Recently, I have read a lot of books about heaven, having researched and written about it in Beneath The Tamarisk Tree. But this is the first humorous book, which is why it caught my eye … plus it is a courtroom setting, and I do enjoy a good legal drama.
This is quite a quirky story, taking a very ordinary hero, and seeing what happens to him after he dies. It works as a great idea to make you think about life after death. It is humorously written, using comedy well to get across the underlying serious issues – what does happen to us when we die?
It is fun and easy to read, reflecting many common misconceptions about life after death, heaven and hell, angels, as well as the idea that getting in to heaven is based on what we do or have done, or whether we have been good or bad Christians. Even the idea that being a Christian comes from simply living in a Christian country. It is a reminder that many people either don’t consider the concepts at all, or that they have never really heard or understand the gospel message. As the story unravels, it offers an opportunity for a clear explanation of the gospel, with salvation through grace, not by works.
It is not a book for smug Christians to read and feel they have got it right and all the others are wrong. Mr Jones ‘s trip to heaven is subject to an appeal. A court case to try to establish if his faith was true and steadfast. He has to stand before his peers, with the case against him played out publicly… he thought he was a Christian, but did anyone else?
It is fun and often ridiculous, in many ways reminiscent of Alice In Wonderland style capers. Despite the humour and exaggeration, the court case scenes are sobering to read, with the case for the prosecution probably ringing a lot of bells for many believers. The demon prosecutor being especially clever at pointing out all our faults and shortcomings, often persuading us that we don’t in fact have any faith at all. It was very reminiscent of Jesus’s temptation in the desert by Satan, using half-truths, misquoting scripture, deception and lies to warp the facts.
The reality is that we all slip up, doubt or are misled… by ourselves as well as others. None of us are perfect and when held up for judgement against the highest of standards, we all fall short.
It addresses the worldly misunderstanding that we are judged by our deeds, by what we have done right and wrong. Or that being a Christian is about obeying the rules. None of us are perfect enough to have obeyed every rule throughout our lives. That is the whole purpose of grace and forgiveness. This is the point that the case for the defence eventually presents so coherently.
It is a reminder that just going to church does not make you a Christian, nor does it give you a passport to heaven. Faith can lose its life when just going through the routine.
This is all explained in ways that are easy to understand, for all audiences, Christian or not. It is a cleverly presented message, reinforcing and encouraging the reader to rethink their faith, reassess how they may live their life in a stronger relationship with God, and think ahead to what the implications of death really are – a topic we tend to avoid talking about in all circles, despite it being the one certainty of life.
There was a lovely quote used in chapter 14 that has stuck with me, from Jean de la Fontaine, translated as “death never takes the wise man by surprise; he is always ready to go”.