Saving Jesus — (Part 5) Heaven and the Threat of Hell….

This is the fifth post on the book Saving Jesus from the Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following Jesus  by Robin Meyers.  While I could go on and on I am going to stop this review here. The following will serve as the focus for this post:

Some belong to churches that explicitly emphasize the hope of heaven and the threat of hell. Others belong to churches that seldom or never mention hell. But even for many of them, the hope of a blessed afterlife is what Christianity is most centrally about. How important has the promise of heaven (and perhaps the threat of hell) been to the forms of Christianity that you have experienced or heard about?

Sin and Forgiveness: Sin is the central issue in our life with God. Forgiveness is the solution. Because we are sinners, we deserve to be punished. Consider how often sin and forgiveness appear in Christian worship. Most services include a confession of sin. In my childhood, every Sunday morning we said, “We poor sinners confess unto thee that we are by nature sinful and unclean, and that we have sinned against thee by thought, word, and deed, where-fore we flee for refuge to thine infinite mercy, seeking and imploring thy grace, for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ.” That’s pretty intense, though not as severe as some I have heard. Confessing sins wasn’t just Protestant; my Catholic friends had to go to confession every Saturday and confess in person to a priest.

I don’t really understand how getting into heaven or maybe being punished with an eternity in the fires of hell became the central focus of many churches. How did we get away from the teachings of Jesus?  Life after death almost to the total exclusion of life on earth is problematic approach to Christianity for me. The first seems self-centered the second is focused on others. I think Jesus intended us to be focused outward instead of inward.

I know Jesus said that he was going to the cross to die for our sins. I really don’t understand that but am willing to take it on faith. But there are so many church practices that have grown around that fact and they dilute, instead of re-enforce Christianity.  I too remember, not too long ago, having to recite every Sunday that I am “a poor miserable sinner….”. I also remember my childhood weekly Saturday visits to confession to hear that deep adult voice from the other side of the screen ask me how I sinned that week. He never asked me if I did what Jesus told me to do.

I certainly agree that apart from the teachings of Christ we often make some pretty miserable decisions in life. God gave us free will to do that. But I also know that with Christ in my corner I can make a difference in this world. I can honestly try to love God with my heart and soul and love my fellow-man as myself.  Jesus not only gives me this ability he expects me to use it to help his kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.   We should be reciting that fact on Sunday mornings and not on a self-centered desire to avoid hell or to get into heaven.

Fear of Death….

Everyone wants to go to heaven but no one wants to die to get there.

I first heard the above quote many years ago but have never tried to learn its source. I looked it up and here is what I found:

   According to research by quote maven and Oxford English Dictionary contributor Barry Popik, the earliest verifiable use of this insightful saying seems to be as a song title and lyric by Delaney. The date of the song’s composition is uncertain, but it was mentioned as one of Delaney’s popular sings in an article about him in The Afro American newspaper on October 16, 1948. Delaney was a prolific blues and jazz music composer whose career started in the 1920s.

I am not at all surprised that a African-American blues singer was the author although the last few words seem to have been added later.

Those who reject the idea of a life after this one don’t want to leave as there is nothing out there. They basically don’t believe that there is an underlying spirit around us that survives death.  What I find sad about some of these folks is that they seem to spend their life trying to convince others of their viewpoint. If I thought this was it for me and my spirit I would try to spend my only life more productively.

Those who look at their life and think maybe they have not earned heaven don’t want to leave. That is also one of the reasons for so many deathbed conversions. They fear the consequences of what they have done or maybe not done with their life. Then there are those who believe that they took an altar call many years ago as “fire insurance” but they just don’t know if the policy is really up to date.

Those whose world has been totally self-centered fear losing the spotlight in the next world. I am very familiar with one such person. She insisted on having the attention on herself throughout her life.  I think this person really had doubts that that was the way their creator intended them to live and therefore dreaded what might be beyond.

I personally don’t dread death especially as my body continues to degrade. There will likely come a point where I just want to end the pain and suffering. But I hope that time is still many years away. 🙂  I am coming to believe that when God says he wants all people to come to him that he will eventually make that actually happen; maybe not in this life but in the next one or somewhere in between. In some ways I really look forward to seeing just what is beyond this life and to learn just how badly we have botched our interpretations of what heaven really is.  I think every living soul, popes and all, will be very surprised just how little we could conceive what God has in mind for us in the next world wherever that might be.