Becoming Human—Embracing the Other
“After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.” (Revelation 7:9, NRSV)
The verse above (Revelation 7:9) describes heaven. Look closely at it and read it carefully. As you read it, let the vision of what this foretells soak in deeply.
What is described here is the situation that we will find ourselves in for eternity.
Here's how I see it. Anybody and everybody will be in heaven. There will be people I agree with, and people with whom I beg to differ, people of every race and color of skin, Americans and foreigners, Southerners and Northerners. There will be Republicans and Democrats, U.S. citizens and immigrants, conservatives and liberals, as well as anybody who is one of us or one of them. All who receive God's grace will be with us in heaven. I've even heard that some Tennessee fans and Georgia fans are going to be there, too! It's not my choice or my decision who will be there. It's God's decision.
When we read through the gospels, we see a variety of "us" and "them" divisions, especially among the religious people. Jesus would have none of it. If anything, he showed a preference for being with those on the margins of society or who were excluded by the "righteous" people. We have enough stories of Jesus' interaction with those in power to see that he also treated them with respect and dignity as well. Still, Jesus went out of his way to acknowledge those who were shunned by the establishment. Jesus affirmed the image of God in everyone, and he appealed to their humanity in every interaction with them.
Let me give you an example. In John 8:3-11, a woman was brought to Jesus by the Pharisees because they caught her in adultery. They didn't bring the man who was involved with her, but they brought her and pointed out how the Law required stoning for her sin. Knowing Jesus to have been gracious in other situations, they wanted to put him to the test. If he let her go, he would be guilty of violating the Law. If he allowed her stoning, he would be acting inconsistently with his teaching. He masterfully invited any of those present who were without sin to throw the first stone. None could. They all left. Jesus asked the woman, "Has no one condemned you?" She replied, "No, not one." Jesus said he would not condemn her either.
Jesus showed compassion and respect to the woman's humanity by speaking to her as an equal and offering her grace in a most difficult situation. But he also showed compassion and regard to the Pharisees. Although he could have condemned them for their hypocrisy and selective application of the Law, he did not! Jesus did not take part in dehumanizing anyone.
When we get to heaven, there are going to be all kinds of people there—some are likely to be people that we may not have treated with respect and dignity unless we learn to love those whom God loves. In case you are wondering about whom God loves, reread Revelation 7:9, and you'll see that God loves everyone and expects us all to be with him in heaven!