I had a great conversation this summer with my friend and seminary colleage Sally... and then now with Jason posting about heaven and hell and Julia's inquiry as to what i think about the here-after, i figured i'd post a kinda-comprehensive view of the afterlife. This of course is going off the assumption that there is an afterlife and also through the Christian-lens. So here it goes.
largely, we have no idea what happens on the other side. i see the scriptures as mainly pretaining to the here and now and the work of bring about God's kin-dom to earth. but this leads to the idea that there is a kin-dom already in existence and it must be brought here.
there is an intense dualism here, as Jay pointed out, that if there is a kin-dom of heaven, there must also be an opposite. some believe that there is a hell and satan who is fighting to bring that to earth, while others think that we're already in hell. i don't think so. i think we're in creation, we have a great deal of free will and we screw up a lot yet learn from it. for me the world is getting better, not worse. as we learn, we do better. but what about those who don't? what if you die and get there and see God face to face and are forgiven? prodical son remember? it's not about book keeping it's about forgiveness and uncomprehensible grace. like the parable of the workers in Matt 20:1-16. those who have been working longer are paid the same as those who showed up in the last five minutes. grace isn't fair. and if we are free to choose God in this life, it stands to reason that we're free to choose or deny in the next.
John 3:16-21 talks about how Jesus doesn't condemn the world but save it... so if you have to be a Christian to do this then mathmatically, Jesus condemned the world because there are more nonChristians in the world than Christians, and more dead nonChristians than Christians (sometimes at the hands of Christians, but that's another story). unless "those who love the light" can be ppl who follow God under a different name.. because since Jesus is God and if one would worship God, then you believe in Christ byproxy because of the Three-in-one deal we have going on. so everyone gets in... but not everyone will choose it. Hell for me, would be those who can't accept, even after meeting God face-to-face, that they are loved.
it was by reading the scriptures that i got to this point... it was what made me break from my Catholic upbringing. because if it's all about "Believing" then what? which way is right, protestant or catholic? and then which one of those? what if the Unitarians are right and there is just one God and Jesus ain't it like we think (i.e. no Trinity?). i was told my mom was going to hell by my priest during mass.. i walked out. later, i was told that all protestants were going to hell because they aren't "right". and when you visit the catholic church, you have to not only be a Catholic, but a PRACTICING one to take communion. this is anti-inclusion to the extreme. the liturgy of the RC church is the most unwelcoming to visitors precisely because they think they have it and don't need to be of service. however, they miss something.... all of this "right and wrong" has everything to do with RELIGION and NOTHING to do with Christ. who is Christ's brothers and sisters? those who do the will of his Father! (Matt 12:50). and that is to love their neighbor and God with heart mind and strength. plus Jesus never asked the sinners, prostitutes, adulterers, or lepers to first believe in him before he healed them. he just did.
as Robert Capon states: "Christianity is not a religion. Christianity is the proclamation of the end of religion, not of a new religion, or even of the best of all religions. ...If the cross is the sign of anything, it's the sign that God has gone out of the religion business and solved all of the world's problems without requiring a single human being to do a single religious thing. What the cross is actually a sign of is the fact that religion can't do a thing about the world's problems - that it never did work and it never will."
2 Corinthians 5:21. "He made him who knew no sin to become sin for our sakes. . . ." The job is done. The church doesn't preach that, though. It's always saying the job is done; but then it insists you have to cooperate with that job before it will be done for you. Wrong! It is done for you. It has been done for you. It's all done for you. Trust it. i seems to me that we're too hung up on trying to get ppl to fear hell to become Christian. this is the wrong step! it is the joy of being Christian that inspires conversion, not the fear of hell yet every preacher i hear seems to be SOOOO hung up on hell and salvation, describing the levels of hell in great detail "as if they spent several years in that commonwealth" (Erasmus). Jesus gave no systematic or geographical map of hell. so forget what you know about this as this is not the Good News. i was too hung up on this issue of damnation and think i drove too many from the faith when i was younger.. now i understand the WAY.. namely Christ. How did Jesus act? what did he do? did he run around saying "you're all gonna burn?" NO! There are some harsh words, but they are directed at those who think they have a handle on who is in and who is out.
When Jesus told his parables to the people, his disciples asked, why do you talk to them in riddles? And his answer was: "So they won't catch on. Because anything they could catch on to would be the wrong thing. As Isaiah said, seeing they don't see and hearing they don't hear, neither do they understand [Matthew 13:10-17]. That's why I talk to them like this: because I don't want them to have little lights go on in their heads. I want to put out all the lights they've got, so that in the darkness they can listen to me"
the parables basically give us is stuff we can't stand to hear. Take the Lost Sheep. What we want to hear is that the lost have to find themselves first and then come back to God. Wrong. All you've got to be is lost. Not fancily lost. Not ethically lost. Just plain lost. Likewise, all you've got to do to be raised from the dead is to be dead. Not uprightly dead or piously dead. Just dead.
so does this make me a pluralist? kinda. i see God at work in others.. like my brothers and sisters that are agnostic, atheist, Buddhist, Muslim, and Jewish. these ppl live the gospel whether they know it or not. i think Christ would have a lot to talk about with these people as well saying "i totally get that.. did you happen to read this passage? that's what i was talking about and you embody that!" to some extent it is "Christ by any other name..." but it's not an empty pluralism. there are unique things to each tradition, each philosophy has something i can affirm. however, i firmly believe that God as revealed through Christ (note: NOT Paul) loves and calls all ppl to Godself and heaven will simply be a matter of "i can't believe you love me God, but i tried to follow as best i knew how and what made sense in my context.... i accept your grace and forgiveness, please accept and forgive my disbelief and sins."
when you read the teachings of Buddha or Mohammed, you'll see how different their ethics and goals are. there are similarities, like Buddha's nonattachment is similar to Jesus' and Mohammed is all about submission to God's will, much like Jesus too. however, the end results aren't the same. Jesus wants to create heaven on earth and justice for all (esp. the poor, outcast, widowed, orphaned, etc) where as Mohammed seems more like a centralized Theocratic dictatorship (with him at the head as VOICE of Allah) and Buddha's ethic of service seems selfish as it's only about self-enlightenment. nirvana is nice, but i prefer heaven. Buddha is atheist, i believe that all of existence came from the Source, i.e. God. Jesus was Jewish, but we are a branch grafted onto that tree (Romans), but not entirely the same, plus the resulting years of oppression and persecution hasn't helped Judeo-Christian relations... but i firmly believe that there is a ton we can learn from our brothers and sisters... we do not supercede them, we have a different take on the TaNaK plus an appendix they don't have. we also don't have the midrash, Talmud, and many other traditions and cultures so vital to the Jewish faith. we Christians can learn a ton! anywho, i feel that all religious that are honestly followed and that are generous hearted are on the right track and are a great good to the world. the wrong-hearted religions have ppl blowing themselves up, starting wars, and calling others names, and that's not the type of religion, regardless of the name, that i'll support. intolerance will not be tolerated.
so what does this mean for Christians here and now? namely to serve some more! we are called to make disciples out of all nations, and we've done that. if you count up the scriptures though, we are to serve and forgive, and to serve.. not for conversion's sake... if we preach the Good News and it's not accepted, "we knock the dust from our sandles and move on" (Luke 9:5) without promising condemnation or judgment. i'm not friends with ppl from other religions to convert them, that is a dishonest friendship, a house built on sand.
Grace is grace, it has happened, all are forgiven. all things are being made new! this is cause for celebration! not war, injustice, and damnation (as those wouldn't be Good News). i hope the church can awaken to this idea, repent of their sins against other religions and against the Gospel, and bring a new era of "Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven."
blah blah blah! ;-) there is more to say... but i'm interested in what you think. let me know!