I’m a Christian.
Are you afraid yet? If you believe (or, even without belief, if you’ve heard) the teachings of the Church in the last century, you’re probably expecting some sort of follow-up threat. After all, someone at some point had the great idea of ending our Bible with Revelation, which, in Greek, comes from the same root as apocalypse. The Greek definition is an unveiling, an uncovering… a revelation.
I always thought it meant we were leading up to a Buffy season finale.
Anyways, Revelation, as you’ve probably heard, but likely not read all the way through, is a book of startling imagery, violent metaphor, and disturbing “prophecy” of the end times to come. Despite it being the source of controversial debate within the current Christian community, its origins are much like the origins of Judaism and Christianity: it all started with a visit from God.
Back in the day, when nomads wandered the earth and camels had yet to be domesticated (and possibly when dinosaurs roamed the earth, depending on who you believe), Abraham spoke with God who made certain promises that the Jewish people hold on to to this day. Some of those promises have come to pass. Whether those vows are renewed for the end times remains to be seen, but heck, they’ve outlasted the Persian, Greek, and Roman Empires. They’ve survived countless wars, exiles, occupations, and holocausts. And still they persist. Whose to say God hasn’t had a hand in it?
Many, many years later, Paul received a visit on the famous road to Damascus, not to be confused with the also famous “Party To Damascus” by Wyclef Jean and Missy Elliot. After his sojourn with the risen Jesus (something I need to look into more given that Jesus was allegedly taken back to Heaven; does that mean He didn’t ascend as reported, that He actually ascended later than we thought, that He can come and go as He pleases, or that Paul mistakenly recorded a Sacred experience with the Holy Spirit as a visit from Jesus? I personally believe the latter as I believe the Holy Spirit is the current embodiment of God that mingles with the human crowd. But, as with everything, this stems from my own personal experiences and it really doesn’t matter in the scheme of things.)
(I should probably note at this point, after that last sentence, that I really don’t care if I’m wrong about most of what I believe when it comes to religion and Christianity. If someone holds a different belief in something so trivial, let them feel free. It’s like taking the main road or the country road. Both lead to the same place. I’ll have to delve into that soon.)
Back to Paul’s visit… Christianity came next.
So we have a visit for Abraham and a visit for Paul (okay, Saul, but soon to be Paul). And then comes Jesus again, this time to a John. I’m not sure which one. Most scholars aren’t either no matter what they proclaim. A shrinking view is that it was the same John who wrote the gospel of John and the letters found in the New Testament. Some might actually argue that, in this case, it does matter. John and Jesus were close (based on John’s own opinion of himself if it is believed that he wrote his own gospel) so maybe He pulled John aside and foretold him the end times. Bros confide like that.
Irregardless of the author, John was visited by Jesus (or, as I would argue, the Holy Spirit) who said, “This is important, write this down, but wait until you see the shit storm that follows.” Or something like that.
So we have a vision and we have the end times written as metaphor. All of the stuff that goes along with that belongs in another post.
I turn back to the purpose of this one: Fear Itself. Never one to miss an opportunity, the Church latched onto Revelation as a central theme to converting sinners into saints. Because, let’s be honest, eternal damnation does NOT sound like fun. I’m reminded of the fire and brimstone preachers that I learned about at Local Christian School (LCS) in my English courses and the epitome of early American literature. Seriously, that’s all I remember about early American Literature. Fiery sermons and Emily Dickinson. Thanks LCS.
Those Puritans. So conniving.
But it really kind of sucks though when you think about it because the central theme of the teachings of Jesus were lost, distorted. Instead of focusing on the here and now, the central ideas and purpose of being a Christian shifted to the afterlife. Heaven or hell? Eternal salvation or eternal damnation? Angels with halos or devils with horns (and, per popular media, tridents, which leads one to wonder if King Trident of the merpeople was really a metaphor for Satan. I mean, he did rule a kingdom under the earth. Under the sea. Same thing.)
Jesus’s message is not one of death or destruction. Or at least, it isn’t now that I know what to look for. This certainly isn’t something I was taught at LCS or in any of the church events I attended. Instead, the lessons I learned, usually through the use of some sort of felt board and figurines, was purely about the wages of sin. Which, by the way, is death. When something is drilled into you from the moment you pop our of your mother’s womb, it’s difficult to change that way of thinking.
I refused to change it for a very long time despite my mind being unable to truly agree with or join the “celebration” of eternal life in Jesus. Instead, I avoided religion. I didn’t think about it. I decided that it didn’t make any sense in the context of the life experiences I was having (at the tender age of 18) and therefore, I decided to be done with it. Christianity and religion hovered in the peripheral of my life as my world expanded in college and law school, and I think I always knew I would have to come back to it at some point to reconcile the things I had experienced with the things I had learned in my childhood. (I’m glad I came back to it before it was too late! And, keeping in the context of this post, I’m glad because I can now live the best life possible, not glad because I’m guaranteed a spot in Heaven.)
Jesus didn’t teach fear. He didn’t teach by making threats. He stated facts. He made assertions. He spoke of natural consequences from certain acts. He told parables to illustrate the ideas of love, acceptance, DIVERSITY, and faith in each other, humanity, and God. He focused on living a good life HERE AND NOW and the effects on this world.
I don’t hate all churches. Church provides essential nutrients to the Christian “soldier” and is even a necessity for some. Much like alcoholics, we are always sinners. Much like alcoholics go to AA, church provides the reminder to rise above those temptations and live a better life. But it also breeds contempt. When I say “I am a Christian” others begin to immediately feel judged. One particular friend even blurted out, “I’m a Christian too I just don’t believe in some of that stuff or go to church” before I could even tell her what I believed. When I would go to a church as a youth, I would feel the same way. Judged. Because that’s what a lot of church goers are doing. Living a visible life of good so that they can hold it over others.
Question: Is it really living a good life if you behave in that manner to act higher and mightier than those around you?
I think of those who pray out loud. I’m not talking about the prayer done before a church congregation or a team sport. I’m not talking about that teen who cries “Thank Jesus” when she finds a five dollar bill in her pocket when she needs to get some gas or the father who says “Thank God” when he finds out his son wasn’t involved in that nasty accident on the freeway when his schedule would have put him right there.
I’m talking about the phone call from the friend who starts the conversation with “Pray for Bob. His wife is leaving him,” as a means to fill me in on the latest gossip. Or the politician who prays in public for the obvious reasons, not to heal but to gain votes.
I don’t think Jesus would like this very much.
I think of the offering plate that is passed around in church from person to person, where the nosy neighbor knows:
1. He put/didn’t put something in the plate today.
2. His check was only for that much?
Then I think of Jesus overthrowing the tables of the moneymongers in the temple on that fateful day in Jerusalem. Tithing should be between you and God. I don’t think Jesus would like this very much. (Again, my belief. I could be wrong. I would be okay with that.)
I think of Paul and his letter to the Corinthians in which he admonishes the rich for eating the Lord’s supper only amongst those of similar wealth. They miss the point. It’s supposed to be a time of communion between brothers and sisters in Christ, no matter what their social circumstances.
There is no such thing as a good Christian. We all mess up. We do wrong things because we are all sinners. We are NOT sinners because we do wrong things. In this case, there is no chicken and egg. Being a sinner comes first.
Just as with those wealthy early Christians, I think modern day Christians miss the point.
Jesus wasn’t giving a list of rules to follow in order to go to Heaven. He’s not Leviticus. He’s Jesus.
Jesus was telling us how to live a great life on Earth, here and now. As the debates over Revelation indicate to us, we don’t know how the world will end. It is not ours to know the time and place. So what are we supposed to do in the meantime?
We’re supposed to recognize the sacrifice made by God in giving up his Son to be crucified. We all died that day with Jesus. God then put the ball in our court and said “Okay, you died. Now, do you want to live again, but better? Here’s a blueprint.” Then he handed us the Gospels and says “live like My Boy.”
So here we are. The end of this pondering. What I have a learned from my writing, as is the point in this endeavor of mine?
1. Focus on the here and now. We can control our own actions, our own reactions, the way we treat others. We have the tools to make our own lives spectacular in that no matter what comes, we can be content in the love of God and Jesus because between the two of them and the Spirit, God is with us in all things.
2. If it makes you afraid, it probably isn’t from God. Similarly, don’t use fear when trying to convince someone Jesus is the way, the truth, and the light. To be clear, I’m not saying if you are threatened with an impending tornado, Satan made it. I’m saying that if you try to tell someone they should believe in God because it’s the only way to avoid Hell, you aren’t telling them the whole story which means you aren’t telling them the truth. And, as just stated, Jesus is the way, the TRUTH, and the light. Therefore, you are not telling them about Jesus.
In conclusion, the afterlife shouldn’t be the end goal. No one is certain what it will look like and, to be honest, I don’t think we have a way of capturing that in human language.
HOWEVER, there’s nothing wrong with thinking eternal salvation would be awesome collateral from living a good life through Jesus.