"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.
John 14: 1-3
The final ontological question is "where do I go when I die?" This question seems to get our attention when we have experienced a close loss (such as a death of a family member) or are facing serious health issues. Otherwise, we ignore this question since we generally feel uncomfortable thinking about our mortality. Facing the unknown is scary and we feel tension or anxiety considering this question. Yet, our answer can either fill us with hope, or fear and discouragement.
Years ago I heard Dr. Dobson on his daily Focus on the Family radio show interview a mother. She shared a story of how one of her children died in a terrible accident. While her three young children were playing outside, they wandered over to a nearby pond. Two of the children fell in while the youngest child went for help. The mom was able to rescue one child who was barely alive, but had to leave the other drowned child behind in order to save the child she had found. This was a horrible loss and would be gut-wrenching for any parent. But what I remember most profoundly was her next comment in this interview. She said that most of us like to live denying this horrible reality: everyone dies and someone in any given family will die first. I felt punched by her final comments. Her words had an uncomfortable ring of truth.
The reality of death brings us back to this ontological question. What do we believe about the afterlife? Is there even an afterlife? Is there a heaven? Who is it for? Will I be recognizable to my loved ones? How we answer such questions shape how we conduct our lives. If there is no heaven, then we better live it up each day since there is nothing beyond our lifespan. If there is afterlife, and especially a heaven, then we need to understand how we are to conduct our lives to obtain this wonderful reward. This belief in an afterlife encourages us to live with hope since we know that our lives do not end with our death. It is simply a transition from one stage of life to the next.
In the above passage (John 14:1-3), Jesus knew his time was short. He was aware that many were plotting his death. He was preparing his disciples for this upcoming loss. He told them he would be leaving them (going to die), but would be readying a place (heaven) for their eventual reunion. This promise is still true today. Paul wrote, "Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep ( or die), but we will all be changed---in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye. . .for the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality" (1 Corinthians 15:51-52a, 54a). He affirmed Jesus' words and reminded Christians that Jesus would one day come again to take his followers (both alive and dead) to heaven where we will live forever with God. This gives us hope: for ourselves and for our loved ones. We do not need to avoid, ignore, or fear death. Instead of seeing it as an ending, we can see it is a start of a whole new chapter in heaven with God.