Today is the thirteenth anniversary of my father’s death. He died in a light aeroplane accident in the French Alps. A few years ago there was a question milling through some people’s minds: is he now in heaven?
A specific strain of fundamentalism, focusing on the afterlife and whether one is “Saved!” or not, would probably argue he is not, because he didn’t believe exactly like they did, he did not attend church much, considering the majority of church attenders to be somewhat hypocritical, and he did not tell everyone about all the wonderful things Jesus did in his life.
Or they might say he might be, because he might have accepted Jesus as his personal saviour as the plane was going down. I seriously doubt it: they radioed out “mayday”, as the plane was losing altitude. After dropping off the radar, they turned the plane around, heading back south, where they came from, but unfortunately did not clear the mountain they had recently flown over. So what, do you think, went through his mind? Jesus? “I want to go to heaven!”?
Definitely not. What went through his mind, was figuring out the best way to stay alive, the best route to safety (in very low visibility), calculating how to maximise the odds of surviving, so he could live the rest of his life in a meaningful manner. He thought of us, his family, who he loved very much. Love is God. He was thinking God, even if he did not use that word.
So, I doubt he ever knelt down before Jesus and said “I invite you into my life. I’m a self-centred bastard and the most important thing for an egomaniac like me is to go to heaven after I die”. He lived for the here, for the now, for the humans that surround him. He lived for his family, and man, did he live! He lived not only for the here and the now, he lived to make a positive difference, for the future generations. He lived to make the kingdom come, even if he did not use that language. Christianspeak all too often serves to muddy the truth, rather than shine the light on it. Nevertheless, the language is beautiful and powerful, and can also be used for good.
Which brings me back to the question, is he in heaven? I would like to rephrase this question in the language of Mark 10:17: did he live an eternal life? Even if you do not believe in life after death, you can live an eternal life, and that is the much more important question.
My father lives on, because we remember him. We remember him as one of the most amazing role models anyone could dream of. He lived a life of brutal honesty, setting an example that makes marketing departments cringe. He showed how such brutal honesty breeds success, how people trusted what he told them, because he didn’t hide the flaws and potential weaknesses. He lives on in us, who can look up to the example he set, and continue his legacy. Because of him, I continue striving to “make the kingdom come”, to make a positive difference in this world. He inspires excellence, inquisitiveness, a search for truth, a sense of wonder in this universe, and an incurable hope and optimism for the future of humanity.
He lives forever, in Heaven.