Warning: Some Spoiler Alerts But Not The Most Important Stuff
For the first few hours of reading, I hated Paul Beaumont’s book, A Brief Eternity, so much I wanted to throw it out the window. When I was greeted in the first few paragraphs with a Korean speaking broken english to direct the traffic of new entrants through Heaven’s change rooms after they just finished floating through the sky, the fact that I was reading it on my iPhone at the beach was the only thing that stopped me from doing just that. Sometimes a book will make you squirm at every sentence because it’s bad. Other times, it will make you squirm at every sentence because it’s touching points of contention you didn’t even know you had.
A Brief Eternity follows Jerry, a 30-something guy, on his journey through the Rapture. He forgot he was saved as a 9 year old kid on a holiday camp so, despite being glad he made it to the ‘good place’, still feels a little misplaced amongst all the singing and exclamations of ‘praise Jesus’ in Heaven. He makes it his mission to meet up with his current love Rachel who, of course, ended up in hell. Along the way he discovers heaven’s just not what he – or anyone really, myself included – thought it would be.
I had to keep reminding myself its as a comedic book just to quiet the constant protests in my brain, ‘That’s not how heaven would be!’ By the time I’d settled into the irreverent and completely un-magical setting of the ‘spiritual’ worlds, somewhere between heaven containing 10 hour-long bus rides and the introduction of the Devil as a giggling, camp, cross-dresser, I was speed-reading in order to make it to the end. Which, turns out, is where the best stuff is.
The story draws lines around and around, tighter and tighter, screwing down into these ideas we hold about heaven and hell and eternity and judgement and right and wrong until you unexpectedly find yourself with a new perspective on the whole thing. I finished it with a respect of the content and what it had done to my thought processes, which is not something that can be said for many books.
It made me question; why did I hate it so much at the beginning? Why did I cringe at the representation of heaven as a pseudo evangelical church? I don’t think it does exist any more but if it did, is my ideal of heaven; the beautiful, mystical happy place where people wear turn-of-the-century clothing and children splash in water like in What Dreams May Come, any less ridiculous?
The more poignant question the book poses though is not whether heaven will have an escalator down to hell or entertainment in the form of re-enactments of bible stories complete with mechanical robots, it’s do we really believe in an afterlife? Is it any less ridiculous to believe that we spend our time eating vegetable sandwiches because they don’t kill animals than to hold onto the general idea that there’s no death in heaven? Is it even possible to have God-level justice (aka Hell) and eternal happiness (aka Heaven) co-existing? The ending in particular, drives a knife though the ‘free will’ argument in a poignant, almost poetic, way.
If you can stomach – or dare I say, enjoy – the irreverence of a Jesus who arranges a runner to hell to get him some black market smokes, pick up this book. It will make you laugh and then think about that question that awaits us all; what’s on the other side?