Gone to Heaven

– L. Arthalia Cravin

I am probably the only person on planet earth who would write what I am about to say. I have just watched a portion of the George Zimmerman trial. As you know, Zimmerman is accused of killing 17-year of Trayvon Martin. Today, Trayvon’s mother took the witness stand to identify the screaming voice in the background of a 911 call. Mrs. Martin testified that the voice on the 911 call screaming for help was her son, Trayvon Benjamin Martin. At some point during the examination Mrs. Martin said that her son was “in Heaven.”

Let me say first off that Mrs. Martin’s testimony, her composure, her dignity in the face of such a horrible loss brought me to tears. I understand from various reports of in-court observations that when Mrs. Martin entered the courtroom and took the stand that a reverent silence filled the courtroom. Who could not have sympathy for her? But I am questioning just how helpful Mrs. Martin’s statement was that her son “is in Heaven.” Hear me out. If indeed heaven is that blissful place, a place where there will be no more sorry, no more tears, no more troubles, and no more dying, how logical is it for a jury to convict a man for sending a person to such a wonderful place? Hear me out again.

I am well aware of a religious culture in America where everyone who passes away immediately “goes to Heaven.” I am also well aware that the statement is a way for the bereaved to handle grief and loss. It is easy to hope, imagine, or assume that the deceased has “gone to a better place” after a sudden and expected death, or even after a prolonged illness. No one wants to say, “Well, I know he or she went straight to Hell.” Such a statement does not honor the life of the deceased. Such a statement is irreverent and insulting. Such a statement is totally out of place. But why?

How is it that in America and in other cultures, death always signals the entry into a better world? Is this Biblical? Of course one has to acknowledge what other religious cultures believe about death before one can answer this question. So to rephrase the question, is it Christian to assume that everyone who dies goes to Heaven? Which brings us to the main question: Who gets to go to Heaven?

There is a current general belief that there is no such thing as Hell—a place of eternal torment, a place of everlasting separation and punishment from God. Some people believe that a “loving God” would not send anyone to Hell. Some people believe that the very concept of Hell is a figment of Biblical interpretation by “fire and brimstone” preachers. Some people claim to have died and actually gone to Hell as proof that there is indeed a place of torment so awful that no one would ever want to go there. Whatever the beliefs, how is it that there is such a common belief that everyone goes to Heaven? Why is there not a place for people who have done truly horrible things in this life? Why is it so hard to imagine that there is an eternal and everlasting bad place for bad people?

I grew up Southern Baptist. I was told from an early age that parents bore the sins of their children under 12. The basis for this belief is rooted in the time when Jesus took absence from his parents and went into the Temple to preach—around the age of 12. This is seen as the cut-off point for when all children must begin to bear their own sins and the consequences of their own sinful acts. If this is true, what is the point of the “born again” experience when the Holy Spirit comes to give everlasting life? If, as Jesus told Nicodemus, “Ye must be born again” is the way to “go to Heaven” then there can be only one way. How many ways has man himself devised to get to Heaven? Can “being good” get a person into Heaven? After all, exactly what is “being good” and by whose standard? Can “doing good” get a person into Heaven? And again, by whose standard is “doing good” to be determined—giving money to charity, volunteering at a homeless shelter, going to church, caring for the sick, caring for widows and orphans. What if God has cut through all the “good this and that” inventions of man and is looking for only one thing at the point of death and that is “His spirit” within the deceased? ? I personally experienced the “born again,” indwelling of the Holy Spirit in 1981 so I am inclined to believe that this is the only to “get to heaven.” But that is my personal belief.

The point of this column is certainly not to criticize Mrs. Martin. But I wonder if her testimony would not have been much more effective for a jury if she had simply stuck with what we all know and that is Trayvon Martin is dead. What if instead of saying “my son is in Heaven,” which certain cushions the blow of his sudden and tragic death, Mrs. Margin had said, “My son is dead” and said nothing further. If I were a juror I would be more inclined to convict Zimmerman with a “My son is dead, “statement from his mother, than the statement, “He is in Heaven.”

Copyright 2013 – L. Arthalia Cravin. All rights Reserved. No part of this commentary may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.

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