Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Heaven Is Now Before It Is Later


It seems to me a huge waste of time when religious people get caught up in the game of determining who goes where, when, and how, of separating the world into the chosen and the un-chosen, the lost and the saved, those going to heaven and those not.

I don’t want to suggest that those who believe such things are bad people. What I am saying is that it just seems to me to be an immense waste of energy and time.

I am confident that all our futures are in the hands of a merciful, gracious God, who is far more generous, forgiving, compassionate, patient, kind, and good than the best person any of us know.

This God, who I see beautifully embodied and made visible in the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, will never abandon any of us, even in our worst moments—even when such moments makeup a lifetime.

It seems to me that our time could be more wisely invested in opening our lives to this gracious God right now. The Spirit wants to teach us how to love well, how to nurture healthy, caring, redemptive relationships with others. The Spirit wants us to participate with others in the common good, working for peace, restorative justice, and equitable economics, politics, and social relations. The Spirit cares about this world and the well-being of creation. The Spirit knows just what we need to overcome our negative habits, attachments, addictions, etc. and become more grateful, generous, and loving persons.

One of the reasons, I think, we like to play umpire in determining who’s safe or out (saved or lost) is because it takes our attention away from what is really important: learning how to love God with the totality of our being and love our neighbor as ourselves.

Again, I don’t want to suggest that everyone who believes in separating the world between the saved and the lost are not concerned with matters of social justice, nonviolent peacemaking, and living compassionate lives. I know some conservative Christians who care about these things. A few are in my church. But it is interesting to observe how so few Christians in the church at large who are focused on issues of heaven and hell actually give themselves to the work of the common good and advocate for just, compassionate social policy.

Sometimes they even champion the opposite of the common good. A case in point: In my community a fairness ordinance is currently being considered by our City Commissioners that would extend equal rights and protection under the law to gays and lesbians who have historically been marginalized and disenfranchised. The most vocal group of opposition to this ordinance is a group of conservative Christians. I can’t figure out how any Christian can reconcile an anti-fairness position with the life of Jesus. Unless, of course, actually following Jesus is not that important.

I suspect that when one is totally focused on getting one’s doctrine right and getting people to believe it so they can be “saved,” one doesn’t have to be particularly concerned about actually doing what Jesus says or actually modeling his life. 

Imagine how much good Christians could do if we abandoned the practice of dividing the world between the saved and lost and concentrated on the truly important work of facing our own demons (we are all flawed, addicted, etc.) and learning how to love others with the love of Christ. Love is liberating, but it is also very hard work.

The Spirit is always calling us into the present, into the “now,” to participate in the flow of divine love, to taste and see that God is good—right now.

Heaven is now before it is later. Whatever heaven is in the future it is a continuation of life in God, with God, and for the good of all God’s creation. Sometimes heaven is right in the middle of hell.

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