taking the words of Jesus seriously

There’s a popular social media meme with a photo of a dour, even judgmental, crowd facing the viewer with a caption like “Spending eternity with people like this doesn’t have the appeal you think it does”.

Does anyone really think that Christians, let alone non-Christians, would want to spend eternity with a group like this?

Not a smile, celebration, sense of awe or certainly gratitude or worship would be visible, or even tolerated by this group.

Maybe it’s my bias, but this scene seems as close to Hell as any near-cartoonish, burning eternity.

But if Heaven is anything, it is a home for the homeless, refuge for the persecuted, and a place where any and all of the abandoned and neglected find their enduring home and people.

It would be a place of ultimate welcome and Shalom, connectedness and safety, where, as Jesus showed, the Pharisees and hypocrites would be locked out, the moneychangers and hustlers chased away, and the lion would lie down with the lamb and children could play with the most poisonous of snakes and vipers and there would be no harm.

The oppressed would be set free and even those who could not forgive themselves would find forgiveness.

As you might guess, or believe, there are many “Christians” who would hate such a place; Heaven on earth, or even Heaven as an abstraction, to many I have encountered, could never be a place of infinite, unfettered, unqualified welcome – especially to those among us who did not meet our (earthly) expectations – especially religious expectations.

But in Jesus’s value system, a broken heart is of more worth than a proud one and, to put it mildly, those who make a practice, or even a livelihood, from killing the prophets would, at minimum, not find a home in any divine kingdom.

If Heaven is anything, it is a refuge for those who never found it, a place of restoration and wholeness for those who pursued, and rarely, if ever found it, and a place where home and community, seemingly forever elusive, is finally found.

The irony though, is that any who are or were called to discipleship are called to build, sustain and live-out the kingdom, not on some abstract, distant horizon, but on the now, and right here.

If Heaven is anything, it is before us, around us and within reach.

If Heaven is anything, it is not a place of rarified, exclusive theology, but a place where a child shall lead us all….

In short, if Heaven is anything, it is real, and a party, and now. And here.

If believing in Heaven means anything, it means that it is within our reach, within our view, and within our hands.

Hell is, of course, equally within our grasp, and Hell too, does not need an other-worldly existence.

Hell is, of course, no celebration, no forum for forgiveness, no welcome home.

Hell is the site of unfulfilled resentments and forever nurtured visions of revenge.

Lord, when did we see you naked, hungry, abandoned and afraid?

It would be easy to make the argument that those lost, forsaken, hungry and afraid are in at least a corollary of Hell.

And those capable of helping, are not only able to help, but to either rescue those from a living Hell – or amplify the Hell they already inhabit by even further persecution, harassment or abuse.

In what could be called the earthly lab for sifting out who would be most qualified, even suited, for Heaven or Hell, the verdict of Jesus, based on his own words, is at minimum compelling.

Those in need are a continual reminder – and opportunity – for us to construct, with our own hands and actions, Heaven or Hell around us.

If Heaven is anything, it is the place of transformation, welcome and restoration.

And it is right in front of us.

About The Author


Faith is not a formula. And I wouldn't even use the word 'relationship' - and probably not the metaphor of 'a journey'. The older I get, the more it seems that faith is a process - a determined focus on listening to the eternal, sifting out the noise and distractions and becoming closer with each breath and each word, to the fullness - and emptiness - of the pulse, hand and purpose of our Creator, which, ultimately brings us where we belong. I'm a teacher and writer, which really means that I am a listener and I share what I see and hear.

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