Sunday, 14 July 2013

We aren't made for heaven

I don't hold much to any sense of a disembodied afterlife. There doesn't seem to be overwhelming evidence in the bible for a heavenly afterlife, at least. If anything, the bible holds views either of nothingness or resurrection, depending on which books one reads in the bible.

Salvation isn't about pie in the sky when you die. It's not about escaping hell with a kind of "Get out of jail free" card. Salvation is for the here and now. Salvation is for this world, to transform this world and its people. Jesus had a message for his contemporaries, about a divine way to live, about the interruption of God into the world. He preached that the Day of the Lord had arrived, and with it the justice of God for all people.
"It is not with the beyond that we are concerned, but with this world as created and preserved, subjected to laws, reconciled, and restored. What is above this world is, in the gospel, intended to exist for this world; I mean that, not in the anthropocentric sense of liberal, mystic pietistic ethical theology, but in the biblical sense of the creation and of the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Christ." - Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison
Bonhoeffer's words remind us of Jesus' saying that the sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath. Heaven was made for us, not us for heaven. God's reality is made to come here, to be manifest here. That's the first target for salvation. The good news is that God wants to do something about this world here and now by bringing heaven to us.

A careful reading of the gospels shows us that Jesus preached almost entirely about the arrival of the kingdom on earth, and about how we should live. Even in his sayings about Gehenna and Abraham's Bosom and Paradise he brings it back to contemporary life, the life lived by us here and now.

Let me be clear. The kingdom of God is meant for this world now, not left for an unknown time or a disembodied place.

Furthermore, we are called to make it happen, not through the powers of this world, but through obedience to Jesus. In the shameful parts of church history we have tried to make it happen at the point of a sword, as though we were entitled to bring the judgement of God. And when we did that we were undoing all the good that Jesus had done. Our strategy is not the sword, it is obedience to Jesus. Imagine a world in which we all loved as Jesus loved. Imagine a world in which we all served each other, shared with each other, worked hard for the benefit of each other, loved each other. A whole world like that? That's the kingdom of God; the kingdom brought about by our obedience to Jesus' command to love.

In a world like that, the rich are set free from enslavement to wealth, the poor are set free from destitution. In a world like that, the perpetrators are set free from committing sin, the victims are spared the sting of sin.

It sounds too good to be true, like a dream of a delusional person. It sounds like hippy tree-hugging nonsense. Who would ever listen to a message like that? Worse still, who is the madman who would preach it?

Jesus preached a message so difficult that many could not accept it and they left him. But in his message is God's answer to the problems of this world. For us now we need to decide whether Jesus was the Christ, sent to preach the divine truth. Once we answer that, we know whether to take him seriously enough to obey him.

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