Sunday, November 30, 2008
This post is inspired by several things: ongoing thoughts and discussions I've been having, track #3 on Brett Dennen's newest CD, A book I've begun reading to review for The Ooze, and the teaching/video from church this morning (Listen Here).
I've grown up with the idea that Eternal Life, and the cross+resurrection was the FULL motivation and message of Christ's time on earth. When immersed in Conservative evangelical thinking growing up (not picking, just an observation), it seems that the focus is, as Rob Bell puts it in a recent interview, "focusing on only the last few chapters of the story." It seems that it is easy when focused SOOOO much on the Eternal Life angle, one forgets that there is more to the story of Jesus and God that precedes the "Easter Story".
Wade Bradshaw (in the book above) promotes that Heaven is the motivation for Christian living. He's not the first to mention this. I've heard countless sermons talking about how eternal life in Heaven should make us live in a different way. However, I don't think I completely agree with that. Is the hope of Heaven supposed to be our motivation? When Christ talks about the Kingdom of God and eternal life, was he trying to use that hope to motivate people to live in a correct way? Perhaps the answer to this is both, "yes" and "no", or simply "it depends".
Here's where my thoughts have gone of late. What if we took away the cross from the story of Christ? What if we took Eternal Life off of the table all together? Would there be anything left life changing? Would there be any reason left to follow Christ or to choose to worship God?
Would Jesus still be "worth" following?
Now look at how we think...the idea that Jesus has worth or value usually comes to most of us because we believe and are grateful for what God has DONE for us. It isn't because God is God, but because God gives us ______. I think of the phrase, "God has delivered me". Sounds like some sort of package or exchange; like, "I'll worship you God in exchange of your giving of _____."
That just doesn't seem to be how it should be. See, Jews worshiped God long before Jesus and the Cross came along. They simply thought that God was WORTHY of worship. The disciples followed Christ without the promise of eternal life up front. There was something about following Christ that offered a better life in general. It's almost like he wasn't GIVING us something, rather it's as if he was unlocking the potential within us. The potential to live a better life, to build the Kingdom of God on Earth, and to better the lives of others. Heaven, whatever that is to each of us, was just icing on the cake so to speak. I don't think it was meant to be a motivator, rather a support. Hope gives us support in the hard and tough times in our lives. Yes, hope can motivate, but I'm not convinced that this was the main purpose of Heaven. I've seen many people in the hospital utilize hope, but it, more often than not, brings them peace rather than motivation. Actually following that logic, after hearing some of the stories I have heard by a hospital bedside, the hope of Heaven as a motivator would not encourage them to cling to life or to fight in order to keep living. Although it can motivate, I don't think that it is the reason for hope. Heaven and eternal life is NOT the primary motivator, rather, wanting to live a life of contentment, purpose, and calling should be.
I think that's one reason that I talk to many evangelicals who could care less about ending world poverty, fighting diseases like AIDS, and taking care of the environment. When you think that the point of Christ/God's message is the cross, heaven, and the return of Christ to, "make a new heaven and a new earth," then why worry about those passing issues. The focus of life for so many who obsess on the "last couple of chapters" is DEATH! Death to get to the afterlife and "converting" others to think this same way is the way to live life? That just seems a little off compared to the full story of God and Christ.
If Christ came to give life and hope...then perhaps we should not be focusing so much on the afterlife, but the path in front of us that journeys through the present life.
(photo, "Road to heaven" by john @ lightproofbox)