After an argument with an older lady in the church on the subject of whether or not Christians should use political power to enforce Biblical principles on those who do not believe, I was deeply vexed. I thought to myself, “Really Lord? Really? You call living with these people for all eternity paradise? Are you sure? It seems more like it would be completely hellish to me.”
Far and away the number one reason to reject Christianity, in my opinion, is the sins of those of us who call ourselves Christians. When I was a younger Christian, I read through the history books expecting to find the church at the forefront of human progress, justice, goodness and charity. What I found instead was that while there had been a number of Christians who have been a force for good in this world, the number doesn’t seem to be any higher than one would expect using simple statistical methods.
In fact, from the history of racism of churches in the American South to the history of persecution of one Christian denomination by another, the evidence of the moral superiority of Christian believers is essentially non-existent. Even a quick look at divorce statistics confirms the truth of this observation. The statistics show that those who attend church weekly divorce just as frequently as those in society at large. Why does God populate his paradise with people who are statistically just as bad as those around them? Could a paradise filled with such people be any fun?
Now the first answer that leaps to mind when I ask these questions is, “yes but those people aren’t really Christians.” The problem with this argument is that I was just as bad as anyone else when I first became a Christian. Please understand that I did not include myself as a despicable and evil Christian for the sake of solidarity or some false humility. When I think of how I used to be as a younger Christian, I shudder and I know exactly what the Apostle Paul meant when he called himself, “the chief of sinners”. If I had a saving relationship with Jesus Christ at that time (and I do believe that I did), then Christians can be radically flawed people. How, then do we answer these very difficult questions?
As I pondered this question, it occurred to me that most of the growth that I have experienced in my life has come substantially after the experiences that caused it. That is to say, analyzing my experiences in retrospect has taught me most of the lessons that I have learned in this life. While I was going through those experiences, things were happening too fast and I was too involved to be objective. Only analyzing what happened after the fact was I able to see how I had screwed up and how I might be able to do better in the future.
As I thought about this, it occurred to me that I had seen another example of this idea in my experience with something the military calls the “After Action Report”. As the name implies, this is a report compiled after an engagement has occurred involving a deployed military unit. The purpose of this report is to analyze the intelligence data, communications, eyewitness accounts and aftermath of a battle in order to learn lessons that can be used to improve training and tactics. It seems to me that there is an after action report suggested in the Bible:
Everything that is secret will be brought out into the open. Everything that is hidden will be uncovered. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight. What you have whispered to someone behind closed doors will be shouted from the rooftops. (Luke 12: 2-3)
The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. (Luke 11:32)
Having reflected on these things, I have come to believe that the greater part of our moral and spiritual growth will come after this life is over. God will squeeze every last drop of good that he can out of the pain of this world and we will experience an enormous amount of growth in humility, love, kindness and understanding as we see how badly we have blown it during this lifetime. Even those who rejected Jesus Christ down here on earth will realize the errors of their ways:
so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:10-11)
Contemplating this after action report, the Apostle Paul concludes that we should not judge other human beings:
So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. (Romans 14:12-13)
So could a paradise filled with flawed Christians be any fun? As we have seen, the answer is a resounding yes. The Christians we see down here are nothing as compared to the Christians we will see once they have had the transformative experience of seeing their lives from the divine perspective. It will undoubtedly be an extremely painful and embarrassing process and I am not looking forward to it at all, but the end result will be a new kind of human being that will be perfectly suited to an eternal life of joy.
If even those who reject Christ see the error of their ways during the after action report, then this suggests another question. “If we are all the same down here and we learn the same lessons in the after action report, why is it that only Christians are allowed in heaven?” I will be sharing my thoughts on this issue in a future post.
June of 2015 – Modified this post to remove the references to homosexuality because, while I like this post, the recent Supreme Court decision has made me want to remove anything from my site that could be construed as supportive of gay marriage.