I don’t know much about God. I don’t presume to know. I know he’s a great guy. Provided it is a he. What if he wasn’t?
I don’t want to suggest that God is a woman. But if God is indeed a man, then who stands there telling him what to do all day?
You can’t tell me that God is an ordinary man. If God was a man, the universe would have been patched up with duct tape and completely crumbled a long time ago.
So that’s just one of the falsely preconceived ideas I have about God.
To begin with, I have always viewed God as a human being. Logically, I know that God is not human. But that’s how I imagined it. He had four limbs, a navel, probably blue eyes, an American accent.
Besides, I always thought of him as an old man. White hair, long beard. Like the homeless man standing around the corner from Walmart. The same homeless man who holds a cardboard sign that reads “God Bless” while all the cars with the Greek fish on their bumpers drive past him.
Another thing I always believed was that God dwells far away. Very high in the sky. And I mean GOOD up there. As in, billions of light years away. He was separated from the earth and all its inhabitants by an invisible chasm. Distant. Distant. He certainly didn’t care about me and my problems.
Which evokes the idea of heaven.
I always believed that paradise was a distant land. Like a fairy tale kingdom where the only people allowed inside are those who know the lyrics to Gaither’s songs.
I am the product of my Southern Baptist upbringing. In my child’s brain, the sky was a huge arid county, filled with Baptists.
A Methodist may gain celestial entrance from time to time, but only if he accidentally falls into First Baptist Baptism beforehand.
The Presbyterians were probably there too, but you would never know because the Presbyterians wouldn’t make a sound in the church if a rat crawled on their leg.
The people from the Church of Christ were there because they were really just Baptists who couldn’t afford to buy pianos.
Episcopalians were definitely not in heaven because they had Pabst Blue Ribbon at their Christmas parties.
And Catholics were most definitely in hell because they could play Biloxi and often smoked herbal incense during church.
At least that’s what my childhood believed me to be.
For me, heaven was a kingdom with pearly gates, where an ancient angel stood before a ledger and decided who would and would not go to eternal damnation.
To tell the truth, my image of the sky comes largely from the caricatures of the Sunday newspaper. Like the cartoon where there’s a man queuing for heaven that’s being searched by an angel. The angel said, “He is pure.
Heaven for me was just a bunch of clouds and people in flowing tunics. Everyone was blond, a bit like visiting Sweden, except there were more harps.
And above all, paradise was just a bunch of big mansions. Kind of like going through the Moutainbrook neighborhoods, but with more clouds.
What were people doing in heaven all day? Because if what my childhood pastor said was true, everyone would be singing all the time. Twenty-four hours a day. Endless song. Which is a scary thought.
Because if you had ever visited my church, you would know that most members of our congregation could not wear a melody if it had been tattooed on their inner thigh.
Moreover, we would eat a lot of fruit in heaven. Our Sunday school teacher had an illustration on a flannel board of the Tree of Life, which was basically a large apple tree. A tree that apparently also produced bananas and cherries.
So fruit was all you ate. All day, every day. Fruit, fruit, fruit. And if you’re tired of fruit, tough spit.
But I know now that I was wrong about everything about God and heaven.
Because this morning, I received an email from a little girl. Her name is Jessica. She’s 11 years old. Her mother died last year of glioblastoma. She had some tough times. Suffering from anxiety and depression.
She wrote to me saying, “Dear Mr. Sean, I wanted to know what paradise looks like to you.
“I think heaven is like living here, with all the same stuff we have right now like chips and Coke and cars and people and dogs.
“But in heaven no one’s parents die and there is no doctor or cancer to worry about. And whenever you want a hug from God, he gives you one. And angels aren’t people with wings and halos like I thought, all angels are just everyone’s moms.
Dear Jessica. I think you are absolutely right.