oh i have been to heaven.
In church on Sunday, my pastor preached from Revelation.
When I was little, it was a sermon on the end times that made me have the whole "come to Jesus" time that most children of Christian homes experience. I remember asking Dad if jesus would come back to the USA, too - despite not knowing much about Jesus, I knew that he had lived in a foreign land.
When I was in middle school (and I'm not ashamed to admit this), I read the whole of the Left Behind series, and temporarily became a dispensationalist. I was also terrified that I'd get "left behind," so I probably recommitted my life to the Lord about once a week to make sure everything was okay and I'd still get to go to heaven.
When I got to college and learned about the various eschatological theories in my theology classes, I didn't know what to make of them. The brief discussions of Revelation didn't seem to make much sense to me, and the book has remained an incomprehensible and impenetrable mess of metaphor to me.
The American Church's relationship with Revelation is much the same way. If pressed, a lot of evangelicals would probably espouse a literalist belief in Revelation, not dissimilar to that espoused by LaHaye and Jenkins in their popular series. As a Church, we tend to be heaven-focused, waiting for that end time when Christ will come back and everything will be restored.
My pastor pointed out, however, that this focus can be disastrous. Sure, having a heaven-focused mentality reminds one that this world is finite, that the problems we have day in and day out will pale in comparison to the joy that we'll experience in the future. That can be emotionally reassuring, and faith building.
However, when our focus becomes solely the afterlife, we forget that life here really matters too. A saying that is repeated but never truly understood is that "eternal life starts now." What that really means is that what you do in this life, here on earth, actually matters. Heaven, as far as we know, is pretty far off, but we can begin to work the kingdom of God here, now, on Earth, rather than just blissfully staring forth into the clouds waiting for Jesus' return.
When the desire of heaven begins to trump our life on Earth, we have a backwards faith. Part of the beauty of being a Christian is being restored in right relationship to God, and to our fellow humans. And that second part means working against injustices, it means righting things that God despises, it means being his kingdom here on earth. Even as we pray, "Your will be done, your kingdom come," we are bringing the kingdom of heaven back down to earth and applying God's restoration plan.
The particular example that my pastor pointed out - one that is appropriate for the South - is the idea of racial injustices. The passage he was preaching from was Revelation 7:9-12. In that passage, John, the author, discusses his vision of people of every tribe, nation and tongue coming together to praise the Lord.
Let me repeat: EVERY tribe. EVERY nation. EVERY tongue.
God's kingdom is not just open to white American evangelicals, though to hear some talk, you might think that. God's kingdom and grace is available to all of us.
That is truly a beautiful picture. When we arrive at heaven, there will be Indians and Pakistanis, Palestinians and Israelis, German and French people, North and South Koreans, Irishmen and women, Scots, Englishmen and women, Canadians, Americans, Venezuelans, Cubans, Mexicans, Chinese, Japanese. People from all over the globe will be represented in a cacophony of praises! What a glorious picture!
Not so much if you don't believe that any of those other races are as privileged as the white race. Or otherwise. It won't be so fun then if you harbor a belief that some humans are somehow less than you.
This extends beyond mere racism. This picture of heaven covers all injustices - I believe that I will come face to face with the child who made my clothes, and picked my coffee. I believe that the warmongers will come face to face with the women and children damaged by violence. I believe that the Church will get see all the people hurt, abused, and damaged by good theology spoken poorly.
But I believe also in restoration. This picture of heaven is a happy one - everything restored to its right order, grace abounding and mercy renewed. This glimpse gives us some hope that God's justice will be wrought.
So, what, then, is our call for justice here on earth? Our job as Christians, dictated to us by the Lord's Prayer that Jesus gives us, tells us to pray for "[God's] Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven." If eternal life starts now, immediately, then our call is one to justice. If we are called to pray for God's kingdom now, immediately and in immeasurable power, then we are called to work in God's restoration. Prayer is not an inactive process - by praying thus, we are contracting with God to live in accordance with his restoration plan, to let Him work in our lives, and to restore his justice to the world, not sit back and wait for it to happen.
If we truly desire heaven, we must participate in the restoration of God's kingdom on earth.
If we truly want grace, mercy and justice, we must work in God's name to restore his justice to the earth.
If we truly look forward to time with the Church, we'd better start learning how to live in community now.
There's a great new song by the David Crowder Band that's been lifting my spirit lately. It's called "Oh Happiness!" and while I normally cringe at any implication that faith = happiness, I have to recognize the vision within this particular song. The repeated line is "Oh happiness! There's grace enough for us and the whole human race."
That is truly a fantastic thought.
A restoration that will be enough.
Even as we fight injustice, even as we get frustrated at the lack of movement, even as we experience new travesties everyday - in the form of racist laws, people ignoring the hurting, and ethnic cleansing and violence - we can still rejoice that there is grace enough, there is love enough, there is mercy enough for the whole human race.
And we are instruments of that grace.
Do you believe that today?
Posted by Dianna at 5:22 PM