"Heaven means there's a happy ending after all."
-- Compton's Interactive Bible
The little girl's question caught her father off guard.
"Daddy, when you die, does Jesus take you to McDonald's?"
Daddy smiled, wondering how to reply. There had been a death in the family and, with all the guests and commotion at home, father and daughter were taking a time-out at McDonald's. Father doing what fathers do best; daughter speaking the only language she knew.
Another child asks, "Do mothers who spank go to heaven?" Another adult wonders how to answer a heavenly question in down-to-earth terms.
Except for occasional glimpses in the visionary book of Revelation, the Bible doesn't give us an accurate description of heaven. There are no travel brochures, no eyewitness accounts and no documentaries detailing landscape, mansion styles, or how dense the population is expected to be.
But even with what we don't know about heaven, the simple questions of children make as powerful a statement about our eternal resting place as that formed by the most brilliant theologian ever to ponder the subject.
Our little McDonald's lover can be sure that heaven is everything she loves now, only better; and the child suffering the pangs of punishment will be happy to hear that whatever she fears on earth will be left behind when she transfers to no-spanking land. And, yes, her mother can go, too. With a child who no longer misbehaves, she won't need her paddle.
The second child's question is easier to answer than the first because the Bible has more to say about what will not be in heaven than what we'll find when we arrive. For example: "God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow... nor any more pain" (Revelation 21:4); "and there shall be no night there; they need no lamp... for God gives them light" (22:5).
Since grown-ups as well as children judge the unknown by the known, it's easy to understand that whatever saddens, hurts or makes us afraid will not be part of our heavenly life. And for children everywhere who are afraid of the dark, knowing that heaven will be so bright they won't have to go to bed with the light on -- or maybe go to bed at all -- should be as exciting as a Big Mac and fries.
When the Bible tells us what will be in heaven, other than actual streets of gold and gem-studded city walls, the writers usually speak in similes and metaphors. When Jesus spoke of heaven, especially in the series of parables in Matthew 13, he always began with the words, "The kingdom of heaven is like," and concluded with abstract illustrations such as good and bad seed, wheat and tares, and even a tiny mustard seed.
Besides wondering what heaven will look like and how we "angels" will behave on that side of "the veil," another frequently asked question -- especially among workaholics -- is, What will we do all day?
The Bible doesn't tell us that, either, except that without pain, sorrow, or dying in our future we can be sure we'll have no sore backs, no cantankerous boss to please and no injuries or pink slips.
Perhaps we'll don angel wings, tune harps and make beautiful music together as the artist and tradition propose. But if making music isn't your favorite pastime on earth, as it is for me, knowing we'll be as ecstatic just being there as those who found "the great treasure" or "the pearl of great price" in Jesus' parables gives us an idea of what the heavenly atmosphere will be like.
No, we can't promise a little girl she can take Jesus by the hand, fly up to her favorite golden arches and have her unlimited fill of "Heavenly Happy Meals." But when she tastes heavenly manna and understands that Jesus is the "Bread of Life," she may find her new cuisine so satisfying she'll forget all about "taking a break today" at McDonald's.
And I can think of one naughty little girl and one exasperated mother who are going to think they died and went to heaven.
Wait a minute. Isn't that what they did?
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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