Tears in heaven

In one insight about heaven from the book of Revelation, God wipes all tears away (7:17), but why, even temporarily, would there be tears in heaven? It could be that God will show us opportunities we missed to live like eternity mattered in our brief earthly lives. Perhaps we will realize that people we love are not with us, and if our lives had been directed by a more eternally grounded sense of purpose, they might have joined us in an unending celebration with God Himself. A revelation like that is enough to make anyone cry, and I came close to feeling just that way years ago when I realized something about the brevity of this life, the finality of death, and the certainty of judgment.

I met one of the best guitarists I have ever known while a senior in a high school music theory class, which was populated with a fair number of classically-trained band and choir-singing types, a few hack garage musicians like me, and my monster-guitarist friend. When one of the choir-singing types performed in our brand new auditorium as a requirement of our course, he sang an original composition about Jesus. We, the rock and roll contingent, sat and behaved ourselves.

I mentioned after the performance that it took a lot of guts to get up there and sing such a religious song. My guitar-playing friend agreed, but said, “I just don’t get the whole Jesus thing. I’m sure He was a good man, but I’m never going to meet Him.” Those words, even when I was still estranged from Christ, seemed ominous, and after I indeed met Jesus, that incident came back to me from time to time, and I’d pray for my friend, whom I no longer saw. The last I had heard, he was actually making a living with his guitar, had a beautiful girlfriend, and was doing well, at least in terms by which many measure such things.

One day while stuck in traffic, I looked over and noticed he was right beside me in a new car, no longer driving the ugly AMC Pacer that we had dubbed “The Aquarium,” due to its huge windows and wrap around glass hatchback. I was excited to see him and waved him down so we could pull off on a back street and talk. We had a nice exchange and caught up with some of the details in our divergent lives. Sure enough, he was doing everything I had heard about.

Even though it had been several years since we had hung around together, and I was a lowly assistant retail manager, I felt my testimony was still worth something, so I told him about what Jesus had done in my life. He listened and was very polite, but by the time we parted, it was obvious that we inhabited different worlds, and he wasn’t very interested in mine.

That was the last I ever saw of him.

Several years later, I heard that my old friend had sold or given away most of his guitar collection, bought a gun, and killed himself. The person who told me all of this, of course, made speculations. He thought there certainly must have been logical reasons for our former friend resorting to this rash action, such as his girlfriend leaving him and his music career not attaining the lofty heights he had expected. I didn’t really need any reasons because I knew this man was gone, and no explanation would change that terrible fact. I remember saying a prayer for his mom and dad, who were nice people and must have been hurt terribly by the loss of their son, and after that I thought very little about him.

Sometime later, I was driving my car and saw a man I truly thought was my dear, dead friend. He had a particular gait, a definite rock star kind of strut, and this guy’s walk was what caught my eye. In the suddenness and excitement of the moment, I pulled to the side of the road and had stopped before I realized that this man was a stranger. Worse yet, I knew that I would never see my friend again and would never have another chance to tell him about Christ.

I turned off the ignition and sat there for a while, unable to move, having within me a sense of utter hopelessness. It was despair removed from my own situation, a perception that was vicarious but nonetheless deep. I feared that my friend had reached the end of his days outside of the sprawling boundaries of God’s grace, and there was nothing I could do to change that. My friend’s words spoken in that auditorium haunted me: “I’m sure Jesus was a good man, but I’ll never meet Him.”