There is much talk of the afterlife going on this year. From “Love Wins” by Rob Bell [ I still need to read this book] to the world allegedly ending the middle of May.
I’ve thought quite a bit about the afterlife these 20 years as a Christian. Here are my thoughts on the matter:
I don’t think the real issue is Hell or Heaven. The issue isn’t God either. We have no qualms about “bad people” going to Hell, or “good people” going to Heaven. The heart of the matter is us. To clarify, the real problem is me.
We all have a right to our opinions and how we feel. You can believe what you believe, I can believe what I believe, we can get a milkshake and talk about it. Being interested in a person’s story and why they believe what they believe, coupled with telling our story and why we believe what we believe, is far greater and longer lasting than trying to “save someone’s soul.” [Side note: What if we left the saving to God and respected people's feelings?]
Who Defines Good and Evil
I tend to enjoy my side job of being a judge. This person did _________, so they are evil. That person did __________, so they must be good. The problem is, I automatically take the moral high ground when comparative justice comes into play. God exists outside of my concept of Good and Evil. I tend to look at actions, God looks at the heart. Knowing that can really screw up a good judging session. The last time I checked, God wasn’t looking for judges to assist Him. He is looking for people to love each other. However, I tend to mete out my love like my judgment. I also tend to want God to exist in my context for judgement.
It is instilled in us since childhood. If your slice of cake is bigger than mine, you and me are going to have a problem. If I look to whoever gave us the cake and they don’t resolve the issue, now Mr. Cake Guy and I are going to have a bad day.
Is it fair the abused and the abuser share the same space in Hell? Or Heaven? These are not easy questions to answer. Personally, how I feel about either outcome says more about me than it does about God. At the end of the day, the people we perceive as “bad”, are they any different than you and I? I like to live in a moral hierarchy, but that’s not reality. My moral failure and their moral failure are the same. That statement alone makes me uncomfortable enough to do a self- inventory, stop judging and start loving.
The tendency is to talk about Heaven or Hell in terms of marketing. I can scare the hell out of you, sell you fire insurance, and you would be inclined to buy it for soul preservation. It won’t mean much though when life gets hard and God appears insensitive and enthusiasm turns into angst.
I could guilt you into believing in Heaven and point out all of your short-comings. In a few years, you will either do the same to someone else or reject it all together.
God, Heaven, or Hell can’t be used as marketing strategies to fill churches or a denominational deficit. People know when they are being sold something. People want to feel loved, not as a number or project. I’ve been the salesman and the customer in my life, and both aren’t a good place to be.
Trite Doesn’t Make Right
Giving a clichéd cold answer, or a cherry-picked scripture taken out of context to support a stance on Heaven or Hell, is just plain rude. We are talking about real people, not a broad term like “them”. I’ve used canon to hide my insecurities and my fears. Now, I’m starting to ask better questions and not blindly comply to social scripture.
Common Law vs. Social Scripture
You can be found guilty in common law, but innocent in social scripture. Example: Nelson Mandela, or the man who boarded a school bus to confront his daughter’s bullies.
You can be guilty in common law, and guilty in social scripture. This is hard but can be overcome. Example: Martha Stewart; an inmate who starts a prison ministry after getting out; Michael Vick.
But it is very difficult to overcome innocent in common law but guilty in social scripture. Example: The cops who were acquitted of shooting unarmed Amadou Diallo 41 times (I followed this case when it was happening); O.J. Simpson.
The fact of how easy it was for me to write someone’s innocence or guilt further lets me know the real issue is with me. [Sidenote: Who writes social scripture in the first place? Is it the response to an incident, good or bad, which dictates the scripture of the masses?]
Love Rebels and Fragile God
The rub comes into play when we are scared to voice a contrary opinion to social scripture. Compliance is better than rebellion it seems. Rebellion= siding with “them”. [Sidenote: Jesus hung out with "them". Love is the biggest skeptic of social scripture.]
Also, compliance with social scripture ensures not rebelling against God. The narrative dictates the following: it is best to not ask questions and follow religion and tradition because God is so fragile He couldn’t possibly handle our questioning Him. Or our anger for that matter. Also, it’s best to wear your churchmask to appear perfect so people can look to us as an example.
I know that narrative intimately. A new story can be written right now. Will you come write it with me?
Words Yell, Actions Scream, Grace Whispers
Back in my mid-20’s, I cheated on the girl I was dating at the time. When the ministry media broke the story, lines were quickly drawn in the sand. Jermaine is a lying creep vs. Jermaine is a decent guy who made a really bad decision. I hurt a lot of people and I felt like the stuff under the dirt.
My friend, I’ll call her Maya, was the only one from the Jermaine is a sack of crap side to have a conversation with me. She told me by no means did she think what I did was right, but how she was treating me wasn’t right either and she apologized. The conversation was very brief, but impacted me more than I think she will ever know. Well, here it is 9 years later and I’m still talking about it.
A whisper of grace can touch a person’s heart more than the use of canon scripture to point out how wrong a person is and how right they would be if they came to your side. Grace brings a deeper awareness of ourselves and less about the “sins” of someone else. It connects us to something greater than ourselves. See also: forgiveness and honesty.
People are tired of words. People have heard all the verses. What they haven’t heard is why it is personal for us who believe. Why do I personally believe this? People haven’t heard much grace, honesty, or forgiveness come from Christians. From me. People want to see love in motion.
I see hell every day. I see it in the news, online, all over the world. Hearing more about hell from a sermon is…tiresome. I want to see more of heaven. I want to see hope. I want to see more of heaven through grace for people. Through forgiveness when it is unreasonable to so do. Through transparency when I really don’t feel like it. I want to see people of different faiths, races, sexual preferences come together to do acts of service without agendas. I want to see love get its hands dirty.
I better get to work then…
The Beginning- Between God and a Hard Place
Heaven and Hell. Good and Evil. Love and Hate. These conversations are nothing new and will continue when we are all gone. Living to love to the best of our ability, showing grace, and making it personal, are goals worth striving for. We won’t get it right every time, talking about that makes us more real than you may think.
Nobody wants to be told what to do. Nobody especially wants to be told how to be. To initiate the conversation of God, of Heaven, of the afterlife with people, we need permission to do so. We gain permission by the lives we lead. By what we say, by what we do. The more transparent the better, esp. when we really mess up. We give each other access into our lives through love. [Sidenote: Permission = relationship.]
At the end of the day, I want God to treat people as I would and not let anyone spend a nanosecond in Hell. The hard place is, at the end of the day, God wants me to love people.* Period. Without agenda, without fanfare, without quid pro quo or a sense of obligation.
Yes Heaven and Hell are important. I think God is more concerned with you and me than with geographical locations. I think God aches and grieves when Hell claims another person. I get angry and yell at God, “Why don’t you do something about it?” To which He replies, “Why don’t you?”*
Which equates to dealing with my own faults and fears. It means being honest with myself to answer why I feel uncomfortable around someone or why I try so hard to give answers and not sing the song in me. It means asking why it’s so spankin’ hard to love someone as myself. A hard place indeed…
[*This is me presuming to know what God thinks and feels.]
[photo by woodleywonderworks]