Well the month of July should be kind of laid back so I thought I would write about some good news. If you are among those concerned about what happens after you die, and if that question constellates as “Will I get into heaven?” the answer apparently is “Yes”! Several books in the last few years, authored by people who had Near Death Experiences (e.g., “Dying to Be Me” by Anita Moorjani), to the frustration of Inspector Javert’s soul mates everywhere, indicate that the gang’s all there, including history’s nastiest types plus that no-good mutant who gave you a digital gesture on the highway this morning.
Now how can this be? If there is a god among your beliefs, has he lost it? Has he/she become irrational? The answer is that “God” has always been irrational by which I mean he/she has always had approaches to things that transcend human ways of doing things. The secret here is that “god” has simply meant what he/she has said all along: that our enemies are to be loved, not consigned to eternal writhing in the flames, that it’s the Prodigal Son whose return is more party-inducing to the heart than the steadfastness of the dutiful child, that the good shepherd will leave the ninety-nine and go in search of the one that has strayed away, that executioners should be forgiven because they do not realize what they are doing, that the so-called “woman caught in adultery” can be blessed because no one is without “sin”, etc.
Literal readers of the Christian Scriptures may object. What about the story of the weeds (darnel) among the wheat where the weeds are burned in unquenchable fire? Astute Scripture commentator Sea Raven, D. Min., writing in “Theology from Exile, Volume II, The Year of Matthew” says that Matthew has apparently forgotten The Sermon on the Mount that appears in his own gospel. Sea Raven goes on to recount that the Christian community that Matthew addressed was under siege at the time the gospel was written. Much like most Americans at the time of 9/11, love of enemies and pacifist instincts in general took a quick back seat to fear-based reflex reactions. It would have been better for Matthew to stick with Paul who states that “nothing can separate us from the love of God..” (Theology from Exile: The Year of Matthew, pp. 191-193).
Well then if everybody’s in heaven, why bother with the demands of love? James W. Fowler, III, groundbreaking Professor of Theology and Human Development at Emory University until his retirement in 2005, describes the ultimate faith stage as Universalizing Faith. Here the individual no longer relates to the Creator as a “vulnerable, defensive, anxious creature” but rather values and experiences beings, and being, from a “standpoint more nearly identified with the love of Creator for creatures”. (Fowler, Becoming Adult, Becoming Christian , p.69) Put another way, the ultimate reason for loving lies not in anticipations of reward and punishment but rather in the transformation of one’s heart into Love itself.
Bill O’Brien, M.A., M.Div., is a spiritual development practitioner. He and his wife Linda have lived in Shepherdstown since 2005.He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org