I don’t care about heaven or hell. There, I said it. As I’ve watched the flood of blog posts, Tweets, television interviews and articles about Rob Bell’s new book Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person that Ever Lived and the response of folks like John Piper and Justin Taylor, I can’t help but wonder if all of this talk of where we wind up when we’re dead isn’t a convenient distraction from what people of faith should be doing in the here and now.
Yes. I have read the Bible. I know it discusses salvation and eternity. I know there are harrowing scenes depicting lakes of fire for some and a bountiful inheritance for others. I know that some theologians and believers view these things as metaphor and others as cold, hard realities. I know that some view heaven as a place we might go and others say the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. And I know that these different takes on Christian faith have generated questions in me that have propelled forward my journey toward a deeper understanding of Father, Son and Spirit.
One of those questions, which I encountered months before the Bell/Piper afterlife controversy began, was this: Would I continue to follow Jesus if I knew I would not be going to Heaven?
This little doozie popped into my head upon waking one morning and it occupied my thoughts for many days and weeks after. It forced me to consider not just the what of my faith, but the why of it. What was my motivation for following Jesus?
Heaven is sometimes described as an inheritance and God as the Father, so the best thing my human mind could do is bring the question down to earth. What would it be like if I had only loved and obeyed my father to collect on an inheritance? Would I stop loving and obeying my father if I learned that there was none? Would I be expressing unconditional love if I did?
It was then that I realized I had to put the question of Heaven and hell–my inheritance–on the shelf.
The familiar Serenity Prayer asks God to grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can and the wisdom to know the difference. I cannot change the realities of life after death. There is a Heaven and hell or there isn’t. What I need to focus on is what I can change: myself by being willing and allowing myself to be transformed (by one I first understood as “higher power” and now call Jesus Christ) and the world around me by doing my best to love God and others as Jesus asked.
Of course, my ego and tendency toward selfishness gets in the way of my doing that consistently and effectively. So I rely on prayer, scripture, community, contemplation and other spiritual practices to guide my steps. This of course, generate even more questions, motivating an even deeper pursuit of answers which starts the whole cycle over again. I remain committed to following this lather, rinse, repeat of faith to the end of my life, one day at a time…no matter where I wind up on the other side.