Desire to Go

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This probably doesn’t happen to you much, but as both a minister and a hospice chaplain, a lot of people come up to me (at funerals, or when a loved one has just died) and they ask me, “Do you think Uncle Dave went to heaven?”

It’s especially hard when I didn’t know the Dave (or whoever) in question. Sometimes they are someone I only met through hospice, after they have been confined to a bed, and even when they are talkative and coherent I don’t feel like I’m getting to know the real person—how they were back when they could walk around, do whatever job they did, or play with the grandkids.

It’s an almost impossible situation when it’s a case of someone I never knew at all and my only sense of the deceased person is what I am told. Not that these friends and family would lie to me, but—in those moments—they are usually only thinking of the best concerning their dearly-departed. “He was such a hard worker.” “No one loved their grandkids more than her.”

But you know what? Even if it’s someone I know well, the question is an interesting one to me. Does the person think that I, as a minister, have some sort of secret knowledge from God that tells me the eternal state of the recently passed? Probably not. They are hoping, I think, that in my study of Scripture I have come across some insight that will let them know what has happened with Gramma.

I do know that in Scripture Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life. NO ONE comes unto the Father except through me.” (John 14:6, emphasis mine)

The apostle John says that his reason for his writing is so that we may know we have eternal life (1 John 5:13). And he only writes that towards the end of the book, making it abundantly clear that his assurance is based on us having a] read that far and b] surrendered our lives accordingly (see, especially, chapter 5, verse 2).

And I could go on an on (in fact, let’s just go ahead and include the whole New Testament!) about the pathway Jesus set down for us to follow to get to his father. It starts with his sinless life and sacrifice, the coverage for our sins he poured out with his blood on the cross, and the grace he extends to us. But it also includes that he commands us to submit to him. How we live will never earn our way to heaven, but it will show whether we have accepted his salvation or not.

And therein is my answer the question, “Did Cousin Larry go to heaven?” I ask the questioner, “Do you think Cousin Larry wanted to go?”

It’s not a flippant question. I’ve read through the Bible several times and I have never once come across the idea that God will take anyone to heaven against their will. We are invited on his good grace, but we do have to accept him and his gift.

It’s why Jesus also said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)

For however long you have, follow him. I do not deny that God can and will hear a “deathbed confession” (because he knows the sincerity of the heart giving it), but I feel sorry for that person because they spent so many years living in doubt. I can’t tell you whether Cousin Larry or Aunt Mildred went to heaven, but I can tell YOU how to get there (and so can a lot of other Christians here in Dumas). I hope you’ll let one of us tell you and, when people talk about both you and I, they’ll say, “I know where he is because he lived like someone who wanted to go!”