So, last night I watched most of the Barbara Walters special, "Heaven: Where is it? How Do We Get There?" The interviews were interesting enough, but I felt a wee bit nausous as the show went on. She interviewed several different Christian leaders as well as a couple Muslims, Jews, and the Dali Lama. I must confess that I was left quesy by the statements of the people from the Abrahamic tradition (Christians, Jews, Muslims). Thier views of heaven, or at least what heaven will look like, came across to me as quite self-indulgent. The most common statement was that you could eat all that you wanted and not gain a pound. Whether this is true of heaven or not, it seems to say more about our society than about heaven.
See, the biblical promises of a lands of milk, honey, and mansions of cedar were made to people who had to struggle to survive much harder than vast majority of Americans. Don't get me wrong! There are Americans who don't know where their next meal is coming from, but by and large most of us live in unprecedented oppulance never before seen in history. So, whereas the ancients were promised a land where they would no longer have to struggle intensly just live another day, we want a heaven with a never ending supply of non-caloric chocolate cake.
Since this self-indulgent view of heaven unsettles my stomach, then you might be wondering just what my personal views of heaven are. I do believe that our existence does not end with physical death. Given the biblical conversation about the "next life", this is not a profound statement on my part. However, the reason for the next life, I believe, is not to promise us an eternaty of self-gratification. I believe we are promised a continued existence so that we can be freed to love now in this life on this earth. See, Jesus died becuase he was human. All humans die, but he died the way he died because he loved people. He loved the way we were created to love but have always failed to do. He loved people that weren't supposed to be loved, and that always makes the powers that be nervous. Eventually, he was killed for that love, but that is not the end of the story. Jesus was resurrected to show to us two things: it doesn't end here, and what we do now does affect what comes next.
Jesus was resurrected to free us to love. If there was no resurrection, no new creation, no next life, than why not seek for ourselves all that we can get out this life regardless of what we might do others around us. But if there is another life and it is connected to this one in some way then what we do here matters.
Jesus proclaimed that the most important things we could do on this planet were to love God with heart, mind, and spirit and to love our neighbors as ourselves. No where in that statement is a command to increase our property holdings or investment portfolio. Possessions will not be carried into the next life. But the resurrected Jesus does love; therefore our love is carried over into the next life. So what is important now, what is an investement in our ultimate retirement, is not physical wealth; rather it is the love for others and the ultimate other God.
We are nearing Christmas, and I hope to yet again see the Christ child so that I can continue to learn how to love better, to shed more of my self-indulgance so that I can live better here and in the great beyond.