When it comes to understanding heaven, I take what you could call the Gay Talese approach. He is the journalist best known for his masterful Esquire article, “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold.” The story pioneered what might be termed “indirect insight.”
Repeatedly stalled in getting an interview with the famous singer himself, Talese instead interviewed everyone in the star’s orbit. The resulting piece revealed much more about Sinatra than a direct conversation ever would have.
Rather than coming back to the office with an Instamatic snapshot, Talese presented a cut-out, silhouette portrait like from the old days. By carefully trimming away the edges and concentrating on the background, as it were, he gleaned a distinct profile.
In the same way, when it comes to heaven, I’m not very interested in the current bestsellers about people’s visits there. They seem a bit like eternal-timeshare brochures. Rather than rely on their accounts of what will be there, I want to snip around the edges and start from the basis of what (and who) it appears won’t be there.
Accountants, for instance. I base this exclusion not on personal dislike: it’s just that the Bible tells us that death, one of the two certainties of life, is going to be swallowed up in the hereafter. So, it seems fair to presume that the other one—namely, taxes, and thus those that deal with them—also fails to make the cut.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting that accountants will end up in, you know, the other place. (Though bank managers could find themselves there, according to Rowan Atkinson. His “Welcome to Hell” sketch will probably have you in fits of laughter—if you can just ignore the eternal damnation thing for a few moments. It’s worth trying).
What occurs to me, though, is that there is a lot of stuff we are going to have to check at the pearly gates. Take gun lovers, as an example. Once the post-resurrection circulation has returned to their cold, dead hands, they are going to have to willingly surrender their weapons to St. Peter, because concealed carry permits are not going to be valid in heaven.
How can I be so sure? Eternal security: it means there’s no need for neighborhood watch groups. I suspect that all those weapons are going to be smelted down and turned into a giant swing set, on which we all get to hang out with Jesus.
But back to the accountants. From them, I began to think about some of the other occupations that will probably be absent in heaven. Many of us are going to have to turn in our work badges, I think. There will likely be no:
- Counselors and handkerchief makers: no more tears, after all.
- Electricians: the place is illuminated by God’s glory, apparently.
- Journalists: there will be no scandal, and we will all know fully, anyway.
- Preachers: self-evidently redundant.
Joking aside, there’s a serious point here. One that brings us back to our true identity. Because if so much of who we think we really are—and, let’s face it, what we do goes a long way in defining us—is going to be irrelevant when we get to heaven, maybe we’d do better focusing on what is going to remain.
Some of the things God “made us to be” seem to be only for this life. Perhaps the question should not so much be “Who am I now?” but “Who am I going to be forever?” And “What is my real, enduring essence?” Like with Frank Sinatra, the clearest picture may come from the impact we have on those around us—if we dare ask them.