Unfinished Business of the Heart
Some say that people first came up with the idea of heaven because there are so many things we can’t get resolved on earth. The psalmist struggles with this fact, in one place, praising God for always taking care of the faithful, and in another place, lamenting to God that he has abandoned the faithful. Heaven, as it arose in ancient Jewish thought, was intended to be the failsafe, the last resort, the final court of appeal.
In some cases, the unsatisfactoriness that gave rise to the idea of heaven had to do with an absence of justice on earth. A disturbing litany of injustices is described in the Bible, acts of cruelty and violence committed while those who do the committing flourish instead of getting their just dues. It makes perfect sense to me that if life doesn’t bring the unjust to justice, we would long for an ultimate judgement that would set right such wrongs. But what about the other forms of unsatisfactoriness of a more intimate nature?
What do we do with the unfinished business of the human heart?
A young man from our small village in deep east Texas joined the Marines in the late 1960s. I remember seeing him at church between deployments, standing ramrod straight, tall and handsome in his Marine uniform. His mother and father were so proud of him they were ready to pop. He was one of my personal heroes.
When he left the Marines, years later, he returned to the States and found a great job in the Pacific Northwest. Seattle, If memory serves. Like untold numbers of young people, he found a partner, a beautiful young woman. They set the date for their wedding and he told his parents.
That’s where the happy story – as I know it – ends.
You see, the young woman with whom he fell in love was a refugee from South Vietnam.
His father was indignant. It seemed to me that all the force of the love he had for his son turned into pure rage. The young man’s parents refused to come to the wedding. They refused to allow their new daughter-in-law or any of their grandchildren ever to come into their home. The young man pleaded to no avail. In support of his wife, the young man never came home again.
If I remember correctly, the young man’s mother was a kind of back channel for years of failed diplomacy. The years turned into decades.
A few years ago, the father died. The son did not attend the funeral. Then the mother was placed in a care facility, alone, confused, descending into the long goodbye of Alzheimer’s.
In our old neighborhood, and at the little community church, the judgment fell hard on the young man. I suppose that was inevitable. His father was a deacon in the church; his mother, a dedicated member of the Women’s Missionary Auxiliary. Both were loved and respected.
As a kid, I worked right alongside the young man’s dad time after time. Personally, I knew him as a big, gentle, soft-spoken man. I have been told that his rejection of his son’s wife was racially motivated. It is impossible for me to understand what inspired his fury. But that anger caused such a rupture in that family that three generations have now been wounded.
So much unfinished business. And such a hole in the most intimate community we can ever experience, the family.
Recently, reading a book written by Carlyle Marney toward the end of his life, I came across something that I can’t shake. He said that for the last thirty years he had stopped praying for God to take care of something he was able to do himself. It seems to me that this insight speaks to the tragedy of broken relationships in this family.
Someone in our neighborhood said after the father’s funeral, “Well, I guess they will all have to get to heaven before they can fix this.” This may be so. And maybe that’s where we have to leave the unfinished business of our hearts. But it seems like such a waste of life to wait.
In the presence of God, I believe we will all dissolve into the pure Love that is God’s Being. Seems to me this is a process we might like to get a jump on now. Maybe the business of heaven doesn’t have to wait.