Some of what I thought was based on what grownups told me. Some was based on what I experienced. Once I learned to read, a lot was based on what I read. Dick and Jane, Mickey Mouse, Nancy Drew.
In those pre-internet days my house was a rich resource of printed information about many things. Mother eventually bought a telescope and peered at the stars every night, pointing out the Big Dipper and tracking sputnik.
Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Galaxy Magazine and Amazing Stories, science fiction novels and space adventures joined Reader’s Digest, Red Book, the Bible and Norman Vincent Peale on our bookshelves..
Gradually I decided that I didn’t belong on planet earth. Was Mars my real home? Or somewhere further away, out there in really outer space? I just knew I had been stranded here for some reason and would be rescued one day, so my vivid imagination peopled the space ship that would come for me. Maybe Flash Gordon!
What I thought about heaven was based mostly on fuzzy imagination. Negatives. What wouldn’t be there. Bad diseases, like measles or polio. Bad people, like bullies and crooks. Bad weather, like hurricanes or droughts.
So what would be in heaven, I wondered? God of course. Jesus. Angels. Dead people dressed in flowing robes, floating around on fluffy clouds and playing hymns on harps. Church every day, all day. BORING, is what I thought.
I don’t think any of that nowadays. Over time I changed my thinking. I repented. (That’s what the Greek word for repent means, to change your mind, your way of thinking.)
I also thought to get into heaven I had to be more good than bad, good thoughts and good deeds tipping the scales in my favor. God, long-faced Judge of the quick and the dead, would sum me up against the Ten Commandments and decide. Did I make it in?
For a little kid being good all the time got to be “old,” real fast. But of course if you messed up, if your weights got out of balance, you could walk the aisle, tell the preacher how sorry you were for all those missteps and just start over on Monday. Right? No-one could know his final tally for sure until he died, of course. Didn’t make for much confidence in a little girl growing up.
All that was before I found out about Grace. The cross. Jesus’s blood. John 3:16. I changed my thinking. I repented. What a relief! Even if I messed up, God still loved me. He was in favor of me!
Every Sunday morning right along with the whole congregation I recited the Doxology, not thinking much about “Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.” If I did think about Holy Ghost I supposed it meant the atmosphere in church. Sanctified. Sacred. Quiet. Except when singing, only the preacher talked. Shhhh. No whispering!
Of course, outside the sanctuary building kids could run around and make all the racket we liked, as long as we didn’t get our Sunday clothes dirty.
Holy Ghost outside the sanctuary? If I thought about that at all, I thought maybe it showed up in a funeral parlor, or the pastor’s parlor. Invisible wisps of holy fog, that was Holy Ghost to me. Eerie. Creepy. Later on, our Sunday School teacher mentioned the three persons of the Trinity, each one of them God. What an idea!
I began to think of Holy Ghost as God’s hidden camera, listening and recording good deeds and bad during the week. Still a bit creepy.
Then I met the Holy Spirit, aka Holy Ghost, in person. God who is with me, inside me, able to chat and laugh and teach and explain. Wow! The Bible became fascinating to me, the way science fiction used to be. Amazing stories. God’s fantastic love, real, not fantasy. Boy, has my way of thinking changed. His way is much better.
When Jesus told the crowds to repent, he wasn’t threatening them with some horrible form of hellfire and brimstone, as I thought as a child. He was offering them joy, fullness of joy in God’s presence. All they had to do was change their minds.