My sister Sarah informed me yesterday that I hadn't updated my blog in a few days [note to Sarah: see, I specifically wrote about you. Check.]. Although I'm sure she knew that I had definitely noticed that I hadn't posted anything, because, well, it is my blog, I don't think that was her point. I think what she actually meant was that she was disappointed that I hadn't posted anything in five days. I've had a couple of ideas for posts floating around in my head and I have one post that I've been working on but haven't finished yet, so there really is stuff going on in the background. But I didn't want to go too long without writing something, so here is today's entry.
Let's talk about being a believer. Many Christians often get concerned if their friends or family members are not believers. This causes great concern for them, especially when the topic of death comes up. However, using the term "believer" really falls in the Christianese language, and even moreso, I think, in the Evangelical1 Christianese language. Other people will think, "Am I a believer? A believe in what, the trustworthyness of tabloids? Or that jellyfish really hurt when they sting?" There's often no context for the term. But for the gung-ho Evangelical, it typically comes down to one thing: does this person believe the right stuff about Jesus so he or she can go to heaven after death? This is an idea that many people find offensive--that there is only one right way to believe. "Offensive?" the evangelical might say. "Sure it's offensive. Jesus wasn't worried about offending people so neither am I". [Note to the evangelical saying this: Jesus wasn't worried about being offensive to the religious people. Think on that a little bit.]
So where was I? Oh, yes, being a believer. So we have people out there who are determined to make believers out of non-believers, and non-believers who are just as determined to not become as narrow-minded and judgemental as they see in the personalities of the believers. Lovely situation, is it not? Ghandi commented on this too. He said, or so I hear, that he liked Jesus, but didn't think much of Jesus' followers. Ouch.
So what are we to do? Here's an idea. Why don't we stop focusing so much on what a person believes about Jesus and more on how to become a disciple of Jesus? After all, Jesus did say "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19), which I think is actually much more difficult than simply being a believer. After all, I can't remember a time in my life when I didn't believe. But I know for sure that I was not always a disciple.
And that's where I see a disconnect come in. Sometimes it seems that there is so much focus on getting people to believe something so they can go to heaven someday that their life here on earth is virtually counted as meaningless. "But isn't that really what is important?", one might say. "After all, the length of this life is nothing compared to the length of eternity." And that's true. But I think our lives here do mean something, and I think that "eternal life" is not limited to some future, faraway place called Heaven. This idea came to me some time ago when I was reading a commentary on the Gospel of John [note to Sarah, who doesn't like "documented" writing--this won't take too long]. In it, the author writes that the Greek word for eternal, aionios, does not necessarily mean "for a long span of time", but rather, the kind of life that God would live (I have been looking and looking for a direct quotation, but I can't find it. I'll update this post if I ever do find it). So it's more than just something that we are supposed to look forward to some day down the road. It's a kind of fulfillment we can have now, here on earth, in this life. Isn't that something that will make more of a difference to a person? That life here can be so much better than one ever thought? If an afterlife is something that we can't really fathom, and also is something the Bible actually does not spend a lot of time discussing, why then, is it such a focus for us?
This isn't to say that belief is unimportant. But rather than being the finish line, I think it is just the beginning of the journey, and it is discipleship that will lead us on.
1Please note that I think the word evangelical is difficult to define. If you're really interested in exploring the topic further, I refer you to an article called "Evangelical Theology Today" in Volume 51, 1994-1995, January issue, of Theology Today. For the purposes of this entry, I'm going to use one of the categories from the article, which quotes George Marsden saying an evangelical is one with "a zeal to proclaim the biblically revealed gospel of salvation from sin through the atoning work of Christ" (496). I think when most people hear the word "evangelical" it is associated with those Christians who are of a more vocal nature in their beliefs about Jesus and their beliefs about getting everyone saved.