At the beginning of the month we went to a local Labor Day parade, actually it would be more accurate to say that we made it there to catch some of it before it ended. During this parade there was a local church passing out tracts. Now I’ll be upfront and say that I really question the usefulness of tracts and this one was no exception, but it did make me think a bit.
Overall, as with most tracts, it was pretty simple. It went through three common points; knowing you were a sinner, understanding there is a price to pay for sin, and accepting Christ as your savior. What did the tract think we were trying to accomplish with this information? All of this was under the title of “How to Get to Heaven.” This leads me to the question is heaven really the goal of having faith?
This question has bothered me as far back as my college days. I remember talking with a good friend about this issue on a number of occasions. I didn’t like it then and I’m not sure I like it any more now.
This could be because I didn’t really have heaven as part of the reason for my decision to explore Christianity and follow God. It seems that trying to gain people by offering the reward is just a kind of sales gimmick. Is it really heaven that we should have our sights set on or is it God? Do we start our journeys of faith because of what we get out of it or because of the one who is the object of that faith?
I guess it just feels like a sales pitch any way you slice it. Not only that, but I feel that the sales pitch is selling something that is a little different than reality. As the end of the Bible leaves it, the end destination isn’t an otherworldly heaven with puffy clouds or an eternal church service, but the renewal of heaven and earth and the descent of a large city. Now I realize when you’re dealing with Revelation that taking everything completely literal doesn’t necessarily work, but the general idea here doesn’t seem to support a complete relocation to some other destination (heaven in this case), but rather a renewing of our current location and the active and visible presence of God.
So I feel that as we try to sell heaven, not only are we trying to present the faith as simply earning a ticket to heaven, but that the ticket itself is a bit suspect. Why is it that we need to focus on the concept of heaven and not focus on God or even the more used notion of eternal life that is seen in places like John 3:16 or Romans 6:23? I’m just not sure.
I’m even less sure, because many of the ideas I’ve heard about what heaven is like do not excite me all that much, to say the least. Ideas like wearing white robes, having halos, living in some clouds, and/or having an eternal church service just aren’t really that appealing. Heaven just sounds rather dull. I know that’s probably terrible to say, but since the whole concept of heaven is a bit sketchy anyhow, I’m not too concerned. It just seems like what we’re trying to sell is based a lot on speculation and are goods that I’m not sure many people would be too interested in even if our speculations were correct.
Now don’t get me wrong in all this, I do believe that there is eternal life offered by following God through Jesus Christ. I like to put this more in the framework of a new creation rather than in terms of heaven. For some this may not matter too much, but I think it is much more consistent with what the Bible presents. I do think that whatever it is like will be good, even if we can’t really fathom it in our current realities. I’m just not so sure about using it as a main selling point. Part of the reality of what is stated within the Christian faith? Yes, but as main motivator for seeking and accepting God? I’m not so sure.
I’m also not saying that those who have come to faith like this are only motivated by rewards or what is in it for them. I think we all run into times where we become a bit self-centered even in matters of faith, but hopefully we grow out of them and learn to seek not the gifts and blessings but the one who is behind such things. Even if we start our path this way it is certainly possible to grow to understand that following God is about more than just what we get out of it.
What I’m really trying to get at is that I’m not sure I really like the focus on heaven as the end goal of our faith. I wouldn’t even feel better if it was presented as eternal life being the main goal. I just think following God is a lot deeper than the final reward we are promised. Reducing the Christian faith down to “How to Get to Heaven” just seems like it is presenting such a shallow view of faith.
That’s just my take on such an approach, what does anyone else think? Do you think starting off with the rewards of the Christian faith, be it the more popular idea of heaven or the concept new creation, is fine? Has it bothered you? Feel free to let me know. I’m interested to hear what others think on this issue.