Spiritual Perspectives


Gary W. Summers

     So many articles on religion promote the unusual, the bizarre, and the non- (not to mention anti-) Christian that it was refreshing to read something with a measure of sanity in it in the Orlando Sentinel on March 10th.  David Brooks, of The New York Times, wrote an interesting column about people’s conceptions of Heaven.  He begins by saying, in response to the furor (which has now largely subsided) over Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ that the public might be more alarmed by Mitch (Tuesdays With Morrie) Albom’s new book, The Five People You Meet in Heaven (all references are from page A15).


As any tour around the TV dial will make abundantly clear, we do not live in Mel Gibson’s fire-and-brimstone universe. Instead, we live in a psychobabble nation. We’ve got more to fear from the easygoing narcissism that is so much a part of the atmosphere nobody even thinks to protest or get angry about it.


     For those not familiar with the term narcissism, it simply refers to the preoccupation people have with themselves (more than God or others).  We see it expressed religiously as “church” services are designed to appeal to the worshippers (entertaining them) instead of to glorify God.


     Albom’s current bestseller is “about an 83-year-old man who feels lonely, adrift and unimportant, and who dies while trying to save a little girl from a broken carnival ride.”  Naturally, he goes to Heaven (doesn’t everyone?).  Modern man cannot fathom that God would condemn any one of us to Hell.  After all, we are all such great folks.  Oh, sometimes we are a little “mischievous,” but that’s just part of being human, right?  Certainly, God will forgive us all (we think).  In Heaven the man meets five people who “adopt” him.


They reconcile him with his father, who had been cruel to him. They remind him of what a good person he was. He gets to spend time with his wife, whom he’d neglected and who died young. He is forgiven for the hurts he accidentally committed while alive.


     Obviously, the message is that all human beings are imperfect, but we all go to Heaven anyway.  Why is his father there since he had been so cruel to him?  Are we are allowed to be cruel to whomever we wish without any retribution?  Hitler was cruel to the Jews; does he get into heaven because he loved his mother and was kind to the dog?  God commands us to love one another.  Being deliberately cruel to someone simply does not qualify.  The 83-year-old man had neglected his wife and “accidentally” committed hurts.  He must have been somewhat narcissistic himself not to see the pain inflicted on others.  And is there not a command for husbands to love their wives, as Christ loved the church (Eph. 5:25)?      



     Brooks comments on the kind of Heaven portrayed in Albom’s book—one that “is nothing more than an excellent therapy session:


…God, to the extent that he exists there, is sort of a genial Dr. Phil. When you go to his heaven, friends and helpers come and tell you how innately wonderful you are. They help you reach closure.


In this heaven God and his glory are not the center of attention. It’s all about you.


Here, sins are not washed away. Instead, hurt is washed away. The language of good and evil is replaced by the language of trauma and recovery. There is no vice and virtue, no moral framework to locate the individual within the cosmic infinity of the universe. Instead they are just the right emotions—Do you feel good about yourself?—buttressed by an endless string of vague bromides about how special each person is, and how much we are all mystically connected in the flowing river of life.


     Of course, in the book of Revelation, we see a vastly different picture of Heaven.  God is the one who is glorified—not angels nor human beings.  Actually, hurt is removed in heaven; “God shall wipe away all tears” (Rev. 21:4), and sins are not washed away there—they are washed away now when people obey the Gospel.  It is the blood of Christ, which cleanses us now that makes us justified and qualified to be in Heaven later.  If we think we get to dwell in Heaven based on our own goodness, no wonder there is such praise of Self instead of Him who made it possible.


      It is scarcely surprising that there is no mention of virtue and vice.  Nobody desires to talk about sin any more; sin is never the deliberate violation of the will of God; it is always a weakness or a sickness.  It may be the result of a person’s genes or perhaps the environment, but certainly we cannot hold anyone responsible for their “sins”; in the twenty-first century we are more enlightened than that.


     People never decide to do evil things; they are just victims of society.  Parents begin making excuses for little Johnny when he begins school.  “Our son is not mean; if he pushed down and kicked another student, it was undoubtedly the other child’s fault; he wouldn’t do anything unprovoked.”  Ten years later they are telling the judge, “Our son was not involved in the robbery; he was in the getaway car because he thought he was just going for a ride with his friends.”  And now, when Johnny dies (say, at the age of 83), he is immediately pardoned for ”the hurts he accidentally committed.”  This is salvation without repentance.  Salvation, a la Albom, does not occur because someone has seen the evil effects of his sins and realized he is in need of a Savior; it is based on the fact that he is a special person.  Well, Cain, Pharaoh, Jezebel, and all who were destroyed in the Flood were also unique.  


The title of the Brooks’ article is: “Hooked on Heaven Lite: Religion All About You.”  Certainly, this headline accurately describes today’s thinking.  Various church groups will do almost anything to attract worshippers these days.  People are not interested in learning or upholding the sacred teachings found in the Holy Bible.  They have to think in school and probably on the job; when it comes to religion they prefer not to have to think.  “We just want to have a good time.”  How unlike people today are from the Bereans, who searched the Scriptures daily to see whether or not the things they were being taught were so (Acts 17:11). 


     Christianity has developed into a non-thinking activty.  Whatever worshippers want, they get.  The reader may be shocked by the extent of the compromise, but the following item was read on Paul Harvey’s news broadcast of March 13th:


Incidentally, where church attendance is in decline, I notice some churches are inviting worshippers to bring along their pet dogs and cats. One church in Connecticut is offering pets holy communion.


     This practice is as absurd as it is profane.  We not only have every person in the world in Heaven, now we must have it populated with animals, also.  Animals do not sin, and Christ did not atone for their sins.  To offer the Lord’s Supper to animals is to minimize the sacrifice Jesus made for human beings.


     The reality of the matter was stated by Jesus when He said that there are few who seek (and find) the narrow gate but many who find the broad gate, which leads to destruction (Matt. 7:13-14).  Not only is not everyone going to Heaven; few are going there.  The writer of Hebrews said that those who come to God “must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him” (11:6).


     One does not accidentally get ushered into Heaven when this life is over; God expects people to seek Him.  He is not located in self-help books or amongst the popular cultural figures of today who present God as they would like Him to be.  He has revealed Himself in the Scriptures; therefore, we seek Him where He is to be found.  There we read about His nature and attributes; His dealings with mankind, what pleases Him and what angers Him; there we read of His plan for saving us from our sins.


     He is willing to redeem us from our sins—if we will repent.  We cannot expect to carry a love of sin with us into Heaven.  We must renounce sin and change the way we think, speak, and act, painful though it may be.  We must also be baptized for the forgiveness of our sins (Acts 2:38) and then live faithfully unto God.  Baptism is not a magic potion, which cures us despite a refusal to repent.  If we do not love God with all our mind, soul, heart, and strength (which means obeying Him in all things), then we have invalidated our baptism.  We must not adopt the world’s view of salvation; we must see things the way God does.



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