Imagine There’s No Heaven or Hell or Sorry, I’m Not Sorry so Let’s Party!

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If you’ve ever seen the 1956 film the Ten Commandments starring Charlton Heston (it’s that film that stations run marathons of on Easter), one of the famous scenes depicts Moses coming down from Mt. Sinai after spending 40 days receiving the Ten Commandments. What I’m interested in is the scene right before that one.

Just before Moses comes down the mountain, the tribe he is leading through the desert decides to make an idol and begin worshipping it. As an aside: I think I was the only eight year old that knew what “lasciviousness” meant…because of this movie, btw it means given to lust. This scene is designed to show you what the director of the film believes the basic state of humanity to be. Left to its own devices humans are filthy rotten sinners that apparently have an innate desire to fashion golden farm animals and party. To be honest, except for the Golden Calf part, the party seems awesome. There’s delicious looking food and wine, bright colors, dancing and music! Sounds awesome.

The camera then shifts to the faithful people who refuse to partake in the event. They are cowered away in a tent. They are wearing plain dirty clothes and looking horrified.

And then Moses appears…

He appears to be in some kind of “holy daze” and he speaks in a loud monotone voice about the sinfulness of people, and how they need God’s law. Moses, like any good abusive parent, becomes furious and throws the tablets containing the law on the ground, which cracks and swallows up a large portion of the crowd he had previously been addressing.

For a view of the above action see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Id6oS3L-D9A&feature=fvst

Growing up I thought this is what the world was like. Humans were down on the earth just looking for any opportunity to sin, and God was somewhere else making esoteric statements and writing on stone. God was angry about how terrible is children were and he would kill us all for our disobedience if he had a chance. He wasn’t personable, he spoke in one judgmental tone about moral absolutes and how important he thought he was.

Grace, for me, was the idea that God has created one narrow way of escaping the beat-down he had in store for humanity. The escape was heaven, and anyone that did not take the escape was

My interest in this post is to ask a simple question. If heaven and hell were taken off the table, would there be any reason to be a person of faith?

Which leads me to the next obvious step: the Justin Bieber Christmas Album, Under the Missletoe.

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 Like pretty much everyone last Christmas, I could not get enough of the Bieb*. I snuck away from the crowd threw on my headphones listened to the Bieber Christmas album like it was going out of style. To be sure this is a musical guilty pleasure. I was afraid my friends would tease me or think I was silly, and I just couldn’t handle that rejection. BUT…I thought to myself… if I could convince some of my friends that the album was actually worth listening to then maybe I wouldn’t have to feel so insecure. If I could just make listening to the Bieber Christmas album normal, then I could feel better about the choice I made. The point is simply this: I was too embarrassed by the album to be proud of it, but if I convinced some of my friends to get in on it I would feel better about my insecurity. This leads to marketing.In the marketing world (this is plainly visible in every commercial ever made) the strategy is simple: create a crisis and provide a solution. From toothpaste to footwear, airlines, and cars marketing is about convincing you that you need whatever they are about to offer. You are in crisis, but if you buy this, wear this, support this, then your problem will be solved. The salesman says, “you don’t want to be seen around town in that old junker (the crisis)…if you buy this car then you will look like you have arrived, people will see you differently, you’ll save on gas, girls will date you…etc. In the Christian context this is how heaven and hell have been used.

The crisis: Hell.

In order to convince people that becoming a Christian (read: buy the product) evangelists create a crisis by introducing a whole new cosmology or theory of the universe. There is nothing about a lake of never ending fire that is intuitively observable from the human experience. I have yet to have a conversation where someone says, “I dunno, I just have this sense that there’s a burning lake of fire somewhere and I don’t want to go there.” Never.

So the sales pitch goes like this. There’s a hell. You are going there, unless you take what I’m offering. If you choose to take what I’m offering you can spend eternity in heaven after you die.

This seems to me to be a marketing pitch born out of insecurity about one’s own beliefs. The language of Hell in the Bible has been exaggerated upon and turned into all kinds of art work and drama to emphasize the reality of the crisis and thereby reinforce the marketing.

The answer: Heaven or The Exclusive Night Club in the Sky

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I’ll be honest in this scheme heaven only seems like a good idea because it is not hell. Just like Hell, I’ve yet to have a conversation with someone where they have said, “I dunno, I just have this sense that somewhere there’s this place with clouds and harps and streets of gold, and I really want to go there.” It has yet to happen to me. Heaven really seems like an exclusive night club in the sky. I assume it’s a night club, because that’s the only time anyone ever goes there (think, “if you died tonight…where would you go…”).

I think this Heaven/Hell framework shapes every ethical discussion of our day. Everyone picks and chooses when they read the Bible or any holy book. I’ve yet to go to a church where they are outraged at the fashion industry for only producing clothes that are made of mixed materials (Leviticus 19:19) or a church full of men who are missing one or two eyes because they took Jesus words seriously (Matthew 5:29). We all pick and choose.

So, if we all pick and choose, and we’ve bought into this heaven and hell scheme, then what the real question becomes is:

How much can I get away with and still get into the exclusive night club in the sky? What can I get away with before the angry God descends from the mountain and judges all the other real sinners?

Just looking around, you can apparently be pro-war, but no pro-homosexual, a sexist but not pro-choice, you can be a womanizer but not have a drug addiction, and on and on…Is this all there is? Is the driving question that should shape our lives be how much can I get away with?

This sounds miserable. I do not know when the deep existential question became, “what happens when I die,” because when I look around me, literally everyone, no matter who they are, is spending all of their time and energy trying to do things in this life. If people are really so curious about what happens when people die, people would be killing themselves left and right, genocide would not be offensive, no one would care about taking care of the earth, or providing clean water to the one billion people that don’t have it.

The question I’m interested in is not, “what happens when we die,” but what happens when we live? And this question raises the profound question:

Drapes or Life?

As I read the Bible, it seems to be all about this world and this life. Humans are not meant to live a life frightened and huddled in the corner awaiting the destruction of everyone else. Humans are meant to live the only kind of life worth living, the eternal kind of life.

The Bible is filled with writing about this life. A lot of the language in the New Testament that involves heaven or hell is really meant to inspire change right now. In the Old Testament the prophets talk about the future, but when they do, it’s about a renewed earth where there’s no more war or weapons and former predators (wolves) can peacefully coexist with former prey (lambs). They are painting a picture of a beautiful future that engages this life, and not one that escapes it.

The point of the prophets and the futuristic language of the Bible is to draw people into the best life now.

If we know that God wants to work to make the world peaceful and weapons free, then we should be working to make the world nonviolent and peaceful.

If God is about raising up the oppressed and humbling the oppressor than we should be about the same.

If God is about reaching out to the marginalized and oppressed, so should we.

If Jesus was serious about loving his enemies and praying for those who persecuted him than so should we.

And if Jesus was serious when he prayed, “Father…your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” then we should be just as serious when we pray it and make it our life’s work.

My deep belief is that this is the most meaningful life. I have never encountered more joy than when I have met people that are doing this kind of work, or the people who are receiving the benefits of this kind of work.

It is my belief that we were hardwired for this work.

I was having a conversation with a friend that was about to become a lawyer and was in the middle of job interviews for jobs that would pay hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. I had to ask, “what are you going to do with all that?” They responded, “I dunno, like everybody else, you get a new standard of living and you get nicer drapes.”

I do not think that anyone can say with a straight face that life is about nicer drapes, why? Because we were meant for so much more!

I would further argue that this is the only work worth doing.

I was recently watching an episode of Frontline about international bribery. The U.S. has the toughest anti-bribery laws. In an interview with an official from the U.S. justice dept. about the laws in the U.S. and the U.S.’s push for tougher laws around the world the official says, “it’s pretty tough to advocate for corruption.” Stated for my purposes, he is saying that when the lights are turned on and everyone can see what you are doing, it will be impossible to stand behind anything that is not rooted in bringing heaven to earth.

Perhaps this is why Jesus can say in Matthew 21:

‘Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘’The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this,  and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

“Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.”

The kingdom life, or eternal life, is the one that we were meant for, and when the lights are turned on and things are exposed, the stone will either help build, or it will destroy. Think about white-collar crimes. Often carried out in secrecy and motivated by greed, when everything is exposed, the individuals that carry out these schemes are undone by the very scheme they have created. Hate grows more hate, violence leads to more violence, BUT love leads to more love and peace to more peace.

SORRY I’M NOT SORRY OR LET’S PARTY!

*use discernment folks. Don’t hate. Don’t use a bullhorn. Just love.

I recently saw a Facebook post by a friend and it was a picture of this person’s bible on a table at a coffee shop. Attached to the photo was the question, “does anyone else worry what other people think when they walk in and sit down in a public place with a bible?”

I don’t know when it became shameful to be a big fan of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control become shameful?

When did taking the injustices of our world and trying to be an agent of change a revolutionary become something to run from or apologize for? When Gandhi chased the British out of India I don’t think he wrote a letter saying, “gee, sorry about that…might of gotten a little carried away with that ‘colonialism is bad and oppressive’ talk, no hard feelings”

There have been a recent string of books that ask “non-Christians” what they think about a small slice of the Christian world (i.e. the western evangelical protestant churches, though they may use the terms that make it seem as though the western evangelical protestant church is representative of the whole global movement…they are way off). In one book, which shall remain nameless, the author advocates for creating a website that where people can rate the worship services at the churches they attend. Essentially Yelp.com for churches. This is the worst idea I have ever heard.

Not only does this reduce a worship service to a consumer product (God help us), but it totally misses the mark. When did this revolutionary movement of love and justice turn into pandering to potential clients? This is rooted in the same old insecure marketing scheme.

The work is clear: heaven on earth. The implications of this are vast and intricate. Some people might point out, “that’s really hard work!” To which I respond, “um….duh.”

The result of living the kind of life Jesus is talking about, where you die to self-preservation and commit yourself to Jesus’ kingdom project is joy. It’s a celebration. When the prodigal son returns it’s time for a party!

When you are part of the best work in the history if the universe how could you help but throw the best parties! Those parties should be the best in town! Churches should shut down a city when they get serious about a party!

The best news has been declared! The tomb is empty! Death is overcome! Heaven is coming to earth, and everyone everywhere can be a part of it NOW!

LET’S BLOW THE ROOF OFF THIS JOINT!

*that bit about the Bieber Christmas Album was a story told to make a point and not actually a factual event that happened in my life.

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8 Comments on “Imagine There’s No Heaven or Hell or Sorry, I’m Not Sorry so Let’s Party!

  1. Love it! This is sermon material… Too many new zealous evangelical Christians thumping the heaven ticket really turn people off from the faith. I have always been one who feels the Kingdom of Heaven is right here, right now, it is a state of mind and a way of being…. Abundant life and joy…all the fruits of the spirit. Also most newbies don’t understand that not all are chosen to follow Christ…God decides that and chooses us, not the other way around. It is our job as Christians to fish for those that God has chosen and reinforce the calling they already hear in their hearts and help them follow Jesus…We are to be fishers of men, not harpooning those that are not already picked by God then you just create fake plastic poser Christians or turn the world off altogether….Many are called but few are chosen….in fact this is not literally scriptural, but simply my deduction is that hell is only for the chosen who deny the spirit telling them to follow Christ (blasphemy of the Holy Spirit)….those that are not chosen do not go to heaven or hell, they just die like and animal dust to dust…But if you are chosen and turn away or deny the spirit hell hath no fury…Because a loving God cannot eternally punish those he has not chosen, if in fact He is the one who does those choosing and we don’t have any chance of following Jesus and will stay blind if He did not pick us in the first place. That is not nice or just and my God is loving and just. This is why I say let the gays be gay, and let them have their unions, let the blind be blind, just shine your light and love and talk about Jesus and his Kingdom and how great it is, those that are lost or blind, but feeling the spirit’s calling will follow your lead if they are chosen. The people who are not chosen will look at you like you are crazy and that is okay, because they are permanently blind and that is part of God’s plan.

  2. “Just looking around, you can apparently be pro-war, but no pro-homosexual, a sexist but not pro-choice, you can be a womanizer but not have a drug addiction, and on and on…Is this all there is? Is the driving question that should shape our lives be how much can I get away with?”

    Hmm, this conversation point seems familiar 🙂 Seems like our FB talk a few days ago! Great point, and something we need to be convicted about as Christians and human beings.

    • Thanks for reading Liz! Thanks for letting me bounce ideas off you 🙂

  3. You have a lot of interesting thoughts going on here. First, I have to give a hearty, “amen” to the whole in-breaking of the Kingdom idea imbedded in this post. I completely agree! It is in helping to usher in the Kingdom on Earth that we find our absolute joy (which, as you mentioned, is expressed in our compassion and care to oppressed, marginalized, etc.).

    I am wondering, if you would want to elaborate and combine this with your first post about creativity. How would being a creative, artistic person fit within this mold? How does that usher in the Kingdom?

    Great post, Ryan! I look forward to reading more.

    • Thanks for reading! I think this really dovetails nicely with creativity. Since the Bible is about this world, then we are free to celebrate this world: paint it, sculpt it, sing it, write poetry about it etc. Further, we are free to trust our interactions and feelings about the world to interpret it. God is not antithetical to humanity, but is deeply in tune with the human condition.

      Just a couple of thoughts off the top of my head. what do you think?

      • I would agree with your point there. I think the key for me is in realizing that our God is a creative God, and so being creative ourselves is a worshipful act that allows us to interpret, interact with and figure out the world. It’s deeply human and deeply divine.

      • Exactly! Thanks for reading 🙂

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