I once received the dreaded middle-of-the night phone call.
As most of these calls do, it breathed news of tragedy: my brother snapped in two at the neck after running his Jeep headlong into an oak tree.
Left behind in the backseat were terrible evidences of his devastating end — everything blood-soaked: a half bag of sunflower seeds, a baseball mitt, a couple of molars.
It’s graphic, I know. But these pictures hold power, and I want you to see.
Because they say that forensic experts can formulate both victim and offender profiles by observing a person’s possessions and space or interviewing a person’s friends and family. It follows, then, that family members can do the same with their loved ones.
So we rifled through all that was left behind in the wake of my brother’s life — we rummaged through items not just from his vehicle, but also from his apartment: clothes, checkbook, CDs, books, photos, video games, receipts, calendar, love letters.
But it’s what my brother didn’t leave behind that — for a long time — made me agonize over whether or not he is in Heaven.
We found no Bible or church bulletin, uncovered no crucifix or prayer book, spoke to no one who indicated he had a faith-life of any kind.
We did find a four way Catholic medal which was something, but there’s no hint that he understood the rich symbolism associated with it.
Now I am in no way saying that discovering a drawer full of religious paraphernalia or a closet crammed with Christian t-shirts would have somehow verified that my brother had a relationship with Jesus.
But with so little to go on, I’m left with questions: If my brother was a follower of Jesus, wouldn’t there have been some evidence of a connection?
Wouldn’t those closest to him have testified to hearing him speak about Jesus? Because “if you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).
And if he was a true disciple of Jesus, wouldn’t his life have produced much fruit (John 15:8)?
Ultimately, these unanswered questions make me wonder: What spiritual “hard evidence” am *I* leaving behind? When I die, will my friends and family have to speculate about my allegiance to the Christ?
And to you I ask the same question: What spiritual traces are you leaving behind for your loved ones?
Artifacts such as these could speak volumes: a family Bible sitting untouched on the coffee table gathering dust; a summer calendar crowding out entire months of Sunday worship in lieu of jet-skiing at the lake cottage; a growing savings account recording no tithe to the Church.
Equally telling would be the testimony of these items: a tattered prayer journal next to the bed stand; a day planner indicating purposeful time set aside for God, spouse, children, friends; a checkbook chronicling generous support for those spreading the Good News.
Would any of these articles guarantee entrance (or exclusion) to Heaven for the owner? No.
But when loved ones die and you’re not sure they’re in Heaven, chances are they didn’t leave behind much evidence to suggest a relationship with Jesus.
And even if they did, Scripture tells us that:
“The heart is hopelessly dark and deceitful, a puzzle that no one can figure out… God [is the One who] search[es] the heart and examine[s] the mind. [He] get[s] to the heart of the human. [He] get[s] to the root of things. [He] treat[s] them as they really are, not as they pretend to be” (Jeremiah 17:9-10).
So I trust that the God whom I serve — the God whom my brother at the very least seemed to know about — will get to the heart of each human. Mine. My brother’s. Yours.
And because it is impossible for me to know my OWN heart let alone another’s, who am *I* to authenticate a person’s spiritual connection with Jesus?
Therefore, I no longer agonize over whether or not my brother is in Heaven.
Instead, I’m working on living a life that produces so much fruit that when I’m dead, there will be little doubt for my family as to whether or not I was a disciple of Jesus Christ (John 15:8).
Won’t you join me?