On Sunday evenings, after the kids have gone to bed, Kristen and I watch Sister Wives. In case you don’t know, Sister Wives is a reality show based on the lives of a polygamist family living in Las Vegas. Something about watching one man juggle relationships with four different women as they raise seventeen children together makes my life seem so much more manageable. In a recent episode, the family (all 22 of them) is writing a family mission statement. Which makes sense because their family is the size of a small company. At one point during the conversation, Cody Brown, the man of the house(s), says, “We need to include something about going to heaven when we die. Isn’t that the goal of every Christian life?”
Raise your hand if you have ever heard someone say that. Raise your hand if YOU have ever said something like that. It’s a common sentiment shared by a lot of Christians: Why did Jesus die on the cross? So we could have eternal life in heaven. That’s the point isn’t it? I am not so sure.
While there is an element of truth in saying that our faith is about going to heaven when we die, we begin to miss the point when we start describing what heaven will be like:
“The streets are paved with gold.”
“There’s a mansion in the clouds.”
“The weather will always be perfect.”
Just listen to words of this classic spiritual:
When it comes to our descriptions of heaven, we can be pretty materialistic. We may not get to live like Bill Gates now, but don’t worry – God will take care of that in the sweet by and by. It’s as if we assume that’s the whole purpose of God’s eternal plan was to make us comfortable, to indulge us, to spoil us rotten.
And when we only talk about heaven as the awesome reward at the end of our life it changes the way you practice your faith today on earth. Have you ever had someone ask you: “If the whole point of Christianity is to go to heaven when you die, then what’s the point of life now?” That’s a really good question and we shouldn’t dismiss it. Because for some of us, it seems like the time after our baptism and before our death is just dead-space. Christianity becomes just a waiting game. We bide our time until the day we die. We are saved… what now?
That’s why we have got to change the way we talk about heaven.
Because Heaven isn’t the point.
God is your reward.
God is the purpose of your life.
God is the reason God saves you.
Augustine, a 4th/5th century Christian, once explained it this way: Everything around us, all the material stuff in the world is meant to be used and only God is meant to be enjoyed. But our problem is that we want to enjoy all the material stuff and use God. That’s what is wrong with making heaven all about a mansion, robe, and crown. That really just makes us a bunch of gold-diggers, using God to get fancy things. But heaven will be amazing, not because we get so much amazing stuff, but because we will enjoy full union with God – we will be with Him.
And that’s what we are meant to be doing here on earth. The time between our baptism and our death is not dead-space, it is time to enjoy God. It is time to get a taste of heaven as we walk with God day by day. It’s time for deepening relationship. It’s time for showing others what it’s like to live a life in which you fulfill the fundamental purpose of your existence: to be with God.
So I want to conclude with two parables. The first I wrote, the second I borrowed from Peter Rollins. And each comes with a question.
There was once a woman who dreamed of having a fairy-tale life. She wanted to find prince charming, have him whisk her away, and live happily ever after. Luckily for her, she found him in college. He was a brilliant and handsome young man double majoring in business and computer science. They were married during their senior year and they began a charmed life together. With his 4.0 GPA and impressive internship experiences he easily found a job in the research department of a top technology firm. Not long into this job, he invented a new “app” for smartphones that sold by the millions on itunes. With this huge success, he retired from his job, bought a 20 million dollar home in Colorado, and spent his days mountain climbing in the rockies. His wife, of course, was so proud of him. And she loved their new home and life together. She had everything she had ever dreamed of: big screen TVs, a BMW, she even had her own entire wing in the new house that included an indoor spa. People envied her. But she hardly saw her husband. He was gone a lot climbing mountains and when he was home, their house was so big she hardly saw him. Now that all of her dreams had come true, she lived alone in their opulent mansion.
There was another woman who dreamed of having a fairy-tale life. She wanted to find prince charming, have him whisk her away, and live happily ever after. Unluckily for her, she did not find him in college. In fact, she didn’t find him in her twenties at all. Or her thirties. Or her forties. Or her fifties. She spent half of her life as a spinster. She held down a variety of odd jobs, here and there, always waiting for the day that she would meet someone to spend the rest of her life with. And one day she did. He was a retired school teacher – though he was forced to retire early because of budget cuts. He made a little extra tutoring kids on the side but he lived in a run-down shack on the outskirts of town. He tended a garden to have enough food and he would repair bits of the house on months that he had enough money. He was a good man, and she fell in love with him. And so they were married and she spent the rest of her days in a shack – tending a garden, repairing bits of the house, and drinking lemonade on the front porch with her husband.
Which sounds more like heaven to you?
You sit in silence contemplating what has just taken place. Only moments ago you were alive and well, relaxing at home with friends. Then there was a deep, crushing pain in your chest that brought you crashing to the floor. The pain has now gone, but you are no longer in your home. Instead, you find yourself standing on the other side of death waiting to stand before the judgment seat and discover where you will spend eternity. As you reflect upon your life your name is called, and you are led down a long corridor into a majestic sanctuary with a throne located in its center. Sitting on this throne is a huge, breathtaking being who looks up at you and begins to speak.
“My name is Lucifer, and I am the angel of light.”
You are immediately filled with fear and trembling as you realize that you are face to face with the enemy of all that is true and good. Then the angel continues: “I have cast God down from his throne and banished Christ to the realm of eternal death. It is I who hold the keys to the kingdom. It is I who am the gatekeeper of paradise, and it is for me alone to decide who shall enter eternal joy and who shall be forsaken.”
After saying these words, he sits up and stretches out his vast arms. “In my right hand I hold eternal life and in my left hand eternal death. Those who would bow down and acknowledge me as their god shall pass through the gates of paradise and experience an eternity of bliss, but all those who refuse will be vanquished to the second death with their Christ.”
After a long pause he bends toward you and speaks, “Which will you choose?”