When Red Twin died, a number of people sent me this image, entitled ‘First Day in Heaven’ by Kerolos Safwat:
It’s meant to be a comfort, to picture the relief and happiness of the deceased person, now that they are united with the One they have spent their life following, in a place where there is no tears or crying or pain.
This picture hurts me. (Don’t feel bad if you sent it to me. I really appreciate your care of me.) It’s the pure joy on her face, while I am miserable. Of course I wanted her to be released from her suffering, but thinking of her experiencing unadulterated joy emphasises our separation. Part of sharing life together is choosing to enter into one another’s sadnesses and frustrations. This kind of ecstasy leaves no room for that; it leaves her oblivious to my suffering. It underlines how she is not here with me, joining with me in my grief.
Even more galling is that she is so ecstatic with Jesus. He is also obscured from me. If He was close and she was distant, there would be some consolation. Or if they were both distant from me but not together, at least we’d all be feeling lonely. Instead, it feels like the two of them are partying it up and enjoying each other, with no reference to me. I’m left out, and they don’t care.
But as I’ve reflected on this, the idea of the intermediate state is of comfort to me.
I previously described the intermediate state as deeply unsatisfying, but I am now finding it more efficacious. It’s the theological idea that we are not immediately raised after our death. Instead, that happens to everyone when Jesus returns. In the meantime the dead are ‘hid with Christ’ – they are safe, and they, like us, await the consummation of all things. We don’t know how conscious they are in this intermediate state, but they can genuinely be said to be with Christ, perhaps even with Christ in heaven. Yet, even if they can be said to be in heaven, that same heaven is waiting for the renewal of all things – the new heavens and the new earth.
The reason this helps me is because it doesn’t have her in a place of complete ecstasy while I am distress. In the intermediate state, that joy is still before her. At the moment, she is safe in His love (I am too, by the way), but she has not yet experienced the completeness that will come only at the end. Until the fulfilment that Jesus will bring at his Second Coming, there’s room for longing even in heaven as it is now. In the meantime, Red Twin and I share an experience of expectation, of a ‘not yet’ and a ‘something more’. This continuity makes me feel minutely less lonely for her.
Categories: Written by Tamie
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.