A month ago I promised to examine the subject of Heaven and Hell a little closer. Since then, courtesy of Garrett, I had the chance to read C. S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters, in which a senior devil coaches a young apprentice through the finer points of sophism and chicane. (The book reads rather uncomfortably, for two reasons: firstly, it is properly uncomfortable to be thinking in the devil's shoes, and secondly, it gradually occurs to you that he is watching you too.) I guess you could say I've had the benefit recently of viewing the topic from several angles.
Note: In the interest of brevity we will take for granted here that Heaven and Hell are valid realities.
We're all familiar with "fire insurance" Christianity, (that shallow nonsense preached by all those "cheap Christians",) but I doubt we're aware of how deeply this cancer has penetrated our own thinking. Present-day society has infected Christianity with a preoccupation around m-e. We have found the sickness difficult to be rid of, so we conveniently spiritualized it, and wound up with a cute little creed that "gets you into Heaven."
Don't let anyone tell you the Bible is simple. It is not. Even Peter described the writings of Paul as "hard to understand," and we do well to approach the word of God with reverence and respect. And it's not bad to be plain puzzled once in awhile.
For some time I was roundly stumped by a few particularly thorny verses. Listen to Moses, in Exodus 32:32, pleading with God for the children of Israel: "Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin--; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written." Paul echoed a similar sentiment in Romans 9:3: "For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh."
Now those to me seemed to be some the most reckless, ridiculous statements in the whole of scripture. That they were made by devout, sincere men only further baffles the enigma. What gives?
Somewhere along the line, we have purchased this idea that Christianity exists mainly for my own personal comfort, I mean, (ahem!) my own eternal destiny. This rhetoric sounds very slick and spiritual until we notice God standing there shaking his finger and saying to us, like a parent to a selfish child, "Now who are you thinking about?"
As Lewis points out, we are working the problem the wrong way around. (If you didn't read this excerpt from Reflections on the Psalms, you should do so.) Too many of us are devoted to ourselves, and too many of the rest of us are devoted to God for ourselves. It is severely difficult to just be devoted to God.
Image courtesy of bamjam.net