Approaching Oz

“I didn’t like the other minister. He was pushy and didn’t call before he came by.”

The lady was in her 90s, seated by a window with a spectacular view of the golf course landscaping outside. She had been an artist, and her oil paintings decorated many of the walls around us. Her condo was not elaborate but tastefully decorated. I guess that’s what you’d expect from an artist.

One other thing. She knew she was dying. I was talking with her because she wanted to get her spiritual “house” in order. But first, she had questions.

“Would you go to my bedroom and get the Bible on my bed table?”

I found a little pink Bible, King James Version, and brought it back to the sitting area.

“Open it to the book of Luke. I hear he was a doctor, so that’s probably a good place for me to start.”

I flipped through and found it quickly.

“Do you see the words in red?”

Yes, I see them.

“What do you think of them?”

Talk about a loaded question. As in many Bibles, the words printed in red are the words attributed to Jesus.

I replied that I believed them to be divine. The words of God himself.

She smiled and closed her eyes as she talked.

“I believe in what Jesus taught, but I also have some doubts. The whole nativity thing…the star in the east… I don’t know what I think about that. But I believe in God and what Jesus taught.”

I started to understand where this might be going. This lady was still quite bright and well-spoken, in spite of all the medications and her advanced years. She understood her life would soon be over. So she wanted to know what most of us want to know.

“Is there some place good after this life, and if so, will I make it there?”

Of course, there are easy answers we give people at times like these. Many pastors administer a sort of “spiritual anesthesia” to those facing death. The goal is to make the person feel better and go out into the great unknown without fear.

But that actually assumes the question doesn’t matter. It assumes either that everyone is going to heaven, which seems unlikely if you’ve ever met a real human being before. Or it assumes there really is no heaven, and religion is just something we say to make people feel better.

“Grampa’s in a much better place now”…even though Grampa was a racist and beat his wife. But, still, we say it, committing a sort of spiritual malpractice with our consolations.

However, this brilliant, creative person deserved better than the answer you’d give a child. So we talked.

Many of the questions were ones I’d heard before because most people tend to have the same questions when you’re talking about heaven and God.

“What about other religions?”

“What about people who don’t believe in God?”

“What about reincarnation?”

“What is heaven really like?

Since she was an artist, that last one felt like a softball sent straight from God himself.

“Do you remember in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy opened the door from her brown, sepia-toned cabin into the technicolor land of Oz? That’s what it will be like when we enter heaven. It will look a lot like this earth, but we’ll suddenly realize the colors, the tones, the textures our eyes couldn’t recognize before. Everything will suddenly seem like we just went from a black and white 2-dimensional picture to 4-D, hi-definition in virtual reality.”

(C.S. Lewis said that the story of Christ is the “true myth”: it’s the most wonderful fairy tale that’s made more wonderful because it is true. So thinking of a fairy tale land of “Oz” as heaven may be as close as our minds can come to imagining its glory.)

Her eyes were closed, but a smile spread across her face. I felt a blanket of holiness descend over the room. God was there. We were suddenly on holy ground.

“But I still have doubts, pastor! What do I need to do?”

That question was easy.

“I still have doubts too. But Jesus never tells us we can’t have doubts if we want to go to heaven. He says that, in spite of our doubts, he wants us to make the choice to believe anyway. He wants us to believe in him in the midst of our doubts.”

“So what do I do?” she asked again.

“Don’t worry about your doubts – just hold onto Jesus. Because heaven is not as much about what you believe, but who you believe in.”

I asked if I could pray with her. She was ready. I prayed for God to renew her faith in the midst of doubts. I thanked him that heaven rested on his faithfulness, and not our faithlessness. Furthermore, I asked for peace for her in the midst of her doubts. I asked that God would help her hold onto Jesus, and onto his cross that paid for her sins.

Beyond everything else, the bottom line doesn’t come down to what you believe but who you believe in.

The bottom line is Jesus. Simply Jesus.

In spite of your doubts, just hold onto him. He will most certainly get you to heaven.

Photo by Nika Benedictova on Unsplash

Dave Gipson
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