A few weeks ago, Rich and I met with a couple we hadn’t seen in a long time. We spent a little bit of time catching up, and they offered condolences on Elliott’s death. There were hugs and tears as we shared how hard his loss has been on us individually and as a couple.
Then he looked at me and said, “You know Elliott’s in heaven, right? That it’s not just wishful thinking, but that’s a fact!”
I kind of nodded through my tears because I know that’s what I’m supposed to believe, but his adamance was not convincing to me. Mostly because I’m not completely certain what “being in heaven” means, but there is a part that can’t fully believe that God will show mercy on my son if there’s still the possibility of hell.
I get that no one wants to believe that babies or children end up in hell. I guess no one really wants to believe that anyone ends up in hell, unless maybe the person in question is some kind of remorseless serial killer. But we’ll definitely allow for people to be damned once they stop being quite so cute.
I get it. When we hear about someone abusing children, our anger levels shoot up. You’ll often hear that there is a special hell for people who hurt kids. We know that they are unable to protect themselves from adults who wish them harm, and it offends our sense of justice when someone intentionally abuses a child. So naturally, the ability to picture a God who would become a torturer of children offends our sense of right and wrong and we promise parents who lose babies or children that they are safe. They get a free pass on the whole belief thing.
I’m not sure why we care less about condemning adults to an eternity of torture. Maybe because we know just how shitty we all can be? Maybe because when we get hurt, we just want others to suffer as much as we did? Maybe just because we want to find some way to be better than someone else, and being on the A-list for the afterlife seems like a way to achieve that?
What I do know is that I don’t want my sins following me, condemning me. I want to experience forgiveness, not just for the known sins, but the unknown. If there is an afterlife, I want to spend it with those I loved and love, and if it’s really heaven, and God is really good, I want to spend it with those I didn’t love so much and find out what it is to love them.
Please know, I want there to be grace for children. I want to believe that the little boy with the inoperable brain tumor that we prayed and prayed for but who still died, is enjoying a heavenly romp right now. I want to believe that my friend’s daughter who was wheelchair bound most of her short life is now able to stroll around in gardens similar to the one that her mother tends here. I want to believe that Elliott hears lullabies sung by my mom.
I want all of these things, but if hell is part of the equation, it’s hard for me to fully believe that they’re true. In order for me to believe my friend’s statement, I have to abandon hell. I have to believe that amazing grace is amazing not because of my acceptance or rejection, but because it is offered at all.
I want children to get that free pass. But in the context of eternity, aren’t we all children?
Photo by liz west