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How Do You Imagine Heaven?

After a loss, struggling with where a loved one has gone.

Edward and Gracie
Credit: Katye Martens Brier
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I’ve been thinking a lot about heaven lately, for what is probably the obvious reason, which was why I was happy to see an image pop up in my news feed this morning of a happy dog running through a field of tall golden grass and a caption that said, “He’s been waiting for you.” 

I’ve read, as you likely have, many descriptions of heaven, some even from people who claim to have been there during near-death experiences, though passages in the Old Testament appear to prohibit this except in the case of certain prophets. 

These descriptions tend to depict heaven as an idealized or even a chimerical version of earth. Can that really be true? Or is that simply a demonstration of the limits of our imaginations? There’s an old Dave Mason song, “Heaven Is in Your Mind.” I don’t literally believe that, of course, but is the afterlife God provides for us simply beyond the imaginings of the limits of our minds? Something so different from our earthly existence that we can’t begin to conceive it? A realm that defies the laws of physics that govern our universe where we simply become one with the spirit of God—and lose our human identity. 

My wife Julee always talked about seeing all her dogs again in heaven and that filled her with joy. John 14:2 alludes to “many mansions.” Is it that some of those mansions allow pets? Yes, I am being silly now, but the Bible is maddeningly elusive in providing a description of heaven going all the way back to the earliest Hebrew texts. It’s as if heaven is neither describable nor conceivable by humans other than as a divine promise of God, that life is not a full stop and that we will experience a joy that passes all human understanding. The manifestation of that is a mystery.

As I said, I’ve been thinking a lot about where our loved ones go when they depart this earth and what they experience and if we are part of that experience in some way. Can they reach out to us? Growing up Catholic I was taught that the souls in heaven can pray for us, even watch over us. I’m wondering what you think. It would help me to know since I am struggling with this. How can someone simply be alive one moment—so alive—and gone forever the next? 

In the meantime, I am content to envision Julee’s dogs running ahead of everyone else to greet her, even if that is simply a fond wish of my earthly imagination.

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