“If one falls down, his friend can help him up.” – Ecclesiastes 4:10
There is a great story describing the distinction between heaven and hell. It begins with a scene from hell where its residents are gathered round a banquet table set with an abundant and scrumptious feast – not exactly what one would expect in hell – until a closer look reveals an atmosphere of bitter agony due to the fact those sitting at the table cannot feed themselves because their arms are stiffened at the elbow and will not bend. Imagine sitting before all that fabulous food, and not being able to eat any of it. Then there is a scene in heaven that is surprisingly identical to the one from hell, including the stiffened arms. The difference is, there is an atmosphere of great joy and celebration as the inhabitants use their stiffened arms to feed each other across the table.
What strikes me about this story is not so much its depiction of the hereafter, but the here-and-now. Our natural desire as human beings is to become independent, to be able to feed ourselves, and it begins at around age two, as I’ve watched my own grandchildren at about that age start to spew out those defiant words, “I do it myself!” Yet, when we allow them to do so, they usual leave a big mess in their wake. . . . Hmm, don’t we all!
Life is designed for companionship and interdependence, not isolation and independence. We are not here on earth to serve ourselves, but to serve others and to serve God. For most of us, though, it’s not until we’ve left enough messes in our wake – like a two-year-old – that we realize we need help, the surprising result from which we grow to become helpers. The classic example of this can be found in twelve-step programs through which one addict helps another find sobriety. Or, as they say, one beggar shows another beggar where to find bread – the “helped” becomes the “helper.”
What beautiful imagery we see in the parable of the great banquet table in heaven, with companions sitting across from each other, simultaneously experiencing being the helped and the helper. The fact is, we all have stiffened arms – disabilities, addictions, or limitations of some sort. Yet, by being helped we grow to become helpers. And in becoming both helped and helper, we experience the greatest joy in life – both here-and-now as well as the hereafter. So then, “If one falls down, his friend can help him up.”