Sunday, November 04, 2007

Heaven and hell in the here and now

Just an impression that has been slowly, but surely, dawning on me over the last 25 years or so. Surprising, acutally, since most people seem to go the other way as they age.

But for me, it is true. I think Christian people spend far too much energy focused on what they believe will be their reality after this life is over. You know, the eternity question or affirmation.

Funny, Jesus never talked much about the next world, except on those occasions when he had piercing words for folks who were mishandling their responsibilities in this world.

He prayed that a new way of living would arrive so that God's will would be done here and now like it is happening and will happen in heaven--the other world.

He did speak of how "the tables would be turned" on the other side, especially for the poor, the oppressed and those who have it tough in this life. But, in doing so he revealed to all who would listen just how much hell there is, again, here and now on this earth.

People are always asking me how the church can help us. Or, how can people of faith be involved in inner city renewal.

Not easy questions to answer.

Part of the reason for the difficulty, at least in my view, has to do with the theological paradigm I'm talking about here, a perspective brought to the urban context by more than a few church folks.

Some people come for tours of our work and see the healing, the training, the lifting, the construction, the liberating legal counsel and the community building--literally and in spirit--and then ask us, "This is good, but where does the ministry take place?" By that, of course, they mean the getting ready for the next world process. I'll have more to say about this in a later post.

For now, you see my point.

Maybe I don't understand, but it seems as if it's all about another world for lots of church folks. Never mind that almost 100% of our neighbors claim very lively faith experiences when they come to us. What they need is relief, hope and a pathway to better lives here and now.

I remember encountering this point of view during my years as a minister in the local church. So, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. I guess I thought that the stark conditions of so many thousands of men, women and children would somehow change worldviews, at least a bit.

Here's my simple suggestion: Let's focus on this life.

Let's try to bring the things of heaven into the experience of as many people on this earth and in this city as possible. Let's expect heaven to break out!

In the same way, let's recognize that there is enough hell here in this life to go around. Let's make sure we remind one another of this hard, brutal, daily reality that faces so many of our fellows.

Let's connect the dots on the relationship between bringing heaven to earth and driving hell away from each other and the communities that we love so much. In the process we just might find new hearts for real mission, not to mention a solution or two.



Daniel Gray said...

This is definitely something I've been struggling with and coming to terms with over the past 2-3 years. I agree that our churches focus too much on eternity. Jesus already took care of that, so I think we should be focused on the here and now of this life and actually addressing the problem of suffering. (Richard Beck's blog has definitely been influential for me on this.)

Anonymous said...

This is a fantastic, moving post. Right on.

We discussed this in a theology class -- the Kingdom of God 'here and now' or 'there and then.' There are many mysteries within our rich Christian heritage, and this is one.

Think what 'this worldly kingdom' would be like if we all did what your post says. Add God's Grace to the equation, and Eternity, however it manifests, will take care of itself.