Rev Brian Brandon: Let's look on bright side and talk about heaven

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Reaching for heaven is to respond positively to suffering and value life more. Photo / AP
Reaching for heaven is to respond positively to suffering and value life more. Photo / AP

Like Stephen Wealthall, I am also a cancer sufferer and working hard at making this last stage of life as positive as possible an experience for myself and others. I echo Stephen's call for talking openly and honestly about death.

I wonder though whether fear of death and fear of talking about it are more common emotions than raging against it.

Stephen points out that people tend to ignore the approach of death. Perhaps it is out of fear that we shut the fact out of our minds.

The associated fear of talking about it is a real danger because no one can know what we are going through without us talking, nor can silence show how appropriate support be given.

I have appreciated the Auckland Hospital Oncology Department and the Auckland Cancer Society for the opportunities they give for talking through what is happening. I have just completed four months of chemo treatment.

There are regular meetings with the oncologist, there is a 24/7 helpline to the department for any help that is needed, and a dedicated oncology nurse who can be contacted for any queries.

The Auckland Cancer Society, which links closely with the Oncology Department, also provides a nurse who can be contacted by phone or will visit in the home. There are plenty of opportunities to talk through any issue that comes up.

As a Christian I have also had excellent care and prayers from my local church. When facing death it is the spiritual side of the issue that comes strongly to the fore. Can we call cancer an evil? Why is there such evil when we have a good God? Is death really the end? Those are real spiritual questions.

The good thing about a cancer diagnosis is that I am forewarned and given some time to prepare for death. I have valued every opportunity to talk about my life with my wife and family, get that biography written, and complete some unfinished tasks.

But I've noticed people are reluctant to talk about heaven. Are we afraid of spiritual questions in our secular society? It's obvious that there is either nothing after death or there is life in eternity. That kind of question shouldn't be put on the shelf. The Christian gospel provides an answer that is deeply satisfying and shouldn't be ignored because it seems too mystical. The most positive thing that can be offered to anyone who is dying is that there is a goal and purpose to this life. One's individual life is not wasted but completed. The imperfections of life are able to be perfected.

After attending many funerals and talking with many people about death I have never heard anyone saying they look forward to nothingness at the end. But I have heard many people say they look forward to being reunited with loved ones. Whether they will indeed be reunited with them is a good question. It's something we need to talk about with each other.

The Bible's promise of heaven means there will be continuing work to do, our gifts will be fully utilised, and we will recognise and have fellowship with our loved ones who are there, just as the risen Jesus was recognised on earth. And like Jesus had new abilities in his resurrected body, so also we will have new exciting abilities to live in heaven.

Reaching for heaven is not to escape suffering in the here and now, but to respond positively to suffering and value life more. The reality of heaven encourages me to aim for earth to become like heaven. It gives clearer purpose to relationships, life and work now.

Don't fear talking about death, and don't fear talking about heaven also.


Rev Brian Brandon is a retired Presbyterian minister who lives with his wife in Clendon.

- NZ Herald

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