Being a pastor for 42 years has given me the opportunity to engage in conversations with a lot of people, about a lot of different subjects. These chats have been interesting and enjoyable. The one question, though, that I find most interesting is when someone asks me, “What do you think heaven is like?”, and off we will go about our thoughts and beliefs!
Rarely do people want my theological thoughts about heaven. More often than not, they want my nitty-gritty, down-to-earth view of what I think it will be like. My answer is usually the same, and it is based on three things, all meaning “peaceful” to me.
First, my view of heaven is based on my love of growing things, be they plants or relationships. I love the simplicity, and the complexity, of seeing things grow and change in God’s world. So part of that growing means to me that there will be dirt in which to garden. An older member of Trinity Lutheran Church, Malvina, and I had an ongoing discussion about what would be lining heaven’s streets. She always said “gold”, and I always said “dirt”. Our dialogues were fun and meaningful. Malvina died a few years ago at age 86, and I miss her, and I miss our talks. As with Malvina, my relationships with other people on my journey have also helped me to see what heaven might be like. And it is peaceful.
Second, my view of heaven is based on my love of animals, particularly dogs. I have a running debate going with a longtime friend, Sam, about whether or not dogs have souls. I’m not so sure that they do, but I believe that my little dogs who have graced my life will meet me at the “Pearly Gates”. And it is peaceful.
And third, heaven is a place of peace because of the warm, cozy, safe place that my parents provided for me as I was growing up. I have wonderful feelings of that home and my childhood, and I believe the same feelings are part of heaven. And it is peaceful.
So, what do I think heaven is like? I, of course, like everyone else, am not sure. But I do know that it is what it is. And for me, it will be peaceful because of my memories of God’s good earth and my earthly companions, my animal friends, and my comfortable childhood home. And I believe that, for me, leads to peace.
Oh yeah – and God is there. The source of all peace!
Ralph Rohr has been an Ordained Pastor in the Lutheran Church for 42 years. He recently retired, after having served for 25 years as the Pastor of Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church. He and his wife have two children, their spouses, and five grandchildren.