Monday, May 23, 2011

Still here? (or, "recalculating..." )

(not ONLY about marriage, but intrinsically tied to the ideals, so it fits)

Said Keith Bauer, truck driver and May 21st rapture believer, "I was hoping for it, because I think heaven would be a lot better than this earth."

I'm making this guy, for the purpose of this blog entry, the poster child for how Christians these days seem to be completely missing the point. There's a whole lot of people out there (Christians and otherwise) who seem to have given up on this world, this time, this life. The "Left Behind" series of books are indicative of the view of a lot of people that they would much rather be whisked away to some peaceful, magical place instead of stay here. In the now. In this world that - I'll agree - we are doing a pretty good job of mucking up.

I'll posit that this is a cowardly and lazy attitude. I'll draw a parallel that is a particular sore point with me by asking this question: how many divorces happen because one or both people involved assume they are in the wrong "place" with the wrong partner? Suffering from the "grass is greener" syndrome, they let their union fall apart, with devastating effects on those around them so they can seek their own happiness. Tony Hawk just walked away from his third wife to run off with the wife of his best friend. The former governor of South Carolina ran off to South America to be with his "soul mate." Sorry, wife and kids. Ah-nold boinks members of his house staff rather than pursue his wife. Hey Maria, I'll be (stabbing you in the) back.

My theory here is that rapture madness and selfish relationship trends are part of the same problem: the unwillingness (or inability) to look critically at the world around us, at our relationships, at ourselves, and simply get to work. Isn't it just easier to start over and hope for the best than to do the work necessary to make our current situation all that it can be? All that it is meant to be?

Let me quote N.T. Wright, bishop of Durham, England, from his book Simply Christian.

Despite what many people think, within the Christian family and outside it, the point of Christianity isn't 'to go to Heaven when you die.'

Christian ethics is not a matter of discovering what's going on in the world and getting in tune with it. It isn't a matter of doing things to earn God's favour. It is not about trying to obey dusty rulebooks from long ago or far away. It is about practicing, in the present, the tunes we shall sing in God's new world.

Right there in the Lord's prayer it says "Your kingdom come, your will be done ON EARTH as it is in heaven." in Revelation, do the believers all ascend into some world of clouds and harps and halos? No God's city, the new Jerusalem, comes down. Heaven bows down to earth so that the two are (re)joined. As Christians we need to grasp the fact that God, through Christ, has given us a glimpse of what the nature of the kingdom will be, and it is our job to help usher it in. That will take massive amounts of work. Think on the descriptions of the kingdom in Revelation. No more hunger, no more pain, no more suffering, no more tears. No hatred. No anger. Look at the world we're in; we have a lot of work to do. Its very easy to look at the world we are in and lose hope; to be overwhelmed. Just as its easy to look at a relationship that has begun to sour and think how much easier it would be to throw it away and start a new one. Much harder is rolling up your sleeves and doing the work necessary. In a marriage it often means changing yourself; your expectations, your willingness to let go your own needs and meet your spouse's instead, to look at yourself critically and work on being the partner that your husband or wife needs you to be. "That's no fun," many say. "Why should I have to change? Why not just find someone who will give me what I need as I am?" Concerning this world it's not much fun to work at alleviating hunger, poverty, and disease. It's hard to love those that hate you, to bless those that curse you, to forgive those that hurt you, to comfort those who mourn, to make peace where conflicts occur.

But what is the cost of turning away from that work? At what price our own comfort? By thinking small we rob ourselves of the joy that comes in selflessness, in giving, in compassion, in helping to further the cause of God’s vision for what this world can be. Rob Bell said in his book Love Wins:

The people who are most concerned with going to Heaven when they die don’t throw very good parties here and now.

The real danger in focusing on getting to heaven (and salvation can’t be earned, anyway) is that is fosters the belief that this world is disposable. Why work for making it better? Why try when I’m just going to leave? God called his creation “very good” in Genesis. It is not meant as merely a soul incubator. Throughout the Old and New Testaments the recurring theme is the redemption of all things, the making right of all things, the reconciliation of the Creator with creation. The universe isn’t meant to be thrown away when its usefulness has expired.

The New Testament is indeed full of rules on how to live this kind of life, one that works towards the redemption of all things, but it is important that we see these rules for what they are. Again, N.T. Wright:

The rules are to be understood, not as arbitrary laws thought up by a distant God to stop us from having fun (or to set up some ethical hoops to jump through as a kind of moral examination) but as the signposts to a way of life in which heaven and earth overlap, in which God's future breaks in to the present, in which we discover what genuine humanness looks and feels like in practice.

Why would anybody hope for a ticket out of that?

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