Fear does not fill Heaven, Love does
After 36 hours of no electricity from hurricane Irene, we’ve just been restored to full functionality but not without some property damage (pictures tomorrow).
Today, I’m privileged to host Deb Hill, who blogs at Muse and the Queen Honey Bee.
The post that I wrote on “Why 99% of Pastors Agree with Rob Bell … at Funerals” has sparked a lot of good conversation. In all, it’s totaled over 10,000 hits and continues to attract new readers to my blog every day despite being published some five months ago.
And out of those 10,000 hits only THREE people have shared with me their experience of hearing a pastor preach the deceased to hell (which speaks to the goodness and wisdom of the mass majority of pastors). Deb’s story was perhaps the most emotive, and redemptive, so I asked her to share it with us. The only thing better than her talent for story telling, is the story itself. Enjoy.
I have vivid memories of my friend:
My very first; he’s standing on a table at Kindergarten, stamping his feet and swearing at the top of his lungs. I was, at one and the same time, appalled and admiring of this audacious display!
It’s the summer before grade one, he and I are climbing on the roof of his parent’s garage, after expressly being forbidden to do so, and experiencing the thrill of ‘getting away’ with it.
We are re-connecting in a combined Jr. High after nine years apart because we were educated in different systems. (He was Roman Catholic- Seperate School, I, Protestant/Lutheran-Public School). After having ‘failed’ twice he was two years behind me and quite fed-up with formal education!
The thing was, my friend had been born with water on the brain. The Drs. had succesfully inserted a shunt to drain the excess fluid, but he was, shall we say, different.
It was the 70’s and the education system was woefully inadequate to deal with a child born with hydrocephalus who had pronounced learning disabilities and behaviorial issues. (He was often a Royal Pain!)
But my friend was more than his condition….
He was incredibly quick-witted, mischievous, kind and loyal.
We were teenagers in the 80’s in Small-Town, Canada. Nowhere to go, nothing to do except ‘ Sex, Drugs and Rock-and-Roll’. (And far too much under-age drinking).
But there was more to us than that…
There were afternoons at the lake, swimming and boating and water-skiing. There were picnics on the off-beaten trails and canoe trips and mid-afternoon coffee breaks at my work to cheer up the day and there was laughter. Lots and lots of laughter. Most important, there was a deep and abiding Friendship!
I eventually left to the Big City, off to University. My friend, stayed home…
One afternoon, I got the dreaded Phone Call…
It was May 10th. Mother’s Day. Sunday.
We were 19.
My Mom called to let me know that my friend had been tragically killed in a single vehicle roll-over in the early hours of the morning.
The driver survived.
Drugs and alcohol were a factor.
My friend’s Mother had the unimaginable task of having to identify the remains of her youngest child, her baby. They wouldn’t let her lift the sheet. She identified him by his crooked baby finger on his left hand.
At the Funeral the Priest preached for half an hour on how my friend:
(a son, brother, grandson, nephew, cousin, a baptized child of God)
was burning in Hell because of his lifestyle choices,
and the rest of us (his friends) better shape up and start living right or we would come to the same fate.
You see, the Priest’s message of God’s wrath and condemnation had not been my experience:
The night before the funeral I had the most vivid ‘dream’ of God the Father holding me all night in my grief and despair. I was not living a ‘Christian’ lifestyle anymore than my friend had been, yet God showed up, without me even asking. He held and comforted me. He sustained me with His presence. He held the grief, that threatened to consume me, at bay. This ‘holding’ went to my deepest core, to my inmost self. It lasted all night.
I was no more worthy than my dead friend to receive the Mercy of God.
For two decades I carried the weight of the Priest’s funeral sermon with me. Questions roiled and churned, but remained unanswered:
Why my friend and not me?
My friend and I knew the same Gospel, the same Jesus.
My friend was no more wicked than I.
My lifestyle choices had been the same as his.
Would/could God really send my friend to Hell but show me such tender gentleness and compassion?
Had God brought this young man into the world, created him with handicaps that made his life difficult, to say the least, just so He could violently wrench his life away and then throw him into eternal damnation?
My heart ached for his Mother.
My friend died on her birthday, on Mother’s Day.
She was grieving, bereft, and all she had been offered was the hopelessness of Hell.
She shared at the funeral reception with us, his closest friends, how as he was leaving to go out the night he died, she had had a premonition and an overwhelming urge to run after him and beg him to stay home. She felt he was going to die. She had stopped herself because she didn’t want to embarrass him in front of his friends. She told herself she was being melodramatic, silly. But when, by early Sunday afternoon he still wasn’t home, she KNEW! Now she carried cavernous guilt for not having listened to/acted upon that Inner Voice. If only she had tried…if only…
Almost twenty years later, as I sat at my kitchen table sharing this whole experience with my own Mom, pouring out all the unresolved grief and turmoil, the Holy Spirit was able to bring me closure and peace:
God spoke to my heart, dropped His peace into my soul.
My friend’s Mother (and myself) needed the healing Mystery of God’s Love, not the wounding Fear of God’s Wrath.
God let me know that just as I had not been forsaken or left orphaned, neither had my friend.
In his time of greatest need, during the accident and the trauma of dying, God the Father was there holding him, comforting him, and extending him Mercy.
I know that I will see my friend again, and that Priest was wrong…
Fear does not fill Heaven, Love does.
Have you received, experienced the Mystery of God’s Love that seemingly defies the conventional teachings of the Church? Are you, like myself, afraid to trust that these experiences are truly from God? Is it easier to believe in a God who widely condemns and narrowly extends mercy? Why?