Sunday, March 19, 2006

All dogs go to heaven...

Ok, so I've never actually seen the movie All Dogs Go To Heaven, but I liked the title of it for this entry. According to the summary, a dog named Charlie is murdered and goes to Heaven "by default since all dogs go to heaven".

"Going to heaven" is a big preoccupation for many people. Yet, "in fact, there is almost nothing about 'going to heaven when you die' in the whole New Testament. Being 'citizens of heaven' (Philippians 3.20) doesn't mean you're supposed to end up there. Many of the Philippians were Roman citizens, but Rome didn't want them back when they retired. Their job was to bring Roman culture to Philippi."1 What? But...but...isn't that what our entire faith is about? Making sure we believe the right thing so we can go to heaven when we die?

Is that all we're concerned about? Is the only important thing to get our butts into Heaven? (I picked up that phrase from Brian McLaren's book A New Kind of Christian). He wonders if God really wants a heaven full of people who only want to make sure they get there, rather than making sure they are good people. But, you may say, them's the rules...God said to believe in Jesus and that's it. That's the ticket in. All one's good works won't get a person to heaven.

I think, though, we're forgetting something. In the beginnng of the Gospel of Matthew, both John the Baptist and Jesus are telling people to repent because the kingdom of heaven has come near. Has come near. The kingdom of heaven. They aren't saying repent so you can some day go to heaven if you believe Jesus died for your sins and was resurrected. None of that had even happened yet and nobody was even thinking about it yet. Maybe Jesus wasn't even thinking about it yet.

So what is going on here?

We're not talking about simply saying "oh, I'm sorry I did such and such". It's so much more than that. Repentance is about not only being sorry, but turning one's life around in a way that one is going in a different direction. In this case, the direction one should go is toward God. He's not "out there somewhere", but is nearby. What they are saying is that we can turn our lives around to meet God right here, right now, and our lives can be surrendered to Him. He's the one in charge of our lives. He is our king. His kingdom can be present right now.

Maybe that is a letdown for some of you. Maybe you're just itching to escape this life so you can have a heavenly one later on. But is that what it's all about? If Jesus came so that we could have abundant life (John 10:10), wouldn't that mean that life could be abundant now as well as later? Earlier, I mentioned a quotation from N.T. Wright that said being a citizen of Rome that lived in Philip didn't mean Rome wanted them back, but that they were to bring Roman culture to Philipi. If that is the case, then doesn't it mean that as a citizen of Heaven, we are to bring God's culture to where we are, rather than waiting to go somewhere later on?

When we are so preoccupied about where we're going when we die, not only do we miss out on living an abundant life right now, but we then can become fixated on where other people are going when they die. And then it gets really sticky. You may say that a person won't go unless they "accept Jesus as their personal savior". So then what happens when a child dies unexpectedly? Or a mentally challenged adult who does not have the ability to understand? Or someone who may just be starting to get their life together and wonder about God but then has a heart attack? In these instances, we often may believe more in God's grace that He'll take care of these people. So why do we not extend that grace to other people just because they haven't "accepted Jesus"? What do we know of their stories? How do we know that they haven't been so hurt by a Christian that they want nothing to do with anything related to that person? Or maybe their questions have been brushed aside and they've been made to feel dumb for asking. When we pronounce our judgment on a person based on what we think they are saying, we are not seeing the whole picture. We are not seeing the confusion or pain a person may be feeling, and when we say they're going to hell, we're contributing to it.

And then we have the Christians who may believe the right thing, but you would never know it by their actions. They may know the extact date and time, right down to the second, of their conversion to Christianity. But how has it changed them?

The idea of "going to Heaven" is one that is much more complicated, I think, then we might led to believe. There are many questions, and, I suspect, many more opportunities for grace than we can imagine.

1Wright, N.T. "Easter: Wright and Wrong"