I have lots of friends all over the world who read this blog. Many are self-identified Christians, but some are not. I often wonder what my I-have-more-questions-about-God-than-answers friends think about my more God-centered posts. I thought I would write a post tonight for them. (I'm talking about my actual real-life friends who read this - not cyber eavesdroppers. You all know who you are. We've talked about this stuff at 2 a.m. in bars across America over the last decade. For whatever reason you are all on my mind tonight.)
First of all, I want you guys to know that I didn't become your friend to try to convert you. I know you all know that, but it is true. I respect you and your spiritual journey. Nothing is gonna ever change that.
Second, I would want you to know that my faith - though rooted in Jesus and the Christian tradition - likely has some substantial differences to cultural Christianity. If you know me, you have likely sensed that already. This is intentional on my part. I am not trying to be the Christian who shocks people or anything like that. I'm trying to follow Jesus as I understand him. Jesus himself came off as anti-religious a lot, and I sometimes do the same.
You should also know that I grew up very religious. I was a card-carrying bible thumping evangelical right winger when I was younger. I was also a bit of hypocrite - very proud of my morality, spiritual knowledge and rising church fame. I was convicted by God that I was a fake in the years before I met most of you...so I became whatever I am now to try to rectify that.
More than anything, I would want you guys to know that I do not see Christianity as simply an individual spiritual contract between God and a "sinner." I think that is a modern reduction of a much greater truth. I also don't see Christianity as fundamentally about morality or being a good person. I hope I am both, but i don't think that is the point of it all. More likely, it is a healthy by-product.
I've studied the Bible nonstop for twenty years and I believe it is historically reliable - not all parts are intended to be taken literally, but it does hold up to textual accuracy tests for ancient literature. That means I believe the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are the earliest and most reliable biographies of Jesus. I believe that they were written by eyewitnesses; and, at the very least, the words in them are what those eyewitnesses believed really happened. (So much so that they were all tortured and martyred for the words they wrote without ever recanting them.)
They made it clear that Jesus was a radical revolutionary Jewish rabbi with one clear message - that the "Kingdom of God" had come to earth and would continue to come until God reigned over all. This message needs a lot of unpacking for us non-Jews 2,000 years removed, but I think it means that God himself is now available to people who call out to Him - that God is actually creating a nation/tribe/colony out of the people of earth - a people who will bring about the redemption of the planet through submission to Jesus as King. (I think "Christ" basically means "King.")
Jesus said this about himself in John chapter 3:
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him."
This is John 3:16 - the verse that people hold up at sporting events for whatever reason. I think many Christians don't notice that it is the "world" whom God loves and the "world" whom Jesus saves. The individual is mentioned as receiving enteral life, but that is because they are part of the whole. I think this is important. God loves us. Not just me. True faith in Jesus is never about me. It is about God and all of us. This is why so many of you care so much about others. You get this innately. You know that we (all of us) are more important than just you. Sure, we are all selfish, but we also love each other. That is because God made us to be a people - not just a collection of individuals. In the "already present but not fully realized" reality Jesus called "The Kingdom of God" we all live together with God in the now. He loves us all as we love each other. This desire is in your soul because God put it there. It isn't about simply living right or being good - it is about a real God made of love who hardwired us to be restless until we join his love revolution against the powers of evil in the world.
In this understanding, "heaven" begins now. Another beef I have with modern Christianity it is that it has reduced the faith to some fundamental theory about the afterlife. I'm sure you have all had people try to get you to say a prayer or "believe" so that you will go to heaven when you die. I strongly believe in life after death, but I don't think that is the main point of faith. Faith is for the here and now. Faith is trusting God to make things right - to lead his people - to fix the world starting right now with me and my friends. Faith is about resurrection. (Those early biographers all believed that Jesus raised from the dead. There is no doubt that Christianity spread so quickly because all of the early disciples truly believed Jesus was made alive after being dead for three days. That would change everything if it is true.)
To put it simply, I would say that heaven and hell are already co-existing on earth. We've all felt both extremes. As Christians, we hope and pray for more heaven and less hell. Someday, I believe that we will be resurrected into a reality that is all heaven and no hell.
The last thing I would say to you - if you are still reading, is that the key to personally accessing all of this stuff is both easy and hard. It is easy in that all you have to do is give up. You have to admit that if you were really in charge of the world, you'd screw it up. Then you have to admit the same is true for your own life. You are broken and can't be trusted to make your own way in the world. (This is the reality of "sin.") You are so broken that you should just sell yourself as a slave to someone more powerful, wise and loving than you are. You need a Master. Another word for "Master" is "Lord." I gave up on trying to rule my life and became the slave of Rabbi Jesus. (This was the hard part.) Now Jesus calls all the shots and I just do what he says. I trust him more than I trust me. He's my guru and I'm his apprentice. He's my Lord/Master.
When all of us become that desperate, then the "Kingdom" can come to us. And the kicker to all of it is the most revolutionary thing Jesus taught us...that God himself is at his core a "Father." You know how no matter how old you get, you never really feel like a grown-up? That's because you aren't really one. We are all children in adult masks waiting to be received by the perfect Father we never had. He loves us - all of us. Including you. And me. And that smelly dude on the bus muttering in pig latin.
I hope my thoughts find you well this evening. I think and pray for you often. I'm around if you want to talk about it.