Yes! I love it.
Why the rush in going to heaven?
April 15, 2010 9:32 am
Patrick Hall wrote:
Most Christians are in a pretty big hurry to get somewhere else. Maybe you’ve heard of that somewhere else. It’s often referred to as “heaven.” Supposedly this place has pearly gates and really soft toilet paper.
Maria Shriver, apparently an expert on Christian doctrine, wrote a charming little bit of heaven-fluff aimed at grieving children. It’s utterly unimaginative and objectionably boring depiction of the Christian “hope” is as follows, “Great grandma’s body is in the wooden box, but remember, her soul – all the things that made her a wonderful person – has already been taken up to Heaven by the angels.” How sappy can you get?!
Yet this is what Christians have been promulgating as our great “hope” for at least the past 200 years.
What could be more boring than an invisible place where the dead float around without bodies? Think of all the awesome stuff you did today. For me, today’s awesomeness included a double scoop of Marble Slab peanut butter ice cream in a chocolate dipped waffle bowl, and a gloriously interesting, absurdly long, deeply personal lunch with one of my favorite parishioners – a lunch full of good food and laughter and even a tear or two.
There’s one constant that I’d bet you will find amidst all the things you enjoy the most – whether it’s the way your child smiles when you pick her up, or the way fresh cut grass smells, or the feeling of a refreshing spring breeze, or the taste of the summer’s first snow cone. All the things we enjoy – from Marble Slab to three hour lunches to snow-cones, require bodies. We access the thickest, most beautiful, funniest, most meaningful parts of our lives through our bodies and the bodies of those we love.
The Christian tradition emphatically affirms, again and again, that God created us to live in bodies. God created us to be material beings who steward a material world. It’s Genesis 101 – regardless of where you stand on the historicity of the creation poems that begin the bible. To be a Christian (or a Jew for that matter!) is to affirm that God made a GOOD world and our proper place is right in the midst of it. This is why the Bible has absolutely nothing to say about an invisible place that the dead go to called heaven. 1 Corinthians 15 explains the Judeo- Christian hope for life-after-death very well, and you’ll be shocked to know that there is not one word said about going to heaven when you die. Paul writes, “When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’“
This at last, is what Christians have set their hope on for most of history. Our hope is not the possibility of some out-of-body existence with God in some far-away realm underwritten by Angel Soft toilet paper. We wait for the raising of the dead. We look forward to the day when our loved ones will come out of their tombs and coffins and columbariums, alive again. We wait for our material bodies, the bodies God created us to inhabit, to be made perfect and eternal. THIS is an eternity worth hoping for – because it’s an eternity full of the good things we already enjoy.
Imagine an eternity full of good food and wine and laughter and surrounded by all your closest relatives and friends, with God leading the party. That in fact, is the hope that the Bible challenges to wait for, and to work for. This eternal, inside-of-body life we wait for has a name: Resurrection. And how do we know that this glorious future is in store for the world? The resurrection of Jesus has kick-started the process. This is why Jesus’ resurrection was a source of such incredible joy for the early Church – his resurrection is a foretaste of the future we will all one day enjoy. His resurrected body is a proto-type of the new creation. We look at Jesus, alive and transformed after being dead for three days, and we see God’s future for the whole world.
This is why Easter has been such a HUGE deal for the Church. Easter is a moment in time that opens a window straight to the end of the human story. Historically Easter was a 50-day festival; an extended party where Christians commemorated the Resurrection-future God has secured for us through Jesus, a future his very own Resurrection body points towards. This is also why Easter is less and less a huge deal for the Church today.
If we’re just waiting to go to heaven when we die, then what’s the whole point of the Resurrection of Jesus anyway? The very center of our story becomes the odd piece of the puzzle that doesn’t fit. This is what Paul is saying elsewhere in 1 Corinthians 15, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ—whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.” Yep. The Resurrection of the Dead is THAT important. Take it away, and the whole Christian story falls apart.
N.T. Wright, one of the foremost biblical scholars writing today, reminds us that what we anticipate in death has a tremendous impact on what we do in life. If we are in a hurry to get to our eternal bliss somewhere else, what we say and do here doesn’t truly matter very much. We can drill the world to pieces, poison the oceans, enslave the poor, and pour concrete all over the forests. We can inject our lips with collagen and our faces with botox and our breasts with silicon. We can buy the biggest SUVs we can find. We do whatever it takes to squeeze as much as possible out of this short and tragic mortal existence.
Mistresses, cocaine, strip-mining, it’s all good. Because, hey, we’re headed somewhere else anyway once it’s all said and done! Anticipating a life-after-death without a body perverts religion. Body-less Christianity is all about getting people to say the magic words so they go to heaven, and then moving on to the next person. You get whole churches full of “the saved” who are ambivalent to the plight of the world and the rest of the human family. Why? Because they’re in a hurry to get somewhere else.
Ancient Christianity, on the other hand, because it is so profoundly bodily, encourages opposite behaviors. If this world is where we will live FOREVER, then we better be nice to it. If this body is my home FOREVER, I better treat it carefully, and cherish it as the eternal gift it truly is. If these friends and this family are going to be my friends and family FOREVER, I’d better be kind to them. Instead of being disengaged and ambivalent, the Christian community that anticipates the Resurrection of the Dead will be HYPER-engaged in the plight of the world. As Paul says, we excel in the work of the Lord, because we know that our work won’t be in vain. In other words, one day, when the world is complete, God will finish the good work we are starting.
So, today is the 13th day of Easter. I’m celebrating. I’m not excited because I’m on my way to heaven. I’m excited because heaven is on its way here.