NBC’s Parenthood portrays the lives of the Braverman family: the parents, four siblings and their families. The complexities of their lives do not diverge that much from many families today. They all struggle to find their identity, significance, purpose and answers to life’s questions.
In a recent episode, a bird flew into the sliding glass door at Joel and Julia’s home. Joel put the bird in a box hoping that it was only unconscious. Their six-year-old daughter formed an emotional attachment to the bird, looking forward to its recovery.
When Joel finally realized that recovery was not in the cards, he stressed out over confronting Sydney with the harsh reality of death. Julia suggests that using heaven would soften the blow. “What exactly are you going to tell her about heaven?” he protests. “Normal stuff,” Julia responds. “You mean the made-up stuff,” Joel challenges. They argue briefly, both agreeing that neither of them can know for sure if heaven exists or not. Julia contends that this is what constitutes faith, believing, but not knowing.
They finally reveal the bad news to Sydney. She is heartbroken. She begins asking about death and Joel tries to mitigate the uncertainty with a comment about the beauty of the world lying in its impermanence. When Sydney begins worrying about her parents dying, Julia comforts her by telling her they will all see each other in heaven. Joel looks away in frustration. Julia begins to explain heaven as a beautiful place where “everyone you love is there waiting for you.”
Julia then reminds Sydney that her grandmother, Joel’s mother, died when she was very young, but she is in heaven now, waiting to see Sydney when she goes “in a hundred years.” She even assures the little girl that the bird is already there, too. Sydney hugs her mom, obviously relieved and comforted, while Joel looks pensive and conflicted.
Later, watching Sydney play, Joel laments that his mom is not there to share in the joy of seeing Sydney grow up. Fighting back tears he confesses, “I kind of like thinking of her in heaven – with that stupid bird.” Smiles and hugs.
Sydney and Joel demonstrate the need for a hope that death does not rule over life. People may try to stare down death with bravado, but deep inside they long for a better ending to the story. Many people ignore death, as if it only happens in movies or the newspaper. When forced to peer into its ugly face, most people are willing to believe anything that will relieve the anxiety and fear, even without substantial evidence.
What evidence do we have of heaven? The same evidence we have of a resurrection. We have the testimony of eyewitnesses. Micaiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Stephen, Paul and John had visions of God on his throne in heaven. Could one have a vision of something that does not exist, like a dream? Yes, but God claimed that the vision reveals reality, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool” (Is. 66:1).
Jesus taught about heaven. He often referred to his “Father who is in heaven.” He said that we should lay up treasures in heaven and look for rewards there, also. He said that angels reside there and that he came from there and would return. Jesus affirmed that heaven exists as a real place where God and angels dwell.
We base our knowledge about heaven upon the testimony of those who have seen it or, in the case of Jesus, know about it firsthand. Faith is necessary to accept what we cannot touch or see. An honest study of the Bible verifies its reliability as a witness to the things we cannot see, by its reliability as a witness to the things we can and do experience.
Does everyone go there? Paul said that his death would mean his presence with Christ who is in heaven (Philippians 1:23). It is a conscious presence. John saw a host of souls in heaven standing before God’s throne, pleading with him to avenge their unjust deaths (Revelation 6:10).
Just as surely as there is a heaven, a hell also exists, where many souls also reside. Jesus told a story about Lazarus and a rich man. Both men had died. Lazarus was in heaven, but the rich man was in a place of unbearable anguish. “A great chasm has been fixed” between these two places that “none may cross” (Luke 16:24-26). Jesus refers to the final judgment when he will send the righteous into eternal life, but cast the “cursed into eternal fire.” (Matthew 25:41-46).
Jesus explains that the distinguishing feature for entrance into heaven is a personal relationship with him. There will be many who expect to enter the kingdom of heaven because they have done great religious deeds, prophesying, casting out demons and performing mighty works in the name of Jesus. But he will send them away, saying, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matthew 7:21-23).
Heaven may provide a feeling of comfort and even security for many people who will not actually be permitted to enter. All people want to have some assurance of life after death. Only those who enjoy a relationship with Jesus in this life can have this assurance of a life of joy in the presence of God. And anyone who is willing to repent of their sins and trust him for eternal salvation can know Jesus.