1. Dameron, Carrie M.

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Many times, while caring for the suffering, the dying, and the aging, nurses are asked "What happens after death?" and "What do you believe?" As Christians, we have the assured hope of heaven and the promise of an amazing new life. Let's briefly explore the basics of heaven from a Christian perspective, while finding ways to encourage fellow believers.

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First, Christians need not fear death, nor be anxious about their eternal home and future. We can encourage our Christian patients that at the time of death, they will be ushered into the presence of Jesus, not remaining in some unconscious state (2 Corinthians 5:6-8; Alcorn, 2004). Eternal life brings the restorative hope of perfect physical health, created for life everlasting (1 Corinthians 15:40). Jesus' post-resurrection and the appearance of Elijah and Moses provided a glimpse of a heavenly body that is both identifiable and real (Mark 9:4-5; Luke 24:39). Our patients can joyously anticipate a future with a perfect body and mind. Quadriplegic Joni Eareckson Tada (1997) writes:


I'm ready to have this lowly body transformed. That means I won't merely be revived from the dead, like Lazarus when he came out of the tomb...No, I will bear the likeness of Jesus, the man from heaven. Like his, mine will be an actual, literal body, perfectly suited for earth and heaven. (p. 39)


Scripture also promises a new dwelling place-a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21:1; Alcorn, 2004). Just as we feast our senses on the smell of flowers, the crashing of waves, the smoothness of granite, and the spectacular blue ice of glaciers, we Christians can anticipate a more amazing eternal home-an Earth 2.0. We can celebrate the marvels of our planet, while anticipating a time without floods, earthquakes, droughts, and famine. Jesus is there now preparing this marvelous place for us. Christians impatiently await a time when he will escort us to our true home (John 14:2-3).


On this new earth with new bodies, our patients will experience restored relationships. This includes a new relationship with God. A glimpse into this intimacy is seen with Adam and Eve's face-to-face physical and spiritual dwelling with God (Genesis 3:8). Without sin, evil, or wickedness, God will dwell with mankind (2 Corinthians 6:16). And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man (Revelation 21:3). There will be unlimited access to Jesus (Revelation 22:14). Just as the disciples walked, talked, and ate with the post-resurrection Jesus, so will Christians enjoy a family feast (John 21:9-14; Alcorn, 2004).


As nurses, we care for patients experiencing the sorrow and anguish of fractured families. Heaven is a place and time for joyous relationships with families. Marriages will be void of conflict and strife, with no alienation of children and relatives. The peace and reconciliation we pray for cross-culturally and with neighbors will be realized, as various cultures and languages will be eternally unified (Alcorn, 2004, p. 375).


The challenge to any discussion on heaven is the inclusion of hell. According to Scripture, heaven will be occupied by those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life, that is, believers in Jesus Christ (Revelation 12:11, 20:12-15; Matthew 25:41; Alcorn, 2004, p. 23). Christians can be the presence of Christ through caring words and deeds to all our patients, while allowing the Holy Spirit to work in hearts and spirits (2 Corinthians 2:15; John 15:26, 16:8-11). Thus, nurses can bring the encouraging hope of heaven without an assumption of an individual's destination (Revelation 22:16-17).


This is just a taste of heaven to get Christians excited about the future. Bible studies, books, and Scripture can provide the hope of heaven (see References). Another resource is Heaven Is for Real by Todd Burpo, the reaccount of Burpo's 5-year-old son's trip to heaven and back during a medical emergency.


As nurses and fellow believers with our patients and families, let's encourage one another to not grieve as those who have no hope but rest upon the assurance that death will usher us into the peaceful assurance of Jesus (1 Thessalonians 4:13-15).


Alcorn R. (2004). Heaven. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House. [Context Link]


Eareckson Tada J. (1997). Heaven: Your real home. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. [Context Link]