Heaven is Painful

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city-heaven-new-jerusalem-heaven-duplantisFor many of us, we think of heaven in a way that makes it about us. “Everything you love will be there…” “No more tears, no more pain…” “Whatever you love doing, it will be in heaven…” We have turned heaven into some ethereal place where it’s all about us receiving our reward. It is the end that justifies our means of living. This picture perfectly illustrates that.

But looking through the prophets, or the martyrs, or the early disciples, or even Christ, one cannot help but see the painful reality of heaven. The picture we have painted about heaven has led to many jokes (just take a look at The Invention of Lying). We have responded to the nature of evil with “one day, we will be free from it all.”

Heaven is a work in which many of us do not want to participate.

For instance, this past week at CIY:MOVE (a youth conference), we spoke about reconciliation. I hate reconciliation. And most of us do. Jesus talked about disagreements in Matthew 18 and then after talking about it, he told the parable of the unforgiving debtor. Coincidence? Most likely not. It may be easy for us to mutter the words, “I forgive you,” but it is a lot harder for us to live out forgiveness on a day-to-day basis. Paul tells us in Ephesians 4 not to let the sun go down on our anger because anger is a foothold for evil. But many of us have slept while we are angry at someone else.

Heaven is painful.

Some of us have a lot of religious head knowledge. We could talk for days on end about the nature of atonement or how transubstantiation is the correct view of communion. We know all the different church movements and can debate with the best of them. We can talk about “the gospel” all day long and walk away feeling like we solved all the problems in the world. But to live out Christ is a completely different task. We are like doctors who have studied but have never cut open a body. We have convinced ourselves that giving money to the church and/or a non-profit is our “spiritual act of worship.” This is us being Christ. But it isn’t.

Heaven is painful.

Mission trips are fun for us because we feel a sense of accomplishment. We built a house for someone, or we put on a fantastic week of VBS for a group of kids, or we fed the homeless. We met a need and it made us feel accomplished. Trips like that are fun and good for the soul. But it is much harder for us to be Christ in our everyday lives. Our friends will make fun of us. People will curse and spit at us. We will be rejected. It’s harder for us to live out mission every day because that requires a daily commitment rather than just a week or a couple of weeks.

Heaven is painful.

We grant grace and forgiveness to the sins around us that meet our criteria. You lied? Here’s grace. You stole? Here’s forgiveness. You slept with someone before marriage? Here’s grace. But it is harder for us to grant grace and forgiveness to the sins that make us uncomfortable. You hit a woman? You molested a child? You raped someone? You’re a terrorist who’s responsible for killing thousands of people?

Heaven is painful.

NT Wright talks about how praying “may your will be done on earth as it is being done in heaven” is one of the most important prayers we could pray. For in that prayer, we are reminding ourselves that we are to usher God’s Kingdom to earth. The evil nature of earth is colliding with good nature of God. It is in birthing pains — and that is painful and dirty and ugly, but something beautiful is coming if we only endure. Heaven might be painful for a little while, but new life will occur.

Unfortunately, the work of heaven will be painful. It is counter-cultural to what we live in today and it will be met with great resistance. But, giving up is never a choice. Refusing to fight is never an option. Accepting that the “world is full of evil” is never a proper worldview. God says that He is reconciling the entire world to Himself. And that has to be painful.

Sometimes I wonder how painful heaven actually will be for some of us. We will see the homeless guy we ignored every day. We will see that person who used to do those things. We will see people we spent our entire lives ignoring because of how they hurt us.

Here’s the point to this: if we truly live out what Christ told us to live out, we will experience pain. It happens. Making heaven (and not the ethereal place) a reality is full of pain. We have to reconcile with the murderer. We have to forgive the child molester. We have to take in those without shelter. We have to give our last piece of bread to the hungry. We have to stand up and get hit for those who can’t take another beating. We have to fight for justice.

I’m not great at this. But the more I think about God’s Kingdom, the more I realize how painful it will be for me because I’m not even doing it right now. I’m not being it right now.

The process of bringing heaven to earth is going to be painful. It’s time we all jump in and get a little bruised up.

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Noah & God’s Justice

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NoahThis week, I was able to get to see Noah. I had high expectations going into the film because I am a huge Aronofsky fan. His ability to delve into the psyche of a character is fascinating. That’s what drew me to the film.

Before watching it, I had read a majority of the “controversy” surrounding it. I say it like that because I am pretty certain that at any given time, we, as the church, will pick a wrong battle to fight. We tend to make mountains out of molehills. Since Aronofsky is an atheist, we began preparing our rebuttal for whatever film we saw from him. Even if the film was 100% accurate, we were ready to make our case as to why the film was not 100% accurate. Most had their minds made up before the film was even released.

And then we wonder why people claim Christians are full of hate?

I’m not going to dive into a piece by piece dissection of the film. To do that to any kind of film does a disservice to the work of art. So I tend to steer clear of those kind of reviews of films. Most people who write those kinds of reviews are usually the kind of people who do not appreciate art or culture as much as they want to be right and want to make sure that everyone knows that they are right.

Instead, I want to highlight what I think this film displays beautifully: the justice of God. After Noah receives the vision from God as to what He is going to do to the world, you begin to sense in him a disturbance. But wouldn’t you be disturbed if you knew what was going to happen to the entire world?

As a child, I think I misread Noah. I read it as this wonderful story of happiness and singing animals. There was even a rainbow at the end. In reality, it is this horribly destructive story that shows the justice of God. That should disturb us. That should shake us to our foundations. That should cause us a sense of uneasiness. Because God’s justice will never be comfortable to us. We will never fully comprehend His justice because we will never fully comprehend Him.

In my mind, I could never understand why a mass genocide would be necessary. No matter what kind of evil takes place. Try as you may to put it in your own words, but it will never sound right. And we need to be okay with that. We need to understand that there are parts of the Bible that will cause us uneasiness and disturbance. If we read through the Bible and do not have those feelings, I don’t think that means that we’ve finally understood the justice of God as much as it means that we have tried to justify it in our minds (and that is never a good idea).

God demanded justice be served for the way people treated one another, nature, the animals, and ultimately Him. If you’ve heard anything about the film it is probably that Aronofsky works from a position that Noah was the first environmentalist. People were immediately upset because obviously God never said to look after the earth…well except that was His first command to man. What I loved about this element was that it showed that God’s justice demanded a verdict for all of creation. Not just mankind. Everything.

God’s justice is much larger than we can ever comprehend. In the film, it drove Noah to insanity. He was disturbed by everything that had just taken place. And he should have been. God’s justice is not an easy pill to swallow.

So why have we made it that way?

Christ is ultimately the fulfillment of God’s justice. But I fear that doesn’t disturb us as much as it should. A living man, the son of God, had to be killed in order for the justice of God to be fulfilled. I can give you answers as to why this makes sense. I can show you in the Bible why it is the way it is. But in my heart, it is harder for me to comprehend. Maybe that’s a lack of faith. Maybe that’s a lack of understanding. Or maybe that is the difference between mankind and God. We can say the words that make perfect sense but that doesn’t necessarily mean we truly understand and comprehend. And for that, there are no words.

This film helped me see that. It helped me see a glimpse of God’s justice. Is it hard to watch? Yes. Is it disturbing? Yes. And it should be. The more it disturbs and upsets us, the sweeter His mercy and grace is to us. The harder it is for us to explain why things had to happen like that, the more powerful Christ’s sacrifice is to us. We will not fully understand it, but that does not mean that it is meaningless. Far from it. I think the things that we cannot fully understand are the things that are more meaningful.

So yes. Go and watch Noah. It is an incredible film with a powerful story. I mean…it’s not as funny as Evan Almighty, but Russell Crowe is no Steve Carell. Wrestle with God’s justice and wrestle with God’s mercy. Be uncomfortable and at a loss for words. Not everything will be able to be explained. And even if it can be explained, that doesn’t mean we will understand it.

*Oh — and the Nephilites are awesome. Believable? Unlikely. But still, they are awesome.*