The three-day homeschool convention had rolled around to its Saturday-afternoon finale, and the large room was respectably full. Over half the participants had stayed for the whole enchilada, from the opening remarks to the final address delivered by the convention's featured speaker. After stuffing their minds and goody bags with handouts and brochures, tips and advice, convention-goers now looked for motivation: a challenge to pull it all together and make their next homeschooling year the best ever.
"I want to leave you with this final thought," said the attractive, matronly speaker, and the audience leaned forward expectantly. Her style was not dynamic, but warm and encouraging; she held her listeners by the force of her conviction. She had spoken of disappointments and rewards, of laboring on even when results do not meet expectations, and of keeping the goal in view. And what was that primary goal? Not brilliant, talented, or six-figure-income children, but godly children.
"This life is only a breath in comparison to eternity," she concluded. "We must fix our minds and hearts on the long view, doing all we can to bring our families with us into God's glory. I want to quote a line from a song that means a lot to me. It was written by a good friend and a fellow homeschooling parent. Think about this: 'Will heaven be heaven if my children aren't there?'"
Yes, think about this: What's terribly wrong with that question?
Believers throughout the ages have been susceptible to an ailment identified by the late John Gerstner, Bible teacher extraordinaire, as sentimentitis. Human sentiment, as Mr. Gerstner defines it in the course of his Handout Theology series, is a good thing. Even sentimentalism has its place. But sentimentitis indicates an inflammation of normal emotion that calls undue attention to itself and clouds clear judgment. In particular we must guard against allowing certain natural (and otherwise commendable) emotions to get in the way of God and his word.
Of course we long for the salvation of our children, and we have no greater joy than to see them walking in the truth, to bring them up as Christian parents while the children are in our care. But what makes heaven "heavenly" is not the presence of our offspring, and to suggest (even within the bounds of poetic license) that it does is totally out of order for a professing Christian. Taken at face value, such a statement implies nothing short of idolatry-setting up an object of desire that rivals God himself.
Diseases of the soul may be more subtle that those of the body, but they betray themselves in the same way-through symptoms, often manifested in the things we say. Homeschoolers, with their intense and admirable attachment to family, may be more prone than most to certain forms of sentimentitis. But we've all heard similar statements about the hereafter, or made them ourselves. A Promise Keeper bubbling with enthusiasm after the D.C. rally exclaims, "Man! All those brothers standing together in prayer and fellowship-heaven's gonna be like that!" A dying grandmother is comforted by the thought that she will soon see her dear Harry, who passed on 20 years before. Old-time gospel songs celebrate "crossing the river," there to join loved ones who have gone ahead of us to the promised land.
Perhaps it's only a manner of speaking, but manners of speaking indicate patterns of thought. Jesus warned us to be careful of what we say in Matthew 12:36-37. He also told us that not even our dearest relatives can take precedence over him in our affections (Mark 10:29, Luke 14:26).
Family unity and Christian fellowship are precious, but the Bible says nothing about happy reunions among the saints or the joys of worshipping in company with our earthly relatives. In fact, the only hint God gives us of family relations in heaven is that there won't be any. Every depiction of the New Jerusalem is centered in God himself: the only light, the ground of all being, the awesome reality before whom angels cry out in praise and elders cast down their golden crowns.
Will heaven be heaven if our children, our parents, our brothers and sisters in the faith aren't there? How dare we even ask! God is there. Fellowship with the most holy, covenant-keeping, triune Lord is our only reward, and there is none greater. Accept no substitutes.