If there’s such a thing as a “religious mutt”, that would be me:
• Born and raised Presbyterian (totally laid back)
• Attended Lutheran school for 12 years (spiritually ardent)
• Married a great Catholic guy and converted to Catholicism (not a huge leap from Lutheran but a billion light years from Presbyterian)
I now think of myself as a Christian; it’s a long story for another time.
Though diverse in many ways, one basic tenet these three denominations espouse is the existence of heaven and hell.
As a teenager at our quaint Presbyterian church, I taught Sunday School to kindergarteners. We read Bible stories, watched animated videos about the Old and New Testaments, sang songs, did religious arts and crafts. It was uncomplicated – until one of the children asked what happens when we die.
“You go to heaven, unless you’ve been really bad” one girl adamantly answered.
“Yeah! Then you go to H-E-L-L!” another kid chimed in, spelling out the bad word.
“That’s right but only the girls get turned into angels and then God tries to do the best he can with the boys” claimed an intrepid little girl.
“That’s not true” yelled the boys. ”Everybody in heaven is an angel and God is the head angel!”
Suppressing a laugh, I figured I better take back control of my class and start asking some questions.
“Who thinks they know what heaven is like?” I asked.
The girls all agreed that “there’s lots of singing and dancing to harp music and everyone wears flowers in their hair.”
But the boys had different opinions, especially about wearing flowers in their hair. “Boys have halos just like Jesus and they help feed the animals in heaven.”
One boy raised his hand and answered very seriously “There are no doctors or lawyers in heaven because God does all the healing and arguments aren’t allowed.”
“There’s always angel food cake – not devil’s food cake” giggled a blue-eyed tyke.
A little girl was next to answer the question. “God sits in heaven but he isn’t on a throne or anything like that. He sits in a garden playing with the children, puppies and kittens and lets them climb on him. And the grownups just do stuff like they used to do at home.”
I asked another question: “How did heaven begin?”
Then one timid, diminutive girl answered quietly “A really long time ago a lot of kids were crying because their grandmas and grandpas were dying so God said ‘Don’t cry. I’m going to make a beautiful place way above the clouds where all the grandparents and parents and pets can stay forever’. And so he made heaven.”
I felt a lump in my throat, perhaps thinking of my own grandparents, but in all honesty I’m sure it was the simple yet poignant answer of that sweet girl. I coughed a bit to mask the emotion in my voice and asked another question.
“Is there a special test to get into heaven?”
I was rewarded with a resounding “NO!”
I countered with “No? Well if there’s no test how do we get into heaven?”
An adorable red haired boy covered with freckles quickly raised his hand and said “When you get to heaven God whispers one question in your ear.”
“He does? What’s the question?” I asked.
“He asks ‘Do you love me?’ It’s really not a hard question. And when you say ‘Yes’, God kisses you and says ‘Come on in!”
Intrigued by that answer I asked “And how do you know this?”
Displaying a toothless grin he declared “My grandpa tells me every time I talk to him. That’s what God asked my grandpa when he got to heaven and he said ‘YES!’”
And all the kids shouted “YES!!”
I think I’m ready for my final exam. Are you?
NAR © 2023