Imagine that when you die you find out that everyone goes to Heaven, no matter their crime or sins.
Imagine, you arrive at the magnificent gates of eternal paradise, where you are greeted by the friendliest, most cheerful person you have ever met.
You’re in a group of about 20 to 30 people of all ages and races. You all know for sure that you’re dead, an unwavering certainty that sits in your minds, like an afterlife fail safe. And it is this certainty which ignites a flurry of questions: ‘Will we meet God?’ ‘Which religious afterlife is this?’ ‘What about the loved ones I left on earth?’ Your greeter calmly, but firmly, quiets you all, saying that they will be your tour guide, and all questions will be answered as the tour goes on. With this, things begin.
The first part of the tour is a tranquil stroll through the biggest and most beautiful garden any of you have ever seen, and everyone is struck silent in awe, taking in the sweet aromas of the plants and flowers around. A clear, sparkling streams runs through the garden, and all types of animals, some never seen on earth, graze, sleep and move around, undisturbed by your presence. As you walk your tour guide tells you about Heaven: There is no disease, no hunger, no pain, all the stresses and worries of your mind and body no longer exist, Heaven is a place of pure wonder where you will discover, learn and grow wiser through fulfillment. Anything is possible here, you can learn to fly, or swim to the deepest depths of the ocean, you can explore different galaxies, meet other species, communicate with animals, anything! This is the gift of paradise, your reward at the end of your life; an eternity to be completely to explore the wonder that you all had at one point in your lives.
Your tour guide smiles mischievously and tells you that individual tours will now take place, so that you can experience everything you were just told. You tingle with excitement, like when you were young and trying to sleep the night before Christmas and suddenly you are transported to a cliff top over looking a sapphire ocean, bluer than any blue you have ever seen, the sun shining so perfectly off the water it looks like the surface is covered in diamonds. You turn to see people of all ages, young and old, being instructed in how to use air currents to float, glide and finally fly through the air. The instructors are animated and lively, and as soon as someone is able to float and glide a little they are encouraged to run and jump off the edge of the cliff, and attempt a full flight. Some fly and some fall straight down into the ocean, but everyone is fearless and having fun, and falling becomes a game of who can turn their fall into the most creative dive possible; people canon balling like children into the blue, shining waters below, and then return a few moments later to the top, giggling and wet, ready to try again.
A group of wet, excited learners pull you over, asking why you’re just watching when this is a place of doing. In seconds you’re eagerly listening to basic instructions on how to begin flying, and then you’re told that because it’s your first time you should run and jump off the edge of the cliff and go for it. When you were alive this would have been too short a lesson to even think about trying anything this crazy, but there is no fear or doubt in you, just the wonder of flying. A sense of freedom takes over and you sprint to the edge of the cliff and leap off, forgetting everything you were just told but somehow floating anyway, for the briefest of moments, free and at one with the wind, before it all disappears and you fall. But you are not scared, you pull your knees up to your stomach and scream ‘CANNNNON BALLLLLLL!!’ And splash down into the blue ocean, feeling utterly alive, even though you are dead.
Feeling the ocean water rush pass your ears, you keep sinking, further and further down into the pitch black darkness of the sea. But although everything gets darker you can see perfectly, and you float pass sea creatures you never imagined existed; Strange, glowing fish and other creatures you don’t have the words to describe. You sink further and come upon an underwater tribe of mermaids; beautiful scaly creatures, with dark emerald eyes, fin shaped heads and long, colourful fish tales that sway hypnotically as they swim. They watch you go by with wonder in their eyes and you make a mental note to come back here to visit this place, and get to know everything there is to know about this beautiful species. Then all at once the vast, mysterious depths of the ocean become the unfathomable, wondrous depths of space, and you find yourself in the midst of a magnificent, fiery meteor shower. Space rocks speed pass you, like sparkling rain drops on a journey to some unknown location. You pass planets filled with alien life that leave you amazed with more wonder and curiosity. You see stars explode in a rain of spectacular solar light, like a million fireworks all erupting at once, and you shed a tear as you realise just how much wonder there is to be discovered in this gift of the afterlife.
Suddenly you’re back in the garden, back with your tour group, and you see in everyone’s faces that they too had the same awe inspiring experience as you, and without speaking you know that you now share a bond stronger and more powerful than any desire to ever be at odds with one another. A bond that makes you never want to go back to those forgotten feelings of greed, envy, and needing to have power over someone else. You understand what it is to want nothing more than to share and co-exist with every living thing ever created, and you all smile lovingly at one another. The silence is broken by the voice of your tour guide, who tells you that you have three more things on the list of your tour, and then, out of nowhere, God appears.
God isn’t a man, woman or a creature you’ve ever imagined but you all feel comfortable and at ease in the presence of this being. Like children you all sit and listen intently while God recounts the inspiration behind the creation of the universe and life. When God is finished every question anyone ever thought of is answered, and with that God bids everyone a wonderful afterlife, telling you all that when ever you need to talk you just need say or think the word God, in any language, and God shall appear.
The second to last thing on the tour is the reunion with loved ones. People you have loved, whom passed away, appear in the garden, and tears fall as they hug and kiss you, and tell you tales of all the adventures and discoveries they have had in heaven. But it doesn’t take long for you to notice that not everyone who passed away is there, and you start to question ‘where is uncle so and so?’ ‘Where’s is my best friend?’ ‘Why isn’t my mother here?’ Your loved ones look at you with a funny blend of hope mixed with excitement, as one of them says, ‘maybe one day they will make it.’ Confused by this statement, a little warning bell goes off in your head, but before you can ask what they mean your tour guide’s voice rings out louder than you’ve heard it all day, and your group is told that it’s time for the last stage.
Your loved ones say goodbye, telling you, ‘good luck,’ ‘do well,’ and ‘remember what I always use to tell you as a kid.’ Your confusion grows at these sudden words of encouragement, but you have no time to question as you all follow the tour guide to a small building in a corner of the garden. There’s reluctance in all your steps as you enter the building to find single person desks lined up with what looks like exam papers on each one. Your tour guide tells you all to take a seat at any desk you like, and you all follow instruction. Then he explains that the last part of the tour is a test that you all must take, and the results of this test will determine whether you’re able to stay in Heaven or not. Everyone looks around at each other, maybe expecting to see some panic, but panic no longer exists in Heaven. Instead there is a determination in everyone. The farewell words of encouragement from your loved ones suddenly make sense, and you know that this will be the most important test you will ever take, and you must pass!
The tour guide tells you all to take as much time as you need to complete the test, there is no time limit. You can answer all the questions, half of them or none of them, it is up to you. When you are finished just give in your paper at the front and wait outside, until everyone is done. And with that, the test begins.
You open the paper, not knowing what to expect, and are thrown off guard by the simple but open nature of the first few questions. Some seem childishly easy, asking you what your favourite colour is, and why? What was your favourite animal growing up? What cartoon’s or TV shows did you enjoy watching? What books did you like to read? And what music did you enjoy listening to? Other questions seem to require long essays, asking you deep things such as: ‘Do you believe in destiny and fate?’ ‘What would you consider your greatest achievement and success?’ And ‘How would you measure happiness?’ Then the questions become surprisingly specific to your very life, asking you, ‘why you cheated that one time on your third girlfriend?’ ‘Why you could never forgive your father for leaving your mother?’ ‘And what made you stay in a job that you hated, just because they paid you well?’
You write feverishly, briefly answering the questions that seem least important, and going into as much detail as you can on the ones that seem more deep and crucial. You have no idea how long you’ve been sitting writing, and are acutely aware of the room slowly emptying around you, as individuals finish their test, give it in, and leave the room. You finally finish the last question, satisfied that you’ve answered everything the best you could, and see a dozen people still scribbling away, as you walk to the front, hand in your paper and exit the building.
Outside you stand around discussing the questions that came up on the test, and you find out that everyone’s exam was different. A few children that are in your group had questions asking them to draw a picture of something, or colour something in. One guy had only one question, which asked him to simply describe why, out of personal choice, he spent his whole life poor and begging on the streets. Personal questions following similar themes of ‘trust,’ ‘sacrifice’ and ‘love,’ seemed to have come up for the majority of you. Everyone talks casually about the exam, but no one asks the one question you are all wondering- ‘what happens if we fail?’
Time passes, the sky above the garden ignites with stars, and the place takes on another beauty in the evening light, as finally the last person comes out. An hour later your tour guide exits the building and informs everyone that their exams have been read and marked, and that he will now read out the list of names of those who passed. You’re patient and hopeful as each name is read out but out of your whole group only 5 names are called, and yours is not one of them.
You, and the others, watch, speechless, as the tour guide tells the five individuals to follow the path leading out of the garden, where heaven and eternal paradise is waiting for them. Then the tour guide addresses all of you that didn’t pass, still as cheerful as ever. You listen silently as you’re told that you should not be sad, that not many people pass the test the first few times, but the amount of times you can take it is endless. Right now, you’re test results show that you’re not ready to enter Heaven and so you must go back to earth to live, experience and learn again, until the time that you arrive back at the gates of paradise, and take the tour again. Hopefully, at that time, you will have lived a life that provides you with everything you need to pass the exam and stay in Heaven.
You’re all silent, unable to express the longing in your souls, and suddenly everything goes black, and you feel your body begin to shrink: your hair and teeth disappear, and your skin soften, all your memories begin to fade, and you’re acutely aware of being encased in fluid, which suddenly breaks and pours away, and you realise that you’re a baby again, about to be born. As you’re pulled into the light, your new life about to start again, you are left with the faintest memory of Heaven, and the realisation of how long you’ll have to wait to return. And as the last memories of that beautiful place slips and fades away, all you can do is cry, as you are once again born into the world.