Sunday, June 15, 2008

101 things to do before you die.

You know those lists - 101 things to do before you die? Run a marathon, snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef, drive a dog sled in Antarctica, enjoy a date beside a moonlit Taj Mahal, go white water rafting, ride a racehorse, swim with a dolphin, sleep under the stars - you know the sort of thing. These lists are based on the premise that you've only got one life so you'd better make the most of it.

It is a false premise.

No, I haven't turned Hindu and I don't believe in reincarnation.

Sometimes Christians are asked, "If heaven is so great, why are you clinging on to life?"

Here's a confession - I don't want to die and go to heaven. In fact, I don't want to go to some people's imaginings of what heaven is like at all. When heaven is presented as sitting around on a cloud with a harp and a halo with eons of choir practice, I definitely don't want to go there. I can see how some people opt for a hell which they envision as the lower pleasure gardens.

In fact, heaven is better than that. Jesus told the thief on the cross, "This day you will be with me in paradise". St Paul longed to be 'with Christ which is better by far'. Whether it is like a beautiful garden (which is what the word translated 'paradise' means) or simply in the presence of God in a way that none of us can comprehend, it is a wonderful place to be and the vast majority of Christians will go there. There will be some still alive when the Lord returns and every generation hopes that He will come in their lifetime. For these, heaven is not their destination.

It's a bit like flying to San Francisco with a stopover in Atlanta. No-one says I am going to Atlanta for my vacation. I am going to San Francisco via Atlanta. Heaven is like Atlanta. I bet no-one ever said that before. I mean it is an intermediate destination. It is a stopover until the new creation is prepared.

In Romans chapter 8, St Paul writes a lot about groaning. "The whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time" (v22). Some people are puzzled as to why the world is such an unsatisfactory place. Of course there are beautiful mountains and wonderful plains, glorious grasslands, magnificent desserts and majestic oceans; but there are also terrifying hurricanes, horrible typhoons, fearsome earthquakes and destructive floods. People are eaten by alligators, bitten by venomous snakes, stung by poisonous spiders and have their crops consumed by locusts. It's almost as though the world we live in is cursed.

Actually it is.

In Genesis chapter 3, after Adam had disobeyed God, God said, "Cursed is the ground because of you." The world is not perfect because it was 'subjected to frustration' (Romans 8:20). Adam's sin and ours has polluted the world and corrupted it.

It's not just the world. We ourselves, though we have the first fruits of the Holy Spirit (v23) groan inwardly as we await our adoption as sons. Our bodies are subject to corruption. Our hair falls out, our teeth fall out, our joints creak, our arteries fur up, our memories fail, we get skin cancer, bowel cancer, breast cancer, leukemia. It is all part of the same curse.

We wait eagerly for the redemption of our bodies. Remember your first attempts at cooking. Inevitably the mixture was lacking something. We might have thought that the goo was only fit for throwing out, yet somehow our mothers were able to do something to redeem it, to rescue it from the slop bucket. Similarly, the Lord does not consider us worthy of the slop bucket, but strangely he sees something worth redeeming.

Our future is not floating on clouds but living in a new heaven and a new earth. Paul spells out what it will be like in I Corinthians chapter 15. "The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body." "Just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven." Or as John puts it, "What we will be has not yet been made known,. But we know that when he appears we shall be like him." (I John 3:2)

We cannot comprehend the glorious body of Christ, but we shall have a body just like that.

Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed - in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable and we will be changed." (I Cor 15:51-52)

Christ's body could walk through closed doors, yet it could be touched. It could speak, it could eat and could cook breakfast. It could appear and disappear at will and reappear many miles away. We will not be wraiths. We will somehow be more solid. Of course, we don't understand it, but we will be more not less; the new world will be more not less, but with all the sin taken out, the curse removed. There will be plenty of time for snorkeling, plenty of time to climb mountains.

I don't have to haul my creaking body onto a horse or brave the Antarctic or get fit for a marathon. There will be time enough for that when my body is renewed.

But there are some things that we won't be able to do. We won't be able to heal the sick. We won't be able to feed the hungry or give drink to the thirsty or visit the imprisoned or clothe the poor. We won't be able to lead someone to Christ. There's a 101 things to do before you die.


Friendly Curmudgeon said...

Heaven on earth is now, not when we die, it is when we obtain the God-conscousness that Jesus (and others pointed us to)

Read The Third Jesus, by Depok Chopra

Terry Hamblin said...

Instead, read the Bible. Your obviously thinking not of Christianity, but of one of your eastern religions.

Anonymous said...

Your last though in this post about the things that we won't be able to do in heaven (feed the poor, visit the sick, etc.) has echoed in my heart for the last couple of days.
Thank you for reminding me.

St. Paul, MN

Anonymous said...

I have been on a bit of a Sanders streak, just starting Heaven, Better by Far. Having CLL, and struggling with infections and just feeling lousy I suppose has steered me to those books. Heaven for Christians is a resting place where there is no tears or pain ( or horrible reactions to infusions). It's also a place to come immediately face to face with Christ. Not some God-thought.
Thanks God that this earth is not heaven, and we have so much to look forward to--after my kids are raised, God willing.