Tuesday, July 12, 2011
So, you have heaven and hell.
You have eternity, eternal life, the kingdom of God, whatever those include or don't include.
You have this life, and the next, and somehow they're bound up together in a way that makes it impossible to separate one from the other.
You have salvation, through Jesus, however that works, however the mysterious mechanism operates, but it's available.
You have faith, belief, works, actions, lifestyle, repentance, and a myriad of ways in which different people will tell you salvation is gained.
But ultimately, it comes down to Jesus, and a question that isn't asked in Love Wins but that is raised by it nonetheless:
Without all this afterlife stuff, without the question of how hell works, who goes there and for how long, what heaven looks like, what the Greek word for eternal means...
Is Jesus still worth following?
Because you also have this life, and somehow all those questions about that life, later, have serious implications for this life, here, now.
One point our Life Group kept returning to throughout our discussion on Love Wins (we've talked through the first five chapters so far), is the question: what does all of this mean for how I live now?
Am I living in heaven now, or hell now? Which one am I embracing, when I make certain decisions in my life? When I choose to spend my money there, pass my time with them, treat him in that way, speak to her in this manner? Because heaven and hell are real, they are present, and we embrace each of them sometimes, based on our decisions about how to live.
When it comes down to it, we might continue to disagree on how heaven and hell and salvation work and how we interpret what the Bible has to say about all that. But throughout our group discussions we all agreed on one thing: a desire to follow Jesus, in this life, now. Because regardless of just how things are going to go down later, we find the Way of Jesus too compelling, too beautiful, too real to resist joining now. We see a kind of life that we desperately want, a life that isn't available apart from the kind of life Jesus lived and offered, a life that, when embraced, starts to make our arguments about theology seem petty and arrogant and far less important than embodying our true beliefs in the way we live.
Because when it comes down to it, what we do is what we believe, isn't it?
I can claim to hold certain theological viewpoints all I want but if I live a different way, it's all too clear what my real beliefs are.
Pastor Shane Hipps brought up the question of orthodoxy (literally defined as "right belief") in a recent message. We in the church are very concerned with orthodoxy, with making sure we hold "right beliefs", with convincing others that the way we understand the Bible is the correct way, the orthodox way, so that we won't be labeled "heterodox" because "heterodox" is not many steps away from "heretical" and God forbid we be associated with heretics. (Gold star if you can name one infamous heretic from the New Testament. Hint: he got paid to carve stuff.)
Hipps asked the question: what about orthopraxy?
When was the last time you heard that word used in church?
What about "right practice"?
Because in the early church, in the minds of those Jews-turned-"little Christs," the idea of separating one's "orthodoxy" from one's "orthopraxy" would have been completely foreign.
So there's Larry, and he believes that the opportunity for salvation from hell ends at death, that the choice you make in this life determines where you spend eternity, in heaven with God or in hell without him.
And there's Sandra, and she believes that there will be post-death chances for people to choose God, but that it's not likely that they will if they didn't already.
And there's Dave, who believes that "eternal punishment" will be a time of correction focused on the quality of an experience that is outside of time, whose purpose will be to bring to God those who had previously rejected him. He believes that eventually, no one will be able to resist God's love, that given forever, everyone will make the right choice, of their own free will.
And there's Christy, who believes that eternal means everlasting, that all whose names aren't found written in the Book of Life will be thrown into the lake of fire, that God gives us a choice, leaves it up to us, that if we want hell we can have it, because he won't force anyone to choose him, and that hell will literally never end for those who choose it.
And all of these people find scriptural support for their viewpoint, which hints at the fact that maybe it isn't as clear cut in the Bible as we'd like to believe.
But maybe more important than figuring out who is right, who holds the most orthodox set of mental beliefs, is a question of where orthodoxy meets orthopraxy. How do Matt, and Sandra, and Dave, and Christy reconcile their beliefs with their lifestyle? How does what Matt thinks affect how he shows people what Jesus is like? How does Sandra embody the life Jesus offers in light of the fact that she believes death doesn't have the final say? How does Dave bring the kingdom of heaven to earth in order to show people that they want what God has to offer, that this love is too good to pass up? How does Christy work to replace the hells on earth with heaven, to show people what the difference is, to convince them that there is only one way to Life?
All of which leads to one central question, that we all answer, one way or another, through our actions and our lives, whether we're trying to or not, whether or not we know we're answering it.
What does it look like for love to win?