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Q: As my husband faces a serious, potentially fatal illness, I am troubled by the various visions of heaven and life after death. Many are comforted by the idea that we will be reunited with our loved ones in heaven, but many seem to believe that this will not matter at all as we are swept up into God’s loving light. How can I find comfort?
A: I am so sorry to hear about the illness that your husband and whole family are facing. I am pausing from typing to say a prayer for strength, hope, and courage as you journey through this uncertain time.
Your question is a tough one, and I don’t have a clear answer for you. I suspect that I am not unique in my inability to provide insight regarding the afterlife, because the truth is that none of us knows what will happen when we die. Sure, the afterlife is mentioned throughout scripture—but in cryptic, amorphous ways. Jesus tells the man crucified on the cross next to him that they’ll be together in paradise. The author of the Gospel of John writes that out of God’s love for the world, God gave God’s only son and that “everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (3:16).
But while we are told of paradise and promised eternal life, we don’t know what form these versions of being post-earthly-existence will take. Perhaps they will offer a reunion with our loved ones, as you mentioned, or being swept up in God’s loving light. Or maybe it will be different than either of those. As the 15th-century Catholic priest and theologian Nicholas of Cusa stated, “The finite mind cannot comprehend infinite truth.”
I wonder if, rather than being anguished by the unknowing, you might be able to find comfort in knowing that, for all of the unknowns about the specifics, the afterlife will be good beyond our ability to imagine because God is good beyond our ability to imagine. In this life, we cannot know infinite truth; but if we have faith in a God whose truth is love, we can believe in an afterlife where love reigns.