Abraham. The rich man implores Abraham to send the beggar with a damp finger to quench his thirst and Abraham speaks to the rich man, denying the request. If either Ruth or Billy end up in hell, and this parable is valid, they would be able to see and talk with the other in heaven. How happy is Billy going to be in heaven knowing his beloved wife is in hell?
Most Christians believe that they are going to heaven and further believe that in heaven they will be with their loved ones. What if heaven and hell exist and you end up in heaven but all your loved ones are in hell? What pleasure would you have in heaven?
On several occasions, Billy has waxed poetic about heaven. At one point, he said it was like a stadium where the heavenly residents can watch the events taking place on earth. If heaven is eternal, how can there be any sense of time passing? There must be a sense of the flow of time for an event to take place.
Billy has also said that there is no pain or sorrow in heaven. Would it not be painful to be in heaven without someone you loved?
Billy says everyone in heaven has a perfect body, like Jesus. Does everyone look alike?
Billy says there will be work for people to do in heaven. This is perhaps the strangest thing he has ever said. Doing work implies making a change and how can there be any change in a perfect, eternal world? Perhaps, Billy is thinking about angels earning their wings as in “A Wonderful Life” or some other Hollywood version of heaven.
In the end, Billy does not offer much help or comfort to the grieving mother. He does not mention that grieving that long may be a sign of clinical depression and that the mother should seek professional help. All Billy offers is the same old ineffective stuff. Billy says turn to Jesus and ask him to take on the burden of grief.
Many believers say the reason they believe is that faith gives them comfort. I don’t see that happening here.
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