The Consolation Prize of Heaven
“On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
Based on the above context, how do you read Christ’s question at the end of the passage?
One possible interpretation is illustrated by the following story. A woman loses her husband of many years. As she is grieving, Jesus appears, puts His arms around her shoulders comfortingly and says, “My daughter, I am so sorry for your loss. To help, I will introduce you to another man, who will please you so greatly that you will completely forget about the husband you have lost.”
I don’t know about you, but I find that scenario horrifying. It conveys the idea that the life the woman had with her husband, and in fact, the husband himself is disposable. “Ah, well. That didn’t go so well now, did it? Let’s try again and see if we can’t have a better run this time around.”
This interpretation says that heaven will be so wonderful, we’ll just forget about all the crap here, so keep your chin up through tragedy, and you’ll be rewarded in the end.
Scripture is deeper than that. More importantly, God’s love and compassion are richer and so much fuller than that, they are in a different league. Heaven is no mere consolation prize to take our minds off of the hardship, tragedy and fallenness of this life. It is not the promise of a Happy Meal in reward for not crying when we scrape our knee.
No, the above interpretation is what we get from the doctrine of reincarnation, a do over, take two.
What God offers is resurrection—a restoration, a making right of all that is wrong, redemption. Jesus said in effect, “I am the resurrection and the life—you have not lost your brother to the void. He still IS. He is still himself. You will be reunited (sooner than you think, by the way), and not have to be merely content with his memory, or with hunting for him in some future life. Yes, you are parted, so grieve for the parting. But the parting is temporary. Death is an enemy, and it is right to acknowledge it as such, but it is not a victorious enemy, because it will be and is defeated, by Me.”
Heaven is not a consolation prize for our suffering. Through Christ, our suffering is transformed and redeemed. It is made manifest in the final restoration of heaven. Jesus doesn’t explain the why of suffering, nor does He patronize us for feeling its pain, but He does promise it WILL be fixed, not ignored or whitewashed over.
This passage doesn’t tell me suffering is worth it, but it does tell me it will be ended and the damage repaired. “I will restore to you the years that the locusts have eaten,” God told Israel through the prophet Joel. I don’t know about you, but for me, this is a real source of hope and encouragement.