Thursday, January 08, 2009

Getting it Right

Recently I was in a setting where someone was talking about the Gospel (the message) of Jesus. They were explaining to people about what happens after they die and asking them to make a decision about their eternity (important stuff, right?).

Here's basically what the person said (I've condensed it greatly):
"Heaven will be so great, no crying, no tears. You'll get to see your loved ones. You'll walk on streets of gold. You want that don't you? Won't you give your life to Christ right now?"

All that is true enough, but there's a problem. It wasn't the real Gospel. It wasn't even what Jesus taught. It was a religious version of consumerism, i.e., "I don't want to suffer and Jesus is what I have to get to get no more suffering."

Now you need to know that I have zero concerns about the person making these comments, about their own trust in God, their own motives. They sincerely believed they were saying good words about God. But there was, ironically, no God in their Gospel. If I was listening correctly (and it's entirely possible that I wasn't), Heaven is a really nice place where apparently I won't be bothered by God.

John Piper, in his book, God is the Gospel, asks a question we all need to ask (emphasis added):
The critical question for our generation—and for every generation—is this: If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ were not there?

6 comments:

Juliana said...

John Piper asks a very good question. It's so true... Heaven is "marketed" (for lack of a better word) as a place of infinite joy and happiness, but rarely is God ever mentioned in that sales pitch.

Question: Why do you think he mentioned Christ specifically instead of God the Father? Is he referring to Christ's sacrifice? Although he and the Father are one, and the Holy Spirit too, sooo... all 3 in 1 are present, right? Anyway, for some reason I've always had this picture of the Father welcoming us home, but certainly Christ is there (at his right hand, I suppose?) However, I do always say to Jamie that people who love Jesus go be with him forever when they die, so I guess I am thinking of Jesus. The Trinity gets a little mind-boggling at times when I think about it too much!

I know this comment made absolutely no sense. I'm still waking up I guess.

Dustin Harding said...

What's interesting to me is that some Nazarene churches and pastors(at least when I growed up) also marketed the negative side of this. Not everyone but I heard it enough for it to make a dent on my psyche.

If you went out and got hit by a beer truck tonight and died would you go to hell. And then the sermon listed all of the negative things about what hell is. Fire, etc.

I've come to a belief though about what I think heaven and hell are:

Heaven is everything that is lovely. Everything that is good, etc. Since God is Love, God is everything that is good. Everything that is lovely. ETC. Being in heaven is being with God because you can't have everything good without God because he is everythign good.

Hell is separation from that and separation from God.

Just my 2 cents, well maybe 1 1/2 cents I don't know if I'm up to 2 yet. :) Peace out.

rrumble said...

What a great question.

A few weeks ago a Christian men's fellowship group I frequent invited a Rabbi to come speak to us. Very interesting to learn how closely our faith traditions parallel each other. I would say almost identical but for two points: Jesus as Lord and the concept of heaven. The rabbi said they believe this life is it -- there is no heaven, no afterlife to speak of.

As Christians, I've often felt our hearts are torn between this world with its problems and the next world with its promises -- like chasing two rabbits, and catching none.

Setting aside the distraction of the reward for the work of building the kingdom is a hard task. But it is our task, and we do not labor alone. And that's the glory.

Check out what Scottish teacher and preacher Henry Drummond has to say on the topic in his essay "The City without a Church" (http://henrydrummond.wwwhubs.com/city.htm#servants)

"When John's Heaven faded from his sight, and the prophet woke to the desert waste of Patmos, did he grudge to exchange the Heaven of his dream for the common tasks around him? Was he not glad to be alive, and there? And would he not straightway go to the City, to whatever struggling multitude his prison-rock held, if so be that he might prove his dream and among them see His Face? Traveller to God's last City, be glad that you are alive. Be thankful for the City at your door and for the chance to build its walls a little nearer Heaven before you go. Pray for yet a little while to redeem the wasted years. And week by week as you go forth from worship, and day by day as you awake to face this great and needy world, learn to "seek a City" there, and in the service of its neediest citizen find Heaven."

Juliana said...

Score! Looks like you've hit on a good topic.

Anyway, now that I am a bit more coherent, I had a few more thoughts. I can't say I blame your friend or even fault him/her for having simplified Heaven. There are non-believers I know who really don't see any purpose for God in their lives. They feel like they've been getting along just fine without Him (or so they believe). There also are people I know who have a false, negative view of God as harsh and punitive and who b/c of that want nothing to do with Him. Those 2 types of people may not be persuaded that eternity with God is something worth seeking.

However, your friend's argument: "Heaven will be so great, no crying, no tears. You'll get to see your loved ones. You'll walk on streets of gold. You want that don't you?" may give a person in that situation pause and get them thinking.

I'm not sure I believe everyone comes to God at first out of complete reverence and really seeking communion and fellowship with Him, so that aspect of Heaven may not be significant to them. I know that sounds bad, but I think it's a journey to reach the point in your relationship with God where you just want to be with Him. Sometimes it's the physical and emotional comforts of Heaven that appeal to the sensibilities of non-believers more than the unbroken, eternal fellowship with our Lord - which is the ultimate source of the peace, joy and happiness people anticipate in Heaven.

urntjerry said...

Because of God's great justice and the fact that even His so-called followers don't take Him at His word and sometimes don't take his commands seriously, I think that heaven will be less populated than one might guess.
But because of God's great love, mercy and grace, I think that I'll see people in heaven and think, "Oh, you got in?!?"

jami said...

I was one of the people there, and if I was listening correctly, they were sharing how they present the gospel, not the gospel itself. Jesus spoke to the woman at the well about not thirsting anymore, because she was drawing water. It was a place to begin, a place to pique her interest in meeting the man, the good news, the truth. You are right, we put religious words on our own perspectives too often and water down what is true. You are also right in that you don't have to worry about the "Getting it Right" person's relationship with Christ. It is filling, contagious and fruitful--which means He approves of their work. That particular person probably led more people to Christ in the last year than most Christians do in a lifetime. Like the woman at the well, the people who meet Christ through them, often say, "It is not because of what you said that I believe, it is because I now know for myself, who God is."
John Piper's question is exaggerated and impossible. God is the only source of good (however that looks) and Christ is the only one capable of reconciling us to Him. But then, I bet he posed his question to pique someone's interest in exploring the truth.