8/8/16 Matt about 28
The guy reading a book at the coffee shop turned out to be Matt, a religion teacher at a Catholic high school, and the book he was reading turned out to be the Bible. I had asked what he thought happens to us after we die, and he said he just happened to be reading the book of Revelation for the first time on his own, as opposed to reading from it for a class or a paper. He believes some people go on to live in God’s presence, and some do not, but he was a little evasive about my question beyond that, so I rephrased it: “Suppose one of your students asked you how they can know if they will go to heaven, what would you tell them?” He really had never been asked this question by his students, but said he would answer with a question of his own – “Why would you want to know?” He tries to teach his students to live with the uncertainty, and as a religion teacher he tries to put the emphasis on how we live this life – on living lives with integrity – not on where we will be in the next.
That may sound admirable at first. Shouldn’t we do good for goodness’ sake, without regard to reward or punishment in the next life? This is an attraction for many atheists – that they can be “good” without God – but has it also found its place among the religious? I tried to get Matt to look at it from two angles. First, how much longer is eternity compared with our temporary existence here on earth? Shouldn’t it be a concern just by its very nature? Second, if heaven is, as Matt put it, “to live in God’s presence”, and hell is to be away from His presence, why shouldn’t we care where we will spend eternity? If we love God, wouldn’t we want to make sure we will be with Him forever?
It’s a mistake to worry that our desire for heaven reveals selfish motivations because God Himself is our reward. As Matt continues to read Revelations he will see this in Chapter 21: “Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.” The “victorious” are those who have found new life in Christ. Heaven is real, but we can’t stop reading there because hell is too… “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”
Those who love their sin rather than God will go into eternity without Him and cut off from all that is good. I hope Matt will put aside his belief that the desire for heaven is selfish and that uncertainty is admirable and instead teach his students to follow Paul’s advice in Philippians 2 – to “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling” - because there is too much at stake not to.