Endless preachers on earth had assured me that in heaven there were no negative emotions, just all the good stuff. Well, I can tell you that either they were all wrong or I wasn’t in heaven because I was scared stiff. It wasn’t that I thought I’d be unmasked and immediately dispatched from the celestial city; I’d long ago come to believe that if I ever got there it would be because of what he had done, not me. So why was I so afraid?
I was scared because on earth it had been easy to talk about the wonders of heaven and the joy of meeting the master himself, but now it was different: I was actually going to be face to face with him. I remembered
studying the letters to the seven churches in the book of Revelation. At the start of each one, the risen Christ says the same two words: “I know”.
In my heart I realised how all the stuff that in life had convinced me I was doing a pretty good job as a Christian wouldn’t count for so much in that room, because he knew. And almost as bad as that, I knew too. On earth I’d known the things that really mattered to him, but it had been so easy to forget them.
And then it happened. I don’t know if the woman who walked into the waiting room was an actual angel, but she certainly was to me. “I’m sorry, we’re running late,” she whispered. “If you want to, you can go back to earth for 60 minutes. After that you’ll step off the kerb again, but you’ll have an hour before you return for your one-to-one.”
I practically hugged her. I ran out of the room and found myself standing at the edge of a busy road once again.
Sixty minutes. I spent the first five panicking about how best to use the time, but then a strange peace settled over me. Finding a corner table in my old, familiar coffee shop, I ordered a full-fat latte (what harm could it do now?) and started to phone people.
I rang Charles first. He seemed surprised to hear from me. “Charles,” I blurted out. “I don’t have long to talk, but I want you to know that I’m sorry. I was wrong. Please forgive me.” A silence ate up ten seconds of my precious time, but then he said, “I do forgive you, gladly.”
My next call was harder. Much harder. “Sophie, it’s me. Sophie, I can’t say you didn’t hurt me, but I want you to know that with every fibre in my body, I forgive you.”
My phone was hot now. “Jack, I love you.” “Suzie, I love you.” “Tommy, you’ve been an incredible friend.” My wife, my kids, and friends – some I hadn’t seen for 30 years and a few I’d treated badly – I spoke to them all.
As I left the coffee shop it was getting dark. I had two minutes left. A man selling The Big Issue was packing up. “How many magazines have you got left?” I asked. “Six, mate. I haven’t sold one in two hours.” I thrust a £20 note into his hand. “I’ll take them all!”
I looked at my watch, ten seconds left. I got to the kerb and glanced back. The Big Issue seller was looking at me – right into my eyes – as if he knew me. And he was smiling.
A small, grey van was tearing round the corner.
Rob Parsons is founder and chairman of Care for the Family
Follow Rob @Rob_Parsons_