Thanks to the wonderful world of social media, I am almost constantly reminded of my need for Jesus, but not in an encouraging method, but one of the most detrimental methods of evangelism.
You’ve probably seen the videos of an interviewer talking with random people on the street and asking them a series of strategic questions.
Interviewer: Do you think you’re a good person?
Person A: Yes. I think I am.
Interviewer: Do you think you’ll go to heaven or hell when you die?
What follows this question is a variety of answers hitting all ends of the spectrum because let’s face it, that makes for good video. Some say “yes”. Some “no”. Others appear to be in distress and admit they “don’t know” or that “it depends on whether or not they repent from a certain sin”. In one particular video the man stated that he probably wouldn’t go to heaven unless he repented his homosexuality. What followed was troubling.
Post answer, the interviewer proceeds to try and convert the interviewee into believing as he does by saying a few simple words and “believing”. And ABRACADABRA! POOF! The once heathen of society is now a card carrying member of the Christian faith. All is well brother.
I’m less concerned with the answers from the Interviewee than I am the reasoning for the questions from the Interviewer that spurred this “conversion”.
Let’s assume someone begins to believe in the Jesus being presented here. From the beginning of this person’s faith, Jesus, or God, is the one who either loves them or punishes them; there is no in between. The root of this faith is heaven or hell.
What kind of faith is this? No matter how much our YouTube evangelist would like to present it, Jesus isn’t loving in this situation. The evangelist would say Jesus is loving but you have to invite Jesus into your heart to be in the fold. To pull from a friend – This idea of inviting “Jesus into our heart” is a misunderstanding of salvation.
The foundation of faith being poured in the evangelistic video is focused on where someone is going. When a person’s primary focus is on the afterlife, the way they live is based off of such a foundation. Every facet of your beleief system has to be built upon the idea that getting to heaven is the supreme importance. How can we put the afterlife as the supreme importance when the concept itself is speculation at best.
The afterlife, whether you believe in heaven and hell or in nothing, is something that no one knows about. Well I say no one, every person who has died knows, but they aren’t signing any book deals from beyond the grave. No one knows what happens when you die. We can speculate by reading scripture, or studying the interpretation of other philosophers, thinkers, writers, and theologians. Or we can choose to believe that a 10 year old kid dies and is “shown what heaven looks like”. Have you ever notice these stories of people that visit heaven are a visual description of the cultural ideas of heaven already present. I would have an easier time believing someone who said they died and were shown heaven if heaven didn’t look like a children’s sunday school lesson or the cultural norm.
When we are more concerned about the after life we have a faith that is built upon our selfishness. We start our faith with the concern for ourselves and where we’re going rather than others. When we finally do become concerned with our family, friends and the world, it’s all based on where they will end up.
I would like to argue that our faith would be better off if it was built upon the foundation of love, mercy, grace, humility and the idea of bringing restoration to the world here and now. If you believe in Christ and the redeeming powers of love, it is this that should be the focus. Forget about what’s to come in the afterlife. The heart of the matter is being and bringing Shalom to the present.
The intent isn’t to simply love the world and serve others because it will convert them eventually to Christianity so they can “go to heaven”.
The intent is to put others before yourself.
The intent of our heart should be concerned with the present moment because it is all we have. We are guaranteed nothing – not tomorrow, not next year, not our next breath. Whether the world ends tomorrow through nuclear war or Divine intercession, should not be our concern. Our concern is the hearts of humanity. Our concern is loving our enemy in such a way that we are the manifestation of the Divine. Losing the rhetoric is one of the first steps.
For many Christians we need to jack hammer the old “where do you go when you die” foundation and begin to pour a new slab. The foundation on which we stand can’t be one of religious rhetoric. It must be one of love and grace. There is more power in being in awe and wonder of the mystery of this life and the Divine rather than believing you know the correct way for everyone to live or the proper method of salvation.
Isn’t it more logical that our concern should be less of where we get to escape to and more of what the state of the world is here and now for the purpose of restoration?
For those that are incredibly concerned with going to heaven, as well as those you deem to be considered lost and going to hell, doesn’t it make more sense to live for the here and now that you can experience rather than the speculation of what’s to come?
We can feel the presence of the Divine here and now. The more you tap into the ancient writings, prayer, meditation, and living a life of altruism, the more you begin to see the world differently. To see injustice and feel the brokenness of the situation is the presence of the Divine. The desire to help relieve the suffering of another person isn’t instinctively done because of where they are going to end up after their final breath. It is done because to allow it to go on any further would be unloving. Your gut tells you, “This injustice isn’t right. Something needs to change.”
When someone goes to help bring someone out of an injustice, out of suffering, for the purpose of converting them to Christianity so they may go to heaven, I believe is a misguided attempt to show them Jesus. There are good intentions but the underlying agenda is what corrupts the message.
If our concern is going to heaven and getting as many others to heaven as possible before we die, we’ve missed the boat.
Christ told parable after parable of the Kingdom of Heaven. It wasn’t an emphasis on somewhere in the distant future post apocalyptic world. The parables related to things around them there and then. The parables were told to help the people understand that the Kingdom of Heaven had been misrepresented.
As a man who identifies as a Christian who has days as a good atheist, the after life cannot be a concern. In my spiritual brain, placing the afterlife as a primary driving force of faith is a slap in the face to the God that wants to bring redemption to people now.