How to get into trouble, 101. In a lengthy post last week, I discussed the dilemma of Heaven and Hell. One section which caused trouble for me later was this one:
“…while we Christians all confess our sins, we often repeat some of them, either out of weakness, a bad habit we have trouble breaking, or worst, we like that sin and are reluctant to really give it up. From that perspective, it seems hypocritical indeed to suggest that just being Christian gets you into Heaven, while even a nearly perfect life of goodwill and compassion would not help you if you are not Christian. The Bible seems to say the same, reminding us of non-Jews who pleased God in various places, and non-Christians whose faith impressed Jesus.”
and this one:
“…on the day when we stand before God, all evil will be destroyed. All that is good will be taken into Heaven. Whether we go to Heaven or Hell, then, will depend on whether our heart and desire were with the good works or the bad, whether we are aligned with goodness or clung to a badness we enjoyed. If that is so, the proper role of the Christian is to help people see what they cling to, especially our fellow Christians, so that they do not suffer for the old ways, but pursue what is truly right and good, and so enter the Third Heaven with a joyful spirit and a full heart.”
I did state at the time that all my words were a “poor attempt”, but I met up with some strong dispute and doubt about what I was trying to say. Mostly from fellow Christians. This article is a mix of trying to clarify what I was saying, why I said it the way I did, and to make a few observations about Christianity as it exists in the modern world.
First, to anyone unclear on the point: It is my unwavering conviction that Jesus Christ is the only-begotten Son of God, the Messiah who redeemed Mankind from his sins, because of God’s love for us. It is not a quality we can earn or will ever deserve, but this does not matter because the Lord gives it freely to anyone who wants it. The reason I wrote what I did, though, was because I have met a great many non-Christians who see our evangelism as coercion and our God as a tyrant. Some of this is a matter of the devil’s lies, but it also comes from honest confusion to a degree. Since people are often curious about what happens after death, the qualities and nature of Heaven and Hell are vital parts of the discussion.
The plain fact is, that while the life and teachings of Jesus Christ are tremendously appealing to many people, the behavior and tone of many church leaders is offensive to non-Christians. Often, Christians come across as judgmental and angry, as looking down on other people who do not believe as they do. While I believe that this happens mostly with a minority of Christians, and that when it does it is the personality of the Christian rather than the will of God that creates the bristling antipathy. I had hoped to explain the faith in the light of reason, from the simple logic that if there is something after death, that we should seek and follow what we recognize and know to be good and right. To set aside the words when they get in the way, and to speak in terms which create common ground for a foundation of discussion. The purpose of that discussion would be to explore deeper questions, but without the sense of threats or compulsion. I believe that we still hold free will, even after we become believers. That’s part of what makes it hard to be a Christian, I think – we still live in the conditions created by the world and by our own past decisions, but we desire to serve the Lord and to do right. We will be imperfect, but because God’s definitions are based on His love and hope, rather than technicalities and traps, we work every day on drawing closer to Him, and we are able to accept our stumbles in the grace of knowing we will have help getting back up again. By my thinking, that blessing alone would make me glad to have a chance to know the Lord, but of course there is so much more. Oh, my.
Anyway, I have always taken the Bible seriously. Some folks may think I believe it too much, and others that I do not follow one passage closely enough to their liking. Ehhh, I pray about my walk and listen for the Lord’s will. That’s not to say that I think God tells me anything more than He tells other folks, but I would say that just maybe I listen to God and compare His word to what the Bible says. So far they always combine without conflict, and I don’t expect that to change. But anyway, the way I see it is that God is consistent, despite the jeers of some folks he does not forget or get confused. What He does, is stay true and straight, and wayward man gets angry because his own curving path takes him away from God, for which occasion he blames God. But there have always been people, in every nation and culture, who hear God and do what is right. If someone loves Justice, they love God, whether or not they ever voice the opinion. If someone cares for his fellow human bein, then they love God’s will, no matter whether their doctrine is perfectly aligned or not. If someone will accept loss rather than do what they know to be wrong, then that person pleases God, regardless of what they call Him, or even if they ignore Him. What’s more, a person can say all the right words, be called a leader of the church by thousands, yet remain an enemy of God – just look at Judas Iscariot.
So what’s the deal about choosing to enter Heaven? In my understanding, God makes Heaven possible for anyone, yet he compels no one. So even as C.S. Lewis observed that the gates of hell are locked from the inside, so too I think that the gates to Heaven are locked from the outside; first Jesus unlocked them as a man by the worth of His sacrifice on the cross, but also that any person who enters Heaven will choose to accept that gift. I never meant to imply that we deserve it or hold the power over its gates, but that no one will be dragged into Heaven against their will.
One thing which frankly bothers me about modern Christianity, is that it is rich and powerful. Here in Houston there is a huge church with thousands of members, and which pulls in millions of dollars a year in revenue. The pastor owns a lot of property, several fine cars, and his family lives like royalty. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose, except that my company does work organizing charity work from churches, and this church stands out for its absence – it seems a lot of money goes in, but the poor and needy get no help from it. Other churches do a wonderful job of helping folks in need, of course, which is something I should emphasize – frankly the people in the most need often get the most help from churches and faith groups. But at the same time, churches often focus on money a lot, and more than a few seem intent on influencing politics. I realize this happens in other places, as well – every time a large group gets together, money and power are natural goals which always get emphasis. But that is just it, I think - Christians were originally the poorest and the weakest, and they held immense moral credibility because their faith was clearly not based on merely human priorities, but something greater than themselves. Again, such people exist today and are truly the saints who please God, but there are a lot of places where a well-dressed person who gives a nice ‘offering’ in the plate can get praised and assured of his eternal well-being, while his sin festers and his corroded heart waits in vain for repair. So, in these discussions I am not content to say that quoting the Bible or claiming membership in the right fellowship of believers is what impresses or pleases the Lord. The Lord chooses, and so do we. We can never trump Him, yet we must take care to understand – as well we may – the impact of our freedom.