Thursday, March 3, 2011

When God Gets Too Close For Comfort

The more I think about the idea that everyone goes to heaven the more I think it is rooted in a misunderstanding of what heaven is. That misunderstanding leads us to think certain aspects of the Christian life are unimportant. Many people think of heaven as some abstract bliss. There will be streets paved with gold and you will be able to fly and the music will be great and everyone will be dressed in white or naked. If you think about heaven that way then God would be cruel to not let everyone in. It would be like taking half your kids to Disneyland and leaving the rest home to work in the salt mines.

But heaven is not like that. Heaven is presented to us as intimate union with God. Very few people think about being close to God when they think of heaven. That is just not the desire of their heart. Often that is rooted in a misunderstanding of who God is. Often that flows from a preoccupation with worldly pleasures. A drug addict will think of heaven as the ultimate high. A prideful person might think of heaven as the ultimate self-centered experience. We don't understand that getting these sins out of our lives is a prerequisite for heaven. Embracing our sin more fully and more permanently is what hell is about.

This finds its way into our spirituality as well. One of the things modern people want to exclude from their spiritual life is their sexuality. We want a relationship with God but we don't want it to effect our private lives. We don't understand what kind of relationship God wants. He wants intimacy. He wants to get personal and private. People don't appreciate that so they can't understand why their religion should effect what happens in their bedroom. So much teaching explains our relationship with God as a legal arrangement or maybe a financial debt paid. Those analogies work to a point but they miss the intimacy aspect. We are not comfortable with the image of marriage, sex, and procreation as an analogy for our relationship with God. The mystics were comfortable with it. The bible is comfortable with it. But we don't want God that close. Even small sins look so bad when God comes that close. This is why Mary had to be sinless.

The sacramental life is another area that is effected by this. We don't understand why anyone would want to go to mass every week. You get saved and you learn a few things but every week is a bit much. After a while it seems like such a waste of time. But if we show up to be with our beloved God then once a week seems like nothing. This is why the church sets it as a minimum. If we find it a lot then we are not getting what kind of relationship we are meant to have. We are to long for God as the deer pants for the water.

Lent can be like that too. Why focus so much on the death of Jesus? Why do extra penance and prayers? If we have a barrier up, if we let God come so far and no further then all this death talk will sound strange. It presupposes a relationship with no boundaries. To be made ready for heaven we need to die. Not just in an abstract spiritual way but in a very personal and painful way. We need to do it because God is worth it. We need to really believe that intimacy with God is the pearl of great price. It is the desire that explains all other desires. It is heaven.

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