You can’t get to heaven on a pair of skates

“…’cause you’ll roll, right past those Pearly Gates.” Old song that popped into my head.

So Chris Honeycutt found my villainous thoughts totally inadequate; I’m unsurprisingly all right with that, and she came up with her own here and here and here. My, she’s thought about this a LOT, it would seem.

But in between, she poses this question: Can you be a good Christian and fantasize about being a villain? In the main, I totally agree with her that “we should want to be Christlike, but in reality we’re, well… not.
“Story is good, imho, for exploring those un-Christlike qualities that we possess. If we don’t face them as a reality, we can become repressed. And while suppression (holding back emotion and thought until an appropriate time and expressing them in appropriate ways) is good, repression (trying to hold back emotion forever until we blow like a tea kettle) is very bad.” Yes, that’s why I read Tea Party blogs, to understand how the minds of people not like me think.

And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have any less-than-ideal thoughts of my own regarding others now and then. It was that I never really identified with a particular archetype or methodology. Moreover, I just find my own failing less reprehensible than sad. What can I say?

I’d long wondered about those quotes attributed to Jesus, that if you think evil thoughts, it’s the same as doing so. For instance, in Matthew 5:28 “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Now in my less holy days, my conclusion might have been, “well, if THINKING them is the same as DOING them, you might as well just DO them; same penalty, after all.” My approach these days is more nuanced.

In any case, I was watching Easter Sunday’s This Week on ABC News. Jake Tapper interviewed Rick Warren of the huge Saddleback church. He shared the fact that dogs and even cats go to heaven. He managed to sound like a politician when he talked about J-O-B-S. But Warren also complained about how magazines exploit Christmas and Easter with religious covers:

JAKE TAPPER: This week’s “Newsweek” magazine, which has a very provocative cover, has a different perspective on what ails America’s religious communities, under the headline “Forget the Church, Follow Jesus,” Andrew Sullivan argues that American Christianity is in a crisis, it’s too focused on politics and policy, too little on spirituality… So what is your reaction to this line of criticism from people who like faith but don’t like religion?
WARREN: Sure. Well, first place, let me give a little personal gripe. I think it’s disingenuous that magazines like “Newsweek” know that their circulation goes up at Christmas and Easter if they put a spiritual issue on the cover, but it’s always bait and switch. They never tell the stories, never tell the stories of what the good — what good the church is doing. Never. It’s always some obscure scholar, who’s debating something that kind of supposedly disproves this or that, or Andrew Sullivan — I don’t consider Andrew Sullivan to be a religious authority, okay?
And so it is — they know they’re going to make money, every time you put Jesus on the cover of a magazine, it skyrockets. You go do the history. “Time” magazine, “Life” magazine, “U.S. News and World Report,” those are always the best issues. So they make money on it, but then it’s a bait and switch, and it’s always a disappointment. And I wish they would have a little bit more integrity than that, and tell the other side of the story, maybe just occasionally.

While his premise may be technically true, it’s not Time’s or Newsweek’s job to promote Christianity. On Easter Sunday in my church, we said, “Christ is risen indeed.” We said that last year and we’ll probably say that next year. The magazines’ job is to find a different spin. I didn’t see the Newsweek article, but I did read Heaven Can’t Wait By Jon Meacham, the cover story in TIME. And I found this interesting:

“Yet we don’t necessarily agree on what heaven is. There is, of course, the familiar image… But there is also the competing view of scholars… What if Christianity is not about enduring this sinful, fallen world in search of a reward of eternal rest? What if the authors of the New Testament were actually talking about a bodily resurrection in which God brings together the heavens and the earth in a wholly new, wholly redeemed creation? As more voices preach a view that’s at odds with the pearly gates (but supported, they note, by Scripture), faithful followers must decide which approach they believe in.

“It’s a distinction with some very worldly implications. If heaven is seen as life’s ultimate reward, then one’s vision of paradise shapes how one lives. It is an essential tenet of Christian faith, of course, to love one’s neighbor. But if you believe the world will be destroyed at the last day while the blessed look down from a disembodied heaven, then you are most likely going to view the things of this world in a different light than someone who believes there will be a bodily resurrection on an earth that is to be, in the words of a great hymn, ‘our eternal home.’ Accepting the latter can mean different priorities, conceivably putting issues like saving the environment up there with saving souls.”

So I hope the “secular” press keeps observing the sacred world with a journalist’s eye, rather than a believer’s.

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4 thoughts on “You can’t get to heaven on a pair of skates

  1. I suppose it borders on the cliché to say it’s not “either/or” — it’s “both/and”…

    Impossible, I know. But that’s what I think, so I have to say it.

    But even though John (in Revelation) saw it “coming down out of heaven” it’s not our efforts at improving the environment that will usher in the New Jerusalem.

    Good post, Roger.

  2. I could – and might – write a whole blog post in response. This was interesting and thought provoking.

    One thing that really struck was your comment connecting adultery to my more villainous fantasies really struck me. Let’s face it, I’m not Dirty Harry and I’m not going to hunt down the Zodiac killer and dispense justice. It’s too far away.

    But the adultery one is, well… I’d never consider it really, but it’s a lot more likely than “live in the basement of the Paris opera house.”

    So… it’s a good point. And I think it’s a good thing to think about: what we feel and think plays a role in getting to heaven just as much as what we do.

  3. I think the passages in Matthew 5 are there to show us how hypocritical people are when “judging” others. How can a person be critical of another person’s physical affair if they may be guilty of having an emotional/psychological one? The motivation in the heart is the same. We constantly look at outward appearances and activities. God looks much deeper into our hearts for our motivations.

    As for heaven…I believe heaven is simply being eternally in the presence of God in a world restored to what it was intended to be. Wherever that may be. Hell is being removed from God. Wherever that may be.

  4. @ Lisa,

    Yeah, I think avoiding being hypocritical is part of it. People forget that Jesus didn’t mention homosexuality once but mentions the sin of hypocrisy more than 25 times.

    I do think actions count more than words, and words more than imaginings and so on.

    For me, I always try to imagine a psychological object as well as a spiritual object when talking about heaven, hell, God, etc. For me it makes it more “real.” I’d say that psychological heaven is, for me, a place in the mind where you don’t feel bad or wrong or judged.

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