Guided by Scripture, a husband and his dying wife discuss what they think it will be like when God takes his children home to heaven.
“When I die, what do you think it will be like? I mean, at that moment, what do you think will happen?”
My wife, Sue, dying of cancer, asked me this several days before she passed away on Oct. 30, 2022. Sue’s faith in her Savior was unwavering, but there was still the logistical mystery and natural curiosity about the actual transition from life on earth to life in heaven. She wanted to know. For 40 years, we discussed everything in life—including what happens at the moment of our deaths.
The Bible does not provide all the details. The people I asked, including some pastors, were not really sure. I began researching as best I could. I told her my beliefs based on the bits and pieces of information I could glean from God’s Word and short discussions in various secondary works. While the Bible does not give a detailed description of what happens at death, it does provide small glimpses around the edges. These can be pieced together to provide a picture of what could take place at death.
First, in Matthew 7:14, Jesus uses a metaphor to describe the way to eternal life: “Small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” The road is the road of salvation. It is a spiritual road of faith and trust in Jesus that we traverse by grace here on earth. This road of trusting in Jesus alone for our salvation is the way to an eternity with God.
Second, in Luke 15:10, Jesus tells us about the actual jubilation that takes place in heaven when a sinner begins to walk that narrow road, “I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” This is not a metaphor—comparing something we are trying to understand with something else with which we are familiar. It is a specific, first-person narrative description of what occurs in heaven. Jesus is fully God. He has seen this happen. He is describing the joy he has personally witnessed in heaven when a sinner repents.
I further reasoned that if the heavenly host shout for joy when a sinner repents, then couldn’t there be a thunderous ovation when a faithful believer, already on the road of salvation, enters God’s presence in heaven? That ovation could be many times more than the sound you hear inside a football stadium when there is a game-winning touchdown.
Third, I told her that at the moment of death she should not be surprised if there were angels surrounding her and carrying her with immeasurable love, kindness, gentleness, and compassion instantaneously into God’s presence. Jesus mentioned that angels carried the poor man, Lazarus, to heaven when he died (see Luke 16:22).
I told Sue that I expected that she would instantly feel at home. I could envision fellow Christians who loved her the most on earth—her parents, grandparents, other dearly loved family members who have already passed—and an entire cloud of fellow believers (Hebrews 12:1) would be beaming with love and shouting for joy as they embrace her and welcome her to her true home.
I told her about C.S. Lewis’ thoughts on death for a Christian in The Screwtape Letters. In an instant, the veil between heaven and earth will be parted, and she will have a complete clearing of her soul’s vision. Instantaneously, there will be peace. All her fear and doubt will be erased, all her tears will be wiped away, and all her pain will disappear forever. Her soul will be in the presence of God, and she will be completely saturated in the all-encompassing warmth and security of his love.
I also told her that I believe entering heaven is like coming home after being on vacation. When you vacation, even if the area is wonderful, it is still off. It is not the same as the familiar comfort of home. You’re not sure which lane of traffic to be in to make the turn, and you’re not sure where the grocery store or gas station is. Pretty soon you figure it out and begin to get more comfortable. But when the vacation ends and you return, your heart says, “This is my home.” I told her that heaven is going to be the same. Earth is a temporary place, like a vacation. You’re here for a while and start to get used to it, but once you enter heaven, your heart will instantly know: “This is my real home.”
As I described my beliefs and thoughts, Sue smiled her amazingly beautiful smile. As her blue eyes sparkled, tears of joy ran down her cheeks, and she said, “I hope that’s what it is. I would like that.”
I also promised her that when God decided that it was my turn to come home, she will be the first person I look for. She promised to look for me so that, together with all Christians, we could sing praises of joy and gratitude to our loving Savior, who redeemed us and brought us home for an eternity in his glorious presence—our true, eternal home.
Author: Greg Galler
Volume 110, Number 6
Issue: June 2023