Originally posted April 12, 2011, at Tiny Dart Frog. Republished with permission of the author.
For five Sundays in Lent my congregation and I explored heaven and hell. Most of what I focused on was the fact that heaven is often much closer than we realize.
Our topics focused on these truths:
- Being “good enough” is not what heaven is about — because none of us can ever possibly be good enough.
- Heaven and hell are often found in shared experiences.
- God’s judgment is merciful, despite the fact it is hard for us to be merciful.
- Jesus takes up residence in us, which makes us all little rooms of heaven here on earth.
- God’s home is made among humans — not separate from humans in some far off place.
About three weeks into this series I heard a song on the radio called, “If Heaven Wasn’t So Far Away,” by Justin Moore.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I said to Carter (my 13½-year-old son).
“What?” he asked.
“This song … I’ve just spent weeks telling people this isn’t true. He’s got a way better fan base than I do,” I responded.
“Yeah, too bad,” he said with very little sympathy for me.
“I’m going to write a letter to him and tell him this is just not helpful, and it isn’t even what heaven is all about,” I replied back to him with a lot of “grrr” in my voice.
“I’m sure that will work, Mom. He’s making money; you’re a pastor,” he said with a fair amount of sarcasm.
“Well, I still may do it just because,” I said.
At this point he looked at me like I had lost my mind, although he’s 13 — he always looks at me like I’ve lost my mind, or he’s embarrassed I’m still breathing.
So, I wrote a letter, but I can’t quite figure out how to contact Justin via his website, so this will probably do the trick.
Below is my letter — not because I think it will change anything, but because words do matter.
What we say influences how we think, and I believe that in the discussion of our faith rests something very divine and lovely, and for that, I am willing to write letters, talk to strangers and go places I never dreamed I’d go.
I couldn’t have rested or felt as if I was being faithful had I not written this letter. And — I should also say — I love country music and I think the song has a lovely tune, I just think it is theologically insufficient. Give it a listen and give my letter a read and hold them in tension … they are both dim truths and incomplete pictures.
I am writing regarding your latest single “If Heaven Wasn’t So Far Away.” It pulls at my heartstrings and I think the harmonies are enticing; however I felt compelled to write to you regarding the lyrics.
I am a Lutheran pastor who has just completed a sermon series on heaven and hell. This sermon series was implemented because so many feel as if heaven is some far off place, which cannot be experienced today.
Additionally, many of us believe heaven is just a place to get to someday in the future. This, from a biblical perspective, is not true. Heaven, as Jesus teaches, is about all that is good, lovely and right coming to live here on earth.
So, for example, in your song, you sing about taking kids to see their grandpa if only heaven weren’t so far away.
The idea behind this seems to be that the only way the kids could “know” grandpa is to physically be present with him. This, in my opinion, is not true. Children and adults know many things through love and story, pictures and memory.
It is true that the song recalls memory and all those good times, but the recurring refrain of, “If heaven wasn’t so far away,” diminishes the power of lingering memory and the fact that love continues in the here and now, even after death.
While I know this isn’t possible, if I were to re-title your song, I would call it something like, “Heaven Isn’t So Far Away” or “Heaven Lives in a Fruit Stand” because heaven is always as near as our heartbeat.
A man named Jesus hung on a cross with two criminals and at one point one said to Jesus, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And Jesus said, “You’ll be with me in paradise.”
Heaven is the “with me” part, not the dead part. That’s what I so much want people to hear. Heaven is not far away, because Jesus is not far away.
As I close, I want to also thank you for singing and writing about good, close and loving relationships. That is important in a world where we often hear about fractured relationships.
Find a link to Christine Stephan’s blog Tiny Dart Frog at Lutheran Blogs.