By H. Wallace Goddard
“It is the constitutional disposition of mankind to set up stakes and set bounds to the works and ways of the Almighty” (TPJS, p. 320). We can hardly believe that He could redeem some of our neighbors. We are certain He will obliterate our nemeses. In many ways we find it hard to let God be a Redeemer.
That has always been the biggest hurdle for Jesus’ work with the religious. The Pharisees believed none but themselves could be spiritually acceptable. Some fundamentalists imagine their sect alone will inhabit heaven. Many of us believe certain quirks and weaknesses are as repellent to God as they are to us.
My sweet Dad always said that everyone in heaven will be surprised. Many of the humblest and sweetest will be surprised to find themselves there. “I never supposed that God would make something glorious out of simple me.” We may be surprised to find our neighbors and nemeses there. “Wow. God can fix people as annoying as old Fred! What a God!” We may be surprised that those who made the boldest claims to righteousness are not there. “I wonder where old So-and-so is?”
I have been warmed, enlarged, enriched by my study of the Wider Hope literature. There are respected theologians in past generations (such as Frederick Denison Maurice, Frederic W. Farrar, E. H. Plumptre) and in our own generation (Clark Pinnock) who have argued that, if God loves His children so much, He will find a way to redeem most of them.
That is an article of faith for Latter-day Saints. We have a rich doctrine of salvation for the dead which includes the spirit world and proxy ordinances. We believe that God will save every one of His children to some degree of glory except the sons of perdition, those who actively resist His goodness.
But all of the theological speculations and skirmishes still leave the subject bare and sterile. There are, of course, whole fields of near-death experience books that open a window to the Next Place. But, with the exception of the vision given to Joseph F. Smith, we feel a nagging uncertainty about their plausibility and credibility.
The Village Along the Way
There is a different approach to this subject that is both fresh and warming. It is The Heavenly Village by Cynthia Rylant. This book is different from traditional resources in many ways. It is a novel, making no claim to being factual. It is a children’s book, only 95 pages long. It is more sweet and encouraging than anything outside of latter-day revelation.
The heavenly village described in the book is a place for those reluctant spirits who don’t feel quite ready for heaven or quite ready to leave earth behind. “God calls them His homebodies. And because He is God and will provide all that anyone ever needs on earth and in heaven, God has made for His homebodies a special stopping place, a wayside, a small pull-over on the way to Perfect Happiness” (p.11).
Rylant provides beautiful vignettes. Each person in the village has a story and a hole that needs filling. There is Everett who is learning to see the beauty beyond the counting. There is Violet Rose who grew up worried and fearful—she is baking bread and waiting for her cats. Young Harold is there with his rescue dog, Fortune. There is Isham the magician with his terrible secret. There is Dr. Blake who is practicing unusual medicine and making memories. There is Cordie the runner who is sending good wishes to a young man. And there is the potter who is so much like God. Sometimes He and God sit up at night and talk about creating. Each character is doing something important.
It should be no wonder that such a great book has come from Cynthia Rylant. She has also written Missing May, which is one of the great books of all time. Judging by her writing, Rylant may be one of the people on this earth who is most receptive to Truth.
The Heavenly Village may not be theologically precise. But then it isn’t about theology; it is about Goodness. It adds wonderful warmth to our appreciation for the One who mapped out this great Journey to Happiness.
The book is virtually un-illustrated. Its charm is in its written message. It would be ideal for reading at one or several family home evenings or for family reading times.
Read it. Reflect on God’s goodness. Be blessed.
Cynthia Rylant (1999/2002). The Heavenly Village. New York: Scholastic.