Heaven: Rabbit holes

by | Jun 9, 2024

It makes little sense that a pastor should struggle to find what to say about heaven. After all, heaven is our ultimate goal, our reward and God’s promise for eternal life free from pain. It simply doesn’t make sense.

This week’s message finds support from chapter four of Adam Hamilton’s book. But I needed more.

I’m thankful for Lewis Carol’s Alice in Wonderland. Her classic serves well for conundrums like heaven, and one of the many life lessons from her book includes the idiom “down the rabbit hole.”

The rabbit hole is a place where you make unexpected discoveries during an adventure you hadn’t planned on taking. As is often the case, I didn’t see the rabbit hole in front of me. It started with googling a few keywords and phrases that came to mind as I reflected on Hamilton’s question that labels this week’s chapter, “Is Heaven Real?”.

Well, heaven is real, isn’t it?

Join me in the rabbit hole where we run into cognitive dissonance. We’ll call her dissonance for short. This is where our brain struggles to hold on to two ideas where we can’t imagine a way for both to be true. When we experience dissonance, it’s annoying. Think toothache.

Dissonance reminds me of Mary meeting Jesus outside the tomb where His body was placed after the crucifixion. She didn’t recognize Him, not because Jesus had changed. Rather, Mary’s way of viewing the world needed to change.

Mary was stuck. Either she stayed in the comfortable past where dead people aren’t alive or she struggles through to a new truth. Jesus is alive.

In the middle of my conversation with dissonance, another stranger shows up called neuroplasticity. What an awesome fellow. Neuroplasticity is the ability of our brains to get unstuck. It brings hope to persons who suffered trauma. Think reprogramming.

I learned, however, neuroplasticity has a personality quirk. As our brain reprograms itself repetitive experiences, imagined or real, creates a new neural path which may insist on its way. We’re stuck in a different rut.

The upcoming presidential election has me worried. By some guesses we’re more divided than at anytime in our country’s history, including the time leading up to the civil war. I’m concerned that the plasticity of too many brains is stuck.

Meanwhile, this past week, we remembered the sacrifices made 80 years ago on the beaches of Normandy. Our country was divided on whether our country had any business supporting a war in Europe. A group calling themselves “The America First Committee” argued against U.S. involvement. Fortunately, the isolationist didn’t prevail. And one of the remaining veterans reminded us in an interview, “Freedom isn’t free.”

It took several nations working together to stop the atrocities perpetrated by ordinary people following a tyrant. A person who rose to power by convincing enough supporters that anyone who disagreed was an enemy. The people rallied around the ideals of hatred, labelling and Germany first, believing the lies and joining the cult of a popular politician. Eventually, the rigidity of their collective consciousness froze in place.

So how are these topics connected? That’s the fun of rabbit holes. There’s no restriction on subject matter, so nothing seems related, at first. But Alice can tell you if you hang in there, pieces fall into place.

One night when Jesus was with His followers for supper, He knew it was time for a farewell conversation. Scholars call this His “farewell discourse.” I’m thinking His friends wondered if Jesus was spending time in a rabbit hole. It was a lengthy monologue that included explanation, prayers and promises.

Jesus said, “There are many rooms in my Father’s house, and I am going to prepare a place for you. I would not tell you this if it were not so. And after I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to myself, so that you will be where I am” (John 14:2-3)

I often share these words when officiating memorial services, hoping to comfort those in attendance. These words are part of a promise that heaven is real. Sometimes I wonder if they’re said so often we’re immune to what Jesus was saying.

So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now. Rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.
2 Corinthians 4:18

I’m guessing Mary was at supper that night. Likely, waiting on the others. I wonder how much she heard of what Jesus said about what to expect?

Perhaps Mary heard just enough, but the idea lay just outside range of her imagination. But then something happened. Jesus said her name and the neurons in her brain discovered a new path. It was Jesus speaking to her. Jesus is alive.

Jesus promised He would come back to get her. And His promise is not just for Mary, Matthew, James, John and the others. Paul discovered it was him also, when his brain was reprogrammed.

Paul shared his new way of seeing life with the people in Corinth. “For we know that when we die and leave this earthly body, we will have an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands” (2 Corinthians 5:1). Paul wanted his friends to know Jesus’ promise was also for them.

I didn’t meet heaven while in the rabbit hole. But I remember a young girl named Heaven and how she explored everything that caught her eye, as though it was her first time seeing a flower or a stone. She reminded me of the way William Young described the Holy Spirit in his 2008 novel The Shack.

Her name was Sarayu, which means “a common wind” because she seemed to be everywhere at once. And everything was awesome for Sarayu.

I can’t tell you what heaven is like, nor can I promise you it’s real. But my promises aren’t what matters and neither are the promises of anyone else relevant when it comes to heaven.

Jesus promises to return and take us to be with Him. This is all we need to know that whatever heaven might be, it is real. And this is what I choose to believe.

You can join us each Sunday in person or online by clicking the button on our website’s homepage – Click here to watch. This button takes you to our YouTube channel. You can find more information about us on our website at FlintAsburyChurch.org.

A reminder that we publish this newsletter that we call the Circuit Rider each week. You can request this publication by email. Send a request to FlintAsburyUMC@gmail.com or let us know when you send a message through our website. We post an archive of past editions on our website under the tab, Connect – choose Newsletters.

Pastor Tommy


Parts of our series was inspired by Adam Hamilton. Wrestling with Doubt, Finding Faith. Nashville: Abington Press, 2023.

William P. Young, The Shack. Thousand Oaks, CA: Windblown Media, 2008.

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