“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.
The Man is afraid, abiding the moment as one in a trance or stranded in a dream idling on the edge of wakefulness. The blaze is hot but not stifling. It is a perfect heat, if such a thing can be perfect. Purple and pink tendrils of lighting reach over the mountaintop as if drawn by the flames. The fire drinks the rain. It is a fire unquenchable just as the force fueling it is unstoppable.
The ground is sacred – take off your shoes and feel the earth. Be in this moment. Hear me. Believe me. Trust me. Do everything I say and never again know the fear of man.
“If you want to see what it looks like for God’s renewed people in Christ to be ‘royal,’ to be ‘rulers’ in the sense indicated by the vocation to be a ‘royal priesthood,’ don’t look at the fourth and fifth centuries, when the Roman emperors first became Christian. That raises questions and challenges at other levels, but to begin there would be to miss the point. Look, instead, at what the church was doing in the first two or three centuries, while being persecuted and harried by the authorities—and announcing to the whole world that Jesus, the crucified and risen Messiah of Israel, was its rightful Lord. That is what it means to be ‘rulers’ in the sense we’re discussing here: to be agents of that King’s reign, the reign of the Prince of Peace, the one through whom tyranny itself (not to mention any individual tyrants) was overthrown with the destruction of its most vital weapon—namely, death—and the one through whom therefore was brought to birth a new world in which order and freedom at last meet.” – N. T. Wright, After You Believe
Phase one usually doesn’t harm a soul. It’s the thinking phase, the inceptive hovering over the face of black waters. Nothing is spoken and no promises are made—there is no law and no one to break it, no light and thus no understanding of darkness. Nothing is right and nothing is wrong. A voice says “light be.” Suddenly a veil splits from top to bottom and it is this perpetual tearing of the immaterial that carves its way toward the farthest reach of eternity. This is phase two, the vocalizing of the concept that causes a new world to envelop the old. If this stage is initiated, the one in charge is responsible for making sure that the original idea is sound and, most importantly, something that produces life.