WEEK OR SO AFTER EDDY DIED, HIS parents and I went to the cemetery, his dad driving their old 1940s pickup. As we came closer to the place where their son had just been buried, unbidden tears rolled down Eddy’s dad’s face.
“Now, dear,” his mom said with only a slight tremor to her voice, “remember, we promised we wouldn’t cry. We don’t want Eddy to be unhappy as he looks down on us.”
Eddy was—had been—my boyfriend. For years we’d lived across the street from each other in Grand Junction, Colorado. How many summer evenings had we played hide-and-go-seek with the rest of the kids in the neighborhood? How many times had he sat at our dining room table sharing our meals? He and Ron, my older brother, had been best friends. When Eddy got sick, Ron had kept Eddy’s paper route going, in addition to his own.
That last summer I was 15 and Eddy was about a year older. Something new had crept into our friendship that made us both blush. I felt a strange tingle in my spine when he was close.
Now he was dead from meningitis, and his folks and I thought perhaps he could see us through his picture that hung on their living room wall.
Questions About Heaven and Hell
In those teen years I went through real agony about some of God’s ways. I didn’t know what to think about Eddy being up there in heaven. Could he truly be happy there if he could see all of us still struggling down here?
Questions for Reflection
1. What common misperceptions about God can be cleared up with a proper understanding of what the Bible teaches? List at least three.
2. What specific Bible truth did the most to help you understand God's true character?
3. Share some examples of how an incorrect understanding of the Bible caused someone you know emotional pain. Be brief.
4. Are there ways to communicate the truth about God to people who aren't likely to pick up a Bible? What are they?
We were sure he was in heaven and not in hell because he had gone with my brother and me to church every Sunday. His folks had never been churchgoers, but they were comforted about his religious ties with God.
But I knew my mother was going to go to hell when she died. She was an alcoholic, and I had been taught that no alcoholics would be in the kingdom.
I argued with God about it. I told Him that Mom had started drinking only about five years earlier when she met my stepdad. I told Him it was unfair that she should burn forever—for all eternity—for something she had done only a few short years.
I still have the “poem” I penned, pouring out my frustration, my anger, my confusion. And after receiving no apparent reply from God, in response to His silence I wrote another poem, a grudgingly compliant one: “Question ye not. . . . Who art thou, little being of sin and error?”
What else was there to say or think? I continued to read my customary Bible verse or two most nights before going to sleep. My heart, however, had no love for God, and not much liking.
As it turned out, Mother died at the age of 42. The autopsy cited chronic alcoholism as the cause. She’d started drinking whiskey when she was in her early 30s, always in her little, cute shot glasses, one after another.
But then, yes, then I learned the truth.
A Clearer Vision
I met and married a man who had been raised a Seventh-day Adventist. (What in the world is that, I wondered. Sounded like some Holy Roller sort of thing.) But dutifully—because isn’t God all about duty?—I attended Adventist Bible studies.
“The dead know nothing.” “Their thoughts perish!” “Lazarus is asleep!”
Did you know that truth actually thunders when it enters a person’s heart? Could this possibly be true? Could it be that Eddy wasn’t in heaven, and Mother wasn’t in hell?
Love—an indescribable love for God and His love—welled up within me as I pondered these things.
Through the many years since Eddy and Mother died, quite a number of other people I cherished have also gone to sleep. They’re resting. And oh, what a sweet rest my heart rejoices in now! Indeed, how simple and lovely to entrust them each to the love that has always been there.
I really like God now.
Jeanina Bartling writes from Mt. Aukum, California.