When I was quite young and impressionable, I heard a sermon where the pastor said, "At funerals we joke and say, 'Ole Johnny boy's playing golf in Heaven,' but we all know that's not true." I was very surprised to hear this. I'm not particularly fond of golfing myself, but when the whole congregation nodded audibly in agreement, I started to wonder if there would be anything fun in Heaven.
The pastor continued, "He's up there, just worshiping God!" That one got a few "Amens" from the congregation. "We can rest assured, he's singing with the angels!"
At this, I was shaken to my core. I really, really like singing, but the thought of doing it for eternity (let alone an entire day) really had me quaking in my boots.
For a long time after that day, I just tried not to think about Heaven. It was little more than a small dread in the back of my mind. I couldn't help but think of my entrance into Heaven as the last day I got to do anything fun. (In fact, there are several country songs that corroborate my fear).
Recently, however, I've had a lot of time to think. There are some things that don't make sense.
what is fear?
We fear the things that we allow to control us. Or at least that's my working definition.
When crippling anxiety kicks my stomach in, what are the things I'm actually afraid of? Usually things directly related to my future ability to generate large amounts of predictable income. When my heart seems to stop beating and my intestines tie in knots from sudden despair, it's usually due to the sudden realization that I'm powerless to prevent the world from perpetrating atrocities on me and everyone I love.
This is the same fear that led Adam and Eve to hide from their good God, and the same fear that led the religious leaders and the Roman authorities to kill their good God.
what is death?
God told the first people that they would die on the day that they came to know good and evil. Strangely, on that day, they kept breathing. Their hearts kept beating, and their bodies continued to work. Did God make a mistake? Was he wrong?
I don't think so. Genesis 3 shows us that once we opened our eyes, we covered ourselves in fear. We hid from God because we were afraid.
That's death. Death is the life that results from fear.
God created us in beauty and power, but we sidestepped into a realm he didn't make for us. We were made to rule the earth, cultivating it in the good way God intended. Instead, we chose to fear the earth over which we had authority and hide from the God who gave us that earth.
After the first day we hid from our good, good God, every story after that follows a long, downward spiral of death. With our new knowledge of good and evil, we decided to call war, exploitation, decadence, and wealth "good," while calling sacrifice, simplicity, humility, and poverty "bad."
We built cities, and walls around those cities. Within those walls, we built towers and temples to honor our rulers' powers rather than our creator's. We presented our services, our minds, and our bodies as slaves to this new world order. We made up new gods that were grotesque caricatures of our worst traits as humans, as if we could somehow convince ourselves that we were made in their image rather than the one that's truly good. When that didn't work, we matured to the point where we finally threw out the baby with the bathwater: we decided that we're just a miserable accident. We decided that the life we live has no more meaning than the green sludge that grows around my shower drain. We keep repeating the lie that since we're made of the same stuff as the rocks and trees, we have no more responsibility to cultivate and rule the earth than they do.
This is death. When people say we live in a "fallen world, full of sin," this is what they mean. Death, in the biblical sense, has nothing to do with the moment when our tired brain finally gives up or our body becomes so dysfunctional that it can no longer sustain consciousness.
Death is when we fear the world.
what is faith?
There's one fear that we should always have. Strangely, though, we have other names for this type of fear. Solomon says this type of fear is "wisdom," but I prefer to call it by its common name: faith.
I've heard it said that faith is the opposite of fear. I've also heard that fear is the absence of faith. I'm more prone to believe that faith is the Platonic form (that is, the pure and true form) of fear. I mean to say that fear and faith are the same thing, but applied to different objects. Fear of the world is sin. Fear of God is faith.
Fear and faith are opposites in the same way that creation and emptiness are opposites. Just like life is so, so much more than the absence of death.
God gave us authority to rule here on earth. Faith is accepting that role and responsibility from him. Faith is admitting that yes, my life matters far beyond its effects on my own psyche and those immediately affected by my actions.
Further, faith is the acceptance that though I have knowledge of good and evil, I was not created with the ability to deal with that information. The further I stray from faith in my creator to fear of the world, the less able I am to apply that knowledge. I must admit that the only time I am "good" is when I humbly accept my creator's truth just like I used to unquestioningly accept my parents' answers for why the sky's blue and why there are only 26 letters in the alphabet.
what is life?
Life is the life that results from faith.
I'm still confused by the phrase, "whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life." I tend to take things quite literally, and strangely enough, I've seen lots of people who believe in him have their earthly lives cut short. Strangely, the people who believe in him stop breathing. Their hearts stop beating, and their bodies stop working. Did God make a mistake? Was he wrong?
I don't think so.
Now, let's forget about this handwavey "afterlife" idea that's just a thinly veiled copy of Greek and Roman religion. Even though Dante's Inferno shows us something that resembles Hades' fields of punishment and Burpo's Heaven is for Real shows us something like the demigod's fields of Elysium doesn't mean that's what the Bible teaches.
If you've ever read Revelation, it's not a story of the world being destroyed by fire. It's a story of the world being cleansed of fear. It's a war where the good guys win. It's a story of a good King finally taking back his rightful throne.
And that King wants us to rule with him. But not in the way that today's kings rule over kingdoms (definitely not in the way our congress, president, and judiciary system rule over us).
We'll rule in the same way a gardener rules over his garden. We'll rule just like a shepherd rules over his sheep. We'll rule just like our good King rules over us.
Jesus definitively showed that our greatest fears (weakness, exploitation, and death) have no power over those who follow him. Afraid of poverty? Jesus fed thousands at a time with small loaves of bread. Afraid of exploitation? The God of the universe chose to be born as a poor member of an oppressed nation, and he seemed quite happy with that lot. Afraid of death? Jesus faced death without saying a word—then he whooped its skinny hiney by coming back to life.
And that's what we'll do too. Even though our bodies stop functioning, through faith we'll see that that isn't so much an end as a release. We move straight from life to life (though for most of us, the intervening period will be a bit longer than three days).
The scripture promises us resurrection straight back onto earth—the same earth where our bodies are likely long decomposed, but this time it's been purged of fear and of death. After dying once, we'll all realize how silly it was for us to worry about what we'll eat, or what we'll drink, or what we'll wear. We'll all have our daily manna delivered to us, and we'll never thirst again after one sip of living water. After our resurrection, we'll plant new gardens and more likely than not we'll be naked and unafraid.
Now, take careful note that last I checked, our earth is the only known place in the entire universe with golf courses. Therefore, I'm happy to report that Ole Johnny boy (and the rest of us) are gonna have plenty of opportunity to play as much golf as we want.
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