Monday, January 24, 2005

Oh you’ll never get to heaven… in a ping pong ball!

It is a curious thing when you’ve been thinking about blogging on a particular topic but weren’t sure whether you should or not that you get a comment which asks you a question about that EXACT thing!

Someone in Australia has been reading my blog and says they would like to know how to get to heaven.

I’m a little bit shocked that out of all the things on the internet, my blog should be the place that this person should ask this rather important question.

I’d recommend a basic introduction to Christianity like that on the Church of England website or the answers to common questions about Christianity on the Taizé site and also I’d suggest to anyone that they go along to their local church and ask the minister or find a seekers course like Emmaus or Alpha.

However, on this particular subject I do have something I was going to say so you’re gonna get it!

My Roman Catholic friend Ben and I were discussing heaven over MSN just the other day. It wasn’t so much about what we thought heaven was but about what the process is. Fair to say, the issue of WHO gets to heaven is one of the hottest topics in theology.


How do you get to heaven? Ben’s answer was simple and short (at first!):


Ok but what does that me. Well here's my explanation:

We get to heaven because God loves all of us and sent Jesus to earth in the most fragile form of human being, a baby to grow up and life a life without sin so that, being sinless and offering himself in sacrifice he would make the ultimate sacrifice for humanity.

(Exactly what that sacrifice meant, whether it was a question of Jesus putting himself in our place for the punishment of our sins or if it was a sacrificial gesture and sign of God’s love is another WHOLE debate which we didn’t get into!)

Instead Ben and I talked about whether there was any kind of process after our death, a purgatory (to give it the old fashioned name) and both agreed that we thought there was.

One of us said “every time we sin, we damage our soul, purgatory is the purification through God's love”

The other’s view was “when we come into God's presence our hearts and souls acknowledge their need for purging”

Shockingly in agreement for once!

For me, this comes from my whole (hopefully not heretical!) idea that the afterlife is a coming into the presence of God. For a very few who have addressed themselves to living a truly sacrificial life of devotion, the presence of God will instantly feel like heaven. For others coming into the presence of God will feel like hell because they will confront some difficult times in their life and for others this will be a process of reconciliation. We have all done things in our life that we’re not proud of and even those of us who try to live a Christian life go wrong sometimes, so for most people, meeting God will be a time of reflection, regret and reconciliation.

So why not a traditional hell for SINNERS? Well we are all sinners some more than others but none of us is perfect. More to the point I believe in an all-loving God and no all-loving God could exclude any of the beloved from eternal life.

Fascinatingly though, Ben and I managed to agree not only on Purgatory but also on the level of its importance for us right now. Whether we get to heaven is not THE all important thing. It is not a matter of SAVING people so that they get to heaven. No, for each of us, our Christian journey is about shining the light of God’s love and showing people how they ought to live.

It is far better to win disciples for God than to convert people solely for the sake of salvation. It is far better to build God’s kingdom on earth than to offer the kingdom as a kind of prize at the end of life. The world would be a better place if people lived according to the Christian ethos of loving God and neighbour.

So to my comment giver…

You get to heaven by being you because God loves you. The more important question is….

What are you going to do before that?


Anonymous said...

Actually, I'd say that the whole question of heaven is a hot theological topic, and one that has been debated for 2000 years!

Another point to ponder, when is heaven? Don't we have rather a contradiction in what we say sometimes?

The creeds talk about resurrection - "We look for the resurrection of the dead", "I believe in the resurrection of the body", "He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end." Paul talks about the same ideas in 1 Corinthians. All of those seem to say that we die, and are dead until in the future Jesus comes, and we are raised and judged together.

However we often talk about people having immediately gone to heaven, "they are in a better place", with people saying how someone who has died, and is now with Jesus and a host of loved ones in heaven, so and so will always be with you. That seems at odds with the ideas expressed in the Creeds.


Deek Deekster said...

the kingdom of heaven is within you

said Jesus