Heaven and Hell


Some Catholics may be surprised to know that there are parables of Jesus in the Islamic faith.

These Sufi parables of Jesus are not the parables we have in the gospels. Rather, they are stories written to illustrate Jesus’ teachings.

The one I like that is simple and yet powerful in its wisdom. It goes like this:

Jesus, son of Mary, was walking down the road when he came to a group of people who were huddled together, shaking with fear.

“What is your affliction?” Jesus asked.

A man said, “We are very afraid that we will go to Hell.”

Jesus walked on and further down the road, and he saw another group with mournful faces, lying back listless, unaware of their surroundings.

Jesus asked them, “What is your affliction?”

One of then answered, “We are longing for Paradise.”

Jesus continued on his way, and eventually he came to a group of people working at the side of the road. They looked as though they’d had hard lives, and yet they were alive with enthusiasm, and their faces shone with happiness.

Jesus stopped. “Who made you like this?” he asked.

“The Spirit of Truth,” they said, and one added. “When you know the Spirit of Truth, nothing else matters.”

For me, this parable encapsulates Jesus’ words in the gospels: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” All three, and my occasional resistance to them are portrayed in the parable.

I’ve grown beyond a belief in Hell, but I can still become paralysed by fears that sneak in from childhood. Isn’t amazing how childhood fears will crop up like weeds in an old established garden?

Then there are times when I think retirement would be nice, a passive life until I go home to God.

But what would I do? Aren’t we already at home with God?

And aren’t we, in maturity, aware that we have done the hard stuff that has rendered down to become wisdom?

As a child, I  learned the Biblical descriptions of Heaven: pearly gates, golden streets, harps, angels singing all day, no darkness, no cold, no sin. This for all eternity.

Even to a child, this sounded more like Hell.

So Heaven for me is living in the present with Jesus  the Way, Truth and Life and now and then pausing to hear Mary’s words, “Do whatever he tells you.”

I do not want a Heaven without pain and hard work.

So how can I describe Heaven?

With my roots firmly planted in the mud of life, may my face grow towards the light.

Give me the beauty and agony of storms; the Golgotha that becomes the place of resurrection.

Let my aching feet measure the journey. Let my empty hands show true riches.

And may my heart burst with love for all creation.

This is Jesus’s Way, Truth and Life.

For me, it is Heaven, and I think it is now.

  • Joy Cowley is a wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and retreat facilitator.
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