2017-07-12
Last summer, after the death of her brother-in-law, Anne Graham Lotz, daughter of Billy Graham and a well-regarded Bible scholar in her own right, was inspired to write a book on heaven as a comfort to others who had lost loved ones. After Sept. 11, she says, "I knew then why I felt so compelled to write it." Lotz visited New York recently, and talked with Beliefnet's Paul O'Donnell about the attacks and the book she hopes will give Americans solace.

Many people in New York lost someone in the attacks. How do we properly comfort people who have suffered a loss?
Yesterday I was meeting with some pastors and clergy working with those helping to clear Ground Zero. And just listening to them confirms what I think: sometimes you don't comfort with words, because words can't take away the pain. If you know somebody whose suffering like that, just be there for them, put your arm around them, tell them that you care about them. Then, when they are ready to listen, you can tell them that there is hope for the future.

I don't believe, and the Bible does not teach, that when you die, you just snuff out. The Bible teaches there is life after death. One of the positive ways to respond to this terrorist attack is to let the dead speak in a sense. When they went to the Trade Center that morning, they had no idea they would be stepping into eternity. Some of them may not have been prepared. I wonder if some of them could speak, would they cry out to their family members and their loved ones, Be prepared? You never know when you are going to step into eternity. We buy car insurance, life insurance and home insurance and we have to give some thought to our eternal insurance, to insure we're going be safe forever in our Father's house.

What gets us into heaven?
Heaven is a gift, a gift that's given to you for your faith in Jesus. Faith at that level is a choice. You choose to believe that the wages of sin is death, and not just a physical death but separation from God now and forever. You choose to believe that God so loved you that He sent His only son to die for you, and that if you place your faith in Him, you would not perish. You choose to believe it for no other reason than that God said. Of course it has be backed up with a commitment. But that's what gets you in.

People often imagine heaven's going to be what they want it to be: eating ice cream all day long, or seeing their mothers again. Is one's personal vision of heaven going to be included?
When I know my children are coming home, I begin to prepare things for them that I know they enjoy, so that when they walk through that door they'll know they've been expected, they're welcome, this is their home. I think God's knows what will make me feel like I've come home. He'll know what will make me feel thrilled and comfortable and happy if you want to say that. But I don't think it's just a place to have your needs met, though I think all our needs will be met. Maybe we won't have any needs.

But the Bible also indicates it will be a place of service. We won't sit around and just play harps. Revelation 22 says we'll serve Him, day and night. Paul tells us again and again that we should always strive for the reward; the reward may be just greater service, more responsibility. So I think they'll be work and responsibility, but it's not going to have strain to it, the fear of failure, the struggle and weariness that strikes us in our work down here.

The detail in Revelation is striking, down to the makeup of heaven's walls. Do you understand that description as metaphor?
John was describing what he saw. I don't think he was saying the walls are made out of jasper. He was describing it how he could relate to it. When he described the gates of pearl, I don't know that they are literally going to be gates of pearl, but that's what they looked like to him.

And there's a symbolic meaning too, I think it's pointing us to the Pearl of Great Price, which, from the parable in the Gospel, can be understood as Jesus, whose very death on the cross is what opens the gates of heaven to us. God allowed John to see this vision in terms that have meaning if we just think about it for a little bit. I believe God was in control of how John wrote it, though, so we could make sense of it today.

After Sept. 11, many people have asked, Why God would have allowed this to happen?
Why do they think God did that?

Many people see God as all powerful.
What was so dramatic on Sept. 11 is that it happened right in front of our eyes, on TV and all at the same time. But every day people are killed on the road, of heart attacks, of cancer. God created us in the beginning to know Him in a personal, permanent relationship. He never intended for man to die. Never intended us to suffer. We were created to live with him forever in His heavenly home, which in the beginning was called the Garden of Eden, or Paradise. It was man who rebelled against God, and as a result sin entered the human race and one of the consequences of sin is suffering.

So to me, it's not, Why did God do this?-why not? But in the midst of the struggle, God has offered me a way out of that eternal separation. The difficulties I face, as I overcome them, make me stronger, and builds character.

We've seen that in this attack. Look at the way the country has come together. Look at the way people have helped each other. Look at the way the even television programming and the movies have changed. It's caused us to shop differently for Christmas. I would never had wanted this to have happened to produce these good things, but I believe God, for whatever reason, allowed it, and I believe He can bring tremendous blessing from it. Americans think we deserve a problem-free life, The rest of the world knows it will have tragedy, it's just how bad and when.

Do you think heaven will be denied to people who were good but didn't believe in Jesus?
Let me ask you how good they would have to be to get into heaven? If you got into heaven by your good works, how many would you have to do? You could say you lived a good moral life, but by whose standards? That would be a very heavy burden to live under, to think you'd have to work very hard and be perfect and maybe at the end you might get into heaven.

That's why God sent Jesus, so that when I place my faith in Jesus, God accepts me because of my relationship with his son.

So did Buddhists or Hindus or Muslims then simply not have the chance to go to heaven?
There are a million chances to come to Christ before you step into eternity. Salvation is offered to everybody. John 3:16 says God so loved the whole world. That includes Muslims and Buddhists and Jews and Baptists and Presbyterians and Catholics and anybody you could name. It doesn't matter who you are--what your language, your culture, your nationality--you place your faith in Jesus and you are given eternal life.

But there is only one way to God. If there was another way, He would have found it. He wouldn't have sent his only son to die just for American Southern Baptist white housewives. That would make him very whimsical and capricious and cruel.

Until Genesis 11, God repeatedly tries to reconcile humans to Himself. They keep rebelling. In the Tower of Babel, man is saying, God, we don't want to come back to you the way you said. We're going work our way into heaven, through our own good works, through own religion, which is what the Tower of Babel was. So God confused and scattered them all over the world, and they are still scattered, building their Towers of Babel, their religions, their belief systems. They say, God we're not going to come to you through the cross. Jesus is sent for the whole world. That's what the Bible says. I don't make the rules.

You insist in this book on the physical existence of heaven. Where is this place?
I'll find out when I step into eternity. You want to know where it is, go step out into the street without looking.

But is it as real as that street is real? Is it beyond the stars?
I know Jesus says I will prepare a place for you. An angel walked it off for John, and I believe that was to emphasize that it is an actual, literal place that's been prepared for us. Maybe it's another dimension, or another galaxy, I just don't have any idea. When Jesus ascended into heaven from the Mount of Olives, He went up through the clouds, and that's why we think of heaven as being up. But I don't know where it is. I'll find out one day.



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