One attractive feature of Christianity is the way that it can bring comfort to those whose loved ones pass away. Even if you are the one who is in their last days, you can take comfort in the fact that you are about to return home to the arms of your Savior. The only problem with this is . . . it isn’t true.
One day last week, I woke up to a text from my mother telling me that her father had passed away that night. Well, it wasn’t exactly worded like that though. Instead, this was the text that I received:
After twenty-something years of interacting with my mother, I can effortlessly translate everything she says from Christianese into normal English. Usually, I just find her constant referral to God annoying, but in the case of her father’s passing, something about her deep assurance that her dad was with his heavenly father made me more upset than I already was. I feel as though I know something that no one else knows, and it’s a terrible secret that would break their hearts. I know that the existence of heaven can’t be proven or disproven by the living, but in my mind, heaven does not exist. My idea of the afterlife isn’t yet fully formed, but I have no reason to believe that we are any more aware or alive than we were before we were conceived. I believe that after my grandfather breathed his last, his time of consciousness ended.
My grandmother (this grandfather’s wife and my mother’s mother) passed away last October. Not only is my mother convinced that her father is joining his Savior for eternity, but she believes that he is reuniting with his wife, as well. Both of her parents were extremely religious (that’s where we got our LCMS faith from), and they found much solace in the idea that their eternal life with the Lord and each other would only be beginning once their comparatively short time on Earth ended.
My grandfather was so evangelical that he made it known that he wanted his obituary to greatly emphasize his Christian faith. As my mother had the heartwrenching task of writing her father’s obituary, I caught glimpses of what it said: “On [this day], [he] was enfolded into the arms of his Savior and is standing before the throne of God with his beloved wife for all eternity,” and “he will be raised with Him in the Resurection.”
Although this is another example of how my mother speaks and writes in fluent Christianese, this time, it was more than that. Everyone’s comfort lies solely in the Lord and their unshakable belief that my grandparents are together with him for the rest of time. My grandfather’s entire life was devoted to glorifying God and raising good Christian children. It feels almost cruel of me to think of their devotion as a waste of time and a lost cause. Just because the idea of heaven is so promising and grants them such hope doesn’t make it true. It’s as though this is something that only I know, and I’m keeping the terrible truth from them, but in reality, even if I told them what I believe, their faith in heaven wouldn’t change. I think that it is worse that they have this false hope than if we were all atheists and we all had to face the fact that the end is the end. It is heartbreaking to have to silently listen to them consoling themselves with this false hope of eternal bliss when all I see is eternal oblivion.