Many readers of our blog would already know that Red Twin is dying of cancer. She was diagnosed just before Christmas last year and after multiple surgeries and some of the best groundbreaking medical treatment available, she is likely on the home stretch. I use that phrase intentionally, because this is how Christians think of death. This world is not our home, and we leave it knowing that Jesus has prepared a place for us.
Beyond that, I find my thinking fuzzy.
There are cosmological questions about the nature of a temporary heaven, in wait for the new creation, and of course the deeply unsatisfying doctrine of the intermediate state. These play out for me in personal, practical questions.
I have been thinking about how we will talk about Red Twin to Elliot and Callum after she is gone. Red Twin’s photo is one of several the boys say ‘good night’ to each evening before bed. I can’t think we would take it down after she has died; I guess we would say something like, ‘Good night to Auntie Red Twin in heaven.’ But that got me thinking about whether we would tell the boys that she was looking down on them from heaven or watching them from there.
In our theological tradition, the glory of God looms large, with pictures of heaven majoring on his magnificence, which will cause the things of earth to grow strangely dim. Does this mean that once in heaven we are so overcome by the consuming love of God that we no longer care about our loved ones on earth?
I can’t square this with my picture of Jesus, who sits at the Father’s right hand, and yet exercises his reign as one who is intimately involved in his world. If Jesus is so interested in world, would not his worshippers also be?
Well, perhaps then they are interested in a general way, like Red Twin would be as invested in my boys’ lives as anyone else’s. However, I’ve rejected this notion as well, because Jesus showed a specificity of love for others while he was on earth too. I think of his special disciples, or him asking John to look after his mother, surely more than the obligation of a good son to provide for his widowed mother.
When I was discussing this with Red Twin, she brought up Jesus’ teaching about marriage and its temporary nature. If marriage does not endure into eternity, what of other familial relationships? If we think of marriage as the foundation of family, can you have a son who has a mother and a father who were married to one another until their deaths, but don’t specially belong to one another in heaven? It’s weird, right? Which is why you get the idea of why people say that all that matters is the relationship between the people of God and God Himself. So it becomes the case that the only father and son in the new creation are The Father and the The Son.
The issue I have with this is that the Scriptures clearly teach a physical resurrection. We are raised with bodies, splendid and different, but nevertheless physical, as Jesus’ was. My physical body shares its genetic material with Red Twin’s. If our resurrected bodies are indeed still physical bodies, one would expect a degree of genetic recognition, or familial connection.
Obviously these questions are completely speculative, but there are theological themes behind my question of how I will talk to my sons about their dear Auntie. Writing this reminds me of theological reflections at Ridley where we started with practical questions and looked for the theological resources that could help. I take it there are chaplains and others who have spent more time wrestling with these questions of death and heaven than me. I wonder what good resources are out there. Do you know of any?
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.