What a person believes about an afterlife depends a lot on that particular person’s faith. It’s hard for us humans to believe in something that cannot be seen or touched. For most people, belief in Heaven or a paradise after death has a lot to with religious beliefs and practices. Even within certain religious groups, there is quite a bit of controversy about what actually happens when you die. I can’t claim to know much about the beliefs of any religious group other than Christianity, but I am starting to research more and learn more about other faiths and belief systems. Even within Christianity, however, there is such a broad range of what could happen after death. For example, I was raised in a non-denominational Christian environment. The basic doctrine that I was taught growing up was that people did not go to Heaven after they died. Once you died, you were placed in the ground to await the return of Jesus to this Earth. Even then, not everyone would be able to make it. Heaven forbid that I misquote the preacher who was over the church in which I was raised, (and for those of you who can’t tell, I say the previous with heavy sarcasm) but I was never clear on the rest of what was supposed to happen after Jesus came back. I knew there was something about the New Earth and everyone getting new bodies, but there was still a magic number that had to be attained because apparently, there will only be 144,000 in the Bride of Christ. If Jesus happened to come back to Earth, and you hadn’t done enough in your life to be a part of this elite 144,000 Body of Christ, then you were basically not even significant to anyone or anything in the universe. Honestly, I can’t remember if those unfortunate souls were supposed to be able to get new bodies and dwell in the New Earth, because frankly, I had stopped paying attention to the sermon hours before we even got to that point. I vaguely remember some mention of even if you didn’t get into the Bride of Christ, you still had to go stand before God and be judged for everything bad you had ever done in your life. Also, if you were found lacking, you were pretty much going to be flung into some lake of fire by the angry and mighty God.
If you can’t tell, I pretty much viewed God as this angry, all-knowing, all-powerful being who sat up in the Heavens in a really bad mood all the time. As a child, I often wondered what could have caused God to be so angry. Maybe it was all the ungrateful, whiners in the Bible. I mean, God did cause some of the people in the Bible to go through some pretty rough stuff compared to what I went through as a kid. I tried hard to live the first portion of my life so that I would measure up in God’s eyes. I worried and fretted sometimes that I wasn’t doing enough. I imagined the end of life coming and every single person that I went to church being allowed access into the Bride of Christ, but not me! In one recurring dream I had as a child and teenager, I remember seeing all of the people that went to church with me being in this huge line leading up to God’s throne in Heaven. As each one passed in front of God, a number was solemnly called out and a crown was placed on that person’s head. I was the last one in the line, and there came a time when there were just two of us left. The person in front of me stepped in front of God. He solemnly called out “144,000!” placed a crown on that person’s head and they walked off to join the crowd of others. I remember just sorta standing there in front of God, knowing that there was no more room and that I wasn’t going to be allowed in. Before I was cast away forever, I remember looking into the faces of all the people I went to to church with and seeing such shame and disappointment reflected in their eyes back at me. This was pretty much the point that I always woke up from this dream in a cold sweat. You can imagine that such dreams spurred me on to reevaluate my convictions. I would start working so hard to pay more attention in church. I would take more notes on the sermon and study more of the Scriptures that were quoted by the preacher. I don’t think my dislike for religious things hit me all at once. It was something that happened very gradually. I started forming my own opinions about certain beliefs, but I always kept them to myself. I tried asking my parents or other authority figures in the church questions about certain things, but I soon realized that questioning anything that had been taught in church was a big no-no.
(to be continued…)