Imagine there’s no heaven John Lennon wrote.
Every person of faith should do this.
We are saved by grace the Christian church tells us.
In its simplest state, this takes the form of election, as Paul described in chapter 8 of Romans “I loved Jacob, but hated Esau.” Out of context? Not really, but please read it and tell me if it is.
But that cannot be right, the Evangelicals tell us because that removes free will, the ability for us humans to accept the grace of God. The elect of which Paul was talking they say, are those who chose to accept (elected) God’s grace.
Ok, but what is grace anyway (if not just a blue-eyed blonde)? The catechism is that grace is unmerited favor. Ok, what the heck does that mean? Many say that this means there is nothing that can be done to earn it, that it is a gift given freely by God. But. . .if nothing can be done to earn it and it is given by God, then God chooses who gets it and who doesn’t get it, right? Seems to circle back to election.
No, no, no, others say, it’s a free gift but you have to accept it.
Accept it? That is an act of the person and if it is not effective unless that act is made, then grace is not a free gift.
Again, no, others say once you have been saved, you cannot be unsaved. That is, there is nothing you can do to fall out of grace, salvation. But what about those who have in fact fallen away? Well, then, they were not truly saved in the first place.
Others, like James say works is important— But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
This is the basic stance of most of Christianity, and while some take this to the extreme, it sort of fits—think about the Catholic sacraments.
The wild-eyed John wrote in his gospel Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
So what are we to do with all this? Anyone who knows me well has heard me say that religion lives on the edges of language. By this, I mean that is stretches our use and understanding of words – causes us to think about things we cannot understand (can one truly understand Trinity? and by this, I do not mean explain it). We use human word s to try to explain things so far beyond us as to be unimaginable and incomprehensible and when we do this, language breaks down. Anyone who tells you they understand everything, and by this, I mean anyone— Pope, Prophet, King or Imam—run and hold onto your wallet tightly.
It really bugs me to hear people say that all they have to do to go to heaven or avoid hell (and there is a difference in these concepts) is to say the sinners prayer and accept Christ as their personal savior and then go out and treat everyone like pond scum. We see this all the time—like Pat Roberstson’s investment in African (Blood) diamond mines (nevermind planes paid for by his charities were used to transport diamonds)—and manage to look the other way. Or in the slum lord who attends church every Sunday.
While I do not know Pat Roberston and will let everyone make his or own decision about Pat, I have heard others say things along the lines of I am saved and forgiven, saved by grace, and my place in heaven is assured. Yeah, I have back-slidden a little. We all have. But God has told me I am safe in his everlasting arms. . .
It is like we bargain with God. We said the prayer or were baptized or took communion or whatever it is the mystic says we must do and after doing these things (some will say you must be sincere when you do it—I am not going to get into this here), then God is obligated to save us.
I think this is why all the over-the-top evil in the world has been done by those who believe they are right with God. Christians and Muslims make up a little over half the world’s population. I wonder how much of the killing in the world was perpetrated by this set?
And if we think we are not saved by the prayer or by baptism or communion or some other catechism or magician’s trick but by works, we are no better. If we do good things so people will recognize us for them, then our reward is here on earth. If we do them to earn our way into heaven, then we are once again bartering with God.
Jesus said we have to deny ourselves to follow Him. We should do good without any hope of reward of any kind. Anything less is a fraud.
Do things for others because it is the right thing to do. Not because there is a heaven. Not because you are trying to earn your way there. Deny yourself. Imagine there is no heaven. It’s simple if you try. No hell below us. Above us only sky.
Naw, it’ll never sell, Sir John. But living for others for no other reason than to live for others is, I think, the central message of the Christian and pretty much every religion on the planet.