How should we live in the world is the question that the church must deal with. Over the past 150 years or so we have failed to adequately ask this question. Instead we’ve been focusing on heaven and hell and who will live there. I believe at some level these questions are related, but difference is one of perspective. (The first is asked from a position of security, the other from a place of insecurity.)
The Bible seems interested in talking about who will be in heaven only when talking about how they live here on earth. That’s interesting because the major theme of Protestantism deals with salvation by faith not works. Now I am a Protestant in this regard, I believe that salvation is not something I gain by what I do, but by believing in Jesus Christ. So how do we reconcile the difference here?
The book of James says that true religion, that is pure and faultless loves those on the bottom of the ladder (James 1:27). This passage echoes the prophets and the Torah of the Hebrew Scriptures; a person can’t read through the Old Testament for very long without coming across how to live. These Scriptures are written to a specific who dealing with how to live. I think this is teaching us the who and how cannot be separated.
Interesting in the Hebrew Scriptures there is very little conversation about what happens to the who in the afterlife. Take the book of Daniel for example, it follows the life of four Jewish boys in Babylon, you’d think as they’re dealing with the fall of their society there would be talk about heaven, but there is surprisingly no conversation about the afterlife – even in the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Instead we find discussion about how to live in a foreign land among people who do not believe in YHWH and the hope that God will provide for the who here and now.
In the book of Revelation, the book most often used to discuss the final destination of the who, is focused on how to live amidst persecutions. The major fault in many modern readings of this book is to only see pictures of afterlife. The book is addressed to seven churches in Asia. The author gives instruction to these churches then spends the rest of the book talking about troubles that will come, but how these troubles are nothing compared to the glory of God. Discussion on the afterlife is focused on providing strength and reward for how these church live faithful lives.
We’re spending so much time asking whether this person or that person are going to be a part of the who that we have failed to ask how we are to live. The who is a question dealing with status and power struggle. We are the ones who are right; we’re the one who are going to heaven. This is the language of a people fighting a culture war. This is not the language used in the Scriptures. The language of the Scriptures (how language) is the language of strength. If you don’t believe me re-read the stories of Daniel 7 or Revelation 19, in both stories God does not need to move in order to defeat the beasts – they just lose.
What do you think? Should we be asking the who question or should we be talking about the how?