When religious people, particularly Christians for the sake of this reflection, talk about eternity they often think in terms of an afterlife. Either one will die and go to heaven, some sort of eternal bliss/reward or one will be off to hell. Hell is a much debated place; either it is a place of eternal conscious torment or it is a place, much like a trash incinerator, where one is burned up or destroyed. Some would argue that there is no such place at all and that any such afterlife experience would be more like a purgatory where one is purged of sin and evil and therefore brought to a place where they might finally be reconciled to God. This is one possible way that people argue for what is known as universal reconciliation.
While I enjoy all such debates and am fascinated by watching folks try to make sense out of what we find in scripture, I also don't care that much about the afterlife. It isn't that I um unconcerned with our ultimate questions, I am ultimately concerned. My life is in the grip of ultimate questions. But whether we are discussing heaven or hell, inasmuch as we mean after death, I cannot help but wonder, who cares? Life on this side of the grave is hard enough to figure out. This reality in which we live, with all of the inequality, violence, and poverty, is itself unacceptable. It is a living hell for so many. All people live with an overwhelming sense of isolation, meaninglessness, shoulder the weight of freedom & responsibility, and know that they will die. On top of that many of those people live lives of excruciating poverty and overwhelming oppression. If the good news of the gospel is good news for the poor then it is, as Jesus described in Luke 4, to be news of freedom for the captives.
Why is the threat of hell necessary or relevant? Seriously. Isn't news of God's love for us enough? Isn't it compelling enough that God, the one who created all things, loves us and desires to have an intimate relationship with us? Isn't it amazing that there is both forgiveness and healing for our brokenness as well as liberation from all captivity? Is it really necessary to threaten people with eternal conscious torment to make your gospel good news? really? Isn't it already good news that there just might be a way out of this hell?
I could go on and on about this idea of hell but the idea of going to heaven when I die isn't of much relevance to me anymore either. Now, there may or may not be a reality of life after death and the point of this post isn't to make a case for either position. The case I would like to make is that it doesn't matter. There is all kinds of language in scripture that points to a heavenly reality but rather than informing our dreams about where we will go when we die they are meant to inform our dreams about the reality we are calling into existence here and now. Jesus spoke a lot about the Kingdom of Heaven and he also taught His people to make that dream a reality on earth. When he taught them to pray he told them to ask God, their father, to make heaven a reality on earth, "May your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." I wanna see Heaven now, here, before I die. I wanna see it bad enough that I am ready to die for it. I don't need to to be promised life after this life to make it worth dying for and I damn sure don't need threatened with damnation. People are pointing to life after death when the real question that most of us have is "Is there life before death?"
Heaven, as far as I can tell from scripture, is a place of justice, equality, fairness, love, healing, abundance, multi-ethnicity, truth, forgiveness, hospitality, generosity, sharing, giving, joy, peace, etc. It is a place where tears are wiped away and war is a thing of the past. It is a place where we all stand in overwhelming awe at the unending revelation of the goodness and love of god. It is exactly what you would call GOOD NEWS!!! Also the kingdom in in your midst. It is here and it is coming and you are invited to co-labor with God in building it.
Jesus said “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.” Yeast is a culture as is the kingdom. It is growing, permeating, expanding and working it's way through the whole. Also it is transforming, yeast turns dough to bread, water to beer, grapes to wine and milk to yogurt. The kingdom transforms hell on earth into heaven.
Oh and while I don't think life after death is relevant or necessary to make any of that compelling, maybe, just maybe you get to be resurrected and share in the fruits of this revolution forever.
That would be cool too.