“If you died today, do you know where you would go?”
If you have ever lasted until the end of a typical church service, I assume you have heard one of the elders ask this question, usually as one of the worship leaders plays the piano or guitar softly in the background. And before I expound on the question, I want to point out that this is not a bad way to end a Sunday morning service, at least in terms of cadence and structure.
Quite the contrary, it is an ideal denouement, a chance for those visiting and even the regular members to reflect on their standing with the God whose only passphrase for granting them salvation is that they merely believe.
And the journey we start after believing, with its sudden turns and pitfalls, convinces me it is never wrong for us to pause and reflect on our standing with God. However, if such reflection leads us anywhere, it ought to lead us to inspect the question of “where we go when we die” within a biblical framework. As we reflect, we might discover that beneath the question’s surface lies a set of untested assumptions and at least two resulting fundamental errors.
For listeners, here is an audio recording of the article:
What follows is a layman’s attempt at a theological argument, which I suppose makes it a shot in the dark. By taking this shot, I risk the assumption that no stray dart will cause harm. But I think my assumption is low-risk for the following reasons:
I will only be read by a few people.
These same people are confident in their faith but not so arrogant as to avoid a challenge.
Metaphorical arrows fired off into a metaphorical abyss don’t usually derail someone’s life-size relationship with their Creator.
As for the writing itself, I share ideas I’ve wrestled with for many years. In the contest, I’ve come to such a point of mental and physical exhaustion that I feel the only way to find rest is to publish the work in its current, incomplete form and allow more educated people to obliterate it. The gnawing reminder that I am not a studied, credentialed theologian has kept me from my writing desk, and perhaps that is not terrible. Like any sober person, I am persuaded that shooting anything in the dark is unwise.
Yes, theology does matter. As luck would have it, it matters a great deal.
Site-note: please ignore the grammatically incorrect meme of Rhett Butler. I can only depend on the internet for so much.
The false opposition
The popular idea that the pursuit of theology must cancel out the pursuit of God’s presence is, in a word, false. The same notion in reverse is also false.
I say the idea is popular because I hear it come up often enough in any conversation that skims the shallows of biblical criticism and layman’s hermeneutics. And while I consider myself a layman among laymen, I do not consider myself a moron among morons. (Those of you who get to spend time with me regularly should take this as a compliment.)
About a week before the 2020 election, while driving home from Orlando, I saw a sign that read, “In Trump We Trust.” And all I could think was, “that’ll have to be answered for, and probably sooner than we expect.”
God will not be mocked.
Now, seeing America’s Charismatic and Evangelical Christians teetering on the cusp of an existential crisis fills me with hope. Perhaps I need to see a pastor and, you know, get that looked at…
A time is coming–maybe it’s already here–when curated evil will be all that we see. And make no mistake: it will be true, undeniable evil. That is what makes the thought behind it so brilliant, so sinister.
The evil of murder, of racism, of social injustice, of systemic prejudice, (fill in the blank for whatever comes next)–these will be cast like veils over our perception until blinded in our relentless pursuit of justice, we can no longer tell our friends from our enemies.
And, most important of all, we will cease praying for both.