Tag Archives: Heaven

Good Will Doing

Ephesians 6:7-8

With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men:

Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free.

They say (whoever they are) that the good you do for another will be given back to you. Do this good thing now and you will be rewarded later in kind. And all of this rather fits in with the idea of Karma and what goes around comes around, whether good or bad. But… I don’t know that I see the proof of this in real life – do you? Too often, it seems that people get away with doing bad things – and even profit from those less than savory deeds. And too many kind, generous people, who do for others selflessly, get taken advantage of and walked all over. Where’s the cosmic justice?

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these Bible Bursts. Please forgive me if I’m a bit rusty. It has never been my habit to pick up the Bible and turn to a random page when something is troubling me or just as daily instruction. I only began doing so when I conceived this writing challenge, which was originally designed to get me back to the habit of writing. You see, I was mainly interested in my craft and not really my soul. However, over the years, I have not only returned to regular and productive writing, but I have also gained deeper appreciation for the words within the Bible – as well as the Bible itself. I have begun to see the Bible, truly, as Sacred Scripture, the inspired word of God. And that’s good thing.

I am a true believing and practicing Christian, a member of the Catholic Church, which I believe to be the Mystical Body of Christ. But, I still have my little hangups. There are still some parts of the religion (that is, what is practiced) and the Faith (meaning what is believed) with which I have real difficulty. And, every now and then, I’m still washed over by the ghosts of my non-Christian past, those doubts and disbeliefs that I had once embraced. What does any of this have to do with today’s randomly selected piece of Scripture? The verses speak of divine justice, of God rewarding those who do good. Soon after reading them, my thoughts turned to doubt, didn’t they? I asked: Where’s the cosmic justice?

And I know that one answer to that question is found in the belief of Heaven and Hell. Those who do good here on earth will be rewarded, after death, in the eternity of Heaven, while those who do evil here on earth will be rewarded, after death, in the eternity of Hell. Simple. And, yet… requiring SUCH a leap of faith. We have no indisputable proof that any of this is true. And we cannot even offer the promises written in the Bible as proof – because believing that the promises written in the Bible are true requires faith and, therefore, cannot be indisputably proven as fact. I might venture as far as to say that there is enough historical documentation outside of the Bible, reporting what eyewitnesses said and did, to declare that Jesus of Nazareth’s not being dead after his crucifixion is probable. But, his Ascension into Heaven? Continuing with our “probable” case, the fact that his followers and those who knew him may never have seen him again doesn’t prove that he “went to Heaven”. He could have disappeared into the mist and kept walking, going to live far away, in obscurity, while tales of his life and death got naturally exaggerated until they were eventually written down, thus exaggerated and embellished – in the Bible.

These are the doubts. These are the doubts that got the better of me in the past and still plague me now, from time to time. These are the doubts that many, many, many people have. We are not alone. There is, however, another thing that “they” say (whoever they are) and that is this: paralysis by analysis.

One can certainly overanalyze anything. And everything. Our God-given gift of reason can bring us to many wonderful and amazing lands of discovery in this beautiful existence that is reality. But, reason can only bring us so far. We can analyze the stories told in the Bible, as well as the historical evidence for figures in the Bible and their earliest followers, and we can even, reasonably, arrive at conclusions of possibility, or even probability. But, our God-given gift of reason is only designed to bring us so far – and no further. We are not meant to prove the Messianic power and Lordship of Jesus of Nazareth. We are not meant to prove that he is God Incarnate. God doesn’t want us to prove it.

God wants us to live it.

And in order to live the truth of Jesus, we need to love it – and in order to love it, we need to leap to it.

There is something about a human being taking a leap of faith that is more beautiful, powerful, awesome, and amazing than any other act from any other creature EVER. I even dare to say that a human being taking a leap of faith is something that even God Godself cannot do. God knows everything that exists. God knows each and every one of us intimately and infinitely. But, for us to come into a personal relationship with God, we must leap with faith.

Okay. I seem to be seriously digressing. I’m obviously more than a bit rusty! My basic point is that I don’t like to say out loud, or even to think, that acts of human kindness will be rewarded after death. Something inside of me fights against the idea that God is conditioning us to “good” behavior with the promise of yummy treats at the end of the day. Surely Heaven must be so much more – even so much other – than that. And I also resist the idea that God is conditioning our behavior here on earth with a stick and a carrot. Like, “Treat your cranky old neighbor kindly and generously and then you will see – a stranger will give you a check for 10,000 dollars!” Or, “Tisk, tisk, you better not knock your little brother to the ground or else you’ll find a hornet in your shirt and get stung!” Yeah, I don’t think so. I could be wrong – I could most definitely be wrong, God knows! – but I don’t think that God meets out cosmic justice with an elaborate system of punishments and rewards.

I do think, however, and I do believe, that goodness is its own reward. And I don’t mean that feeling of satisfaction for having done something “good”. I mean what these Scripture passages from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians are hinting at. Doing “good” and being “good” isn’t about what we do or say to our fellow human beings. When God calls for acts of charity, God is calling for acts of love, and, as Saint Paul tells us in another letter to another group of people, we can perform many marvelous acts – but if we have not love, real love, then we are nothing. Doing good and being good is about being in intimate union with Goodness Itself. “Goodness Itself” is God. And yes, that can mean following God’s commandments and thereby doing God’s will – but it means so much more. Because we could follow all of the commandments – but if we do not do so with real love, then we’re missing the mark. It’s all about loving.

As the verse for today says, it’s not about the good service that we do to our fellow Men, it’s about the good service that we do for God, for the sake of God – and we can do nothing for the sake of God unless we are doing it because we love God. Not because we want to please God so that we will be rewarded and not punished. No. Because we really love God, we joyfully do the things of God, paying no mind to the consequences. This joyfully doing is real joy, true joy. Just pleasing other human beings, or doing things for the sake of avoiding punishment or getting reward, isn’t going to cut it. The most beautiful thing that we can do as human beings is to take a leap of faith – and the most joyful thing that we can do as human beings is to love God, to whom we leap freely and unselfishly.

unpublished work © 2015 Christina Chase

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Thy Corn

Deuteronomy 7:12-13

Wherefore it shall come to pass, if ye hearken to these judgments, and keep, and do them, that the LORD thy God shall keep unto thee the covenant and the mercy which he sware unto thy fathers:

And he will love thee, and bless thee, and multiply thee: he will also bless the fruit of thy womb, and the fruit of thy land, thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep, in the land which he sware unto thy fathers to give thee.

Hmm… I’ve been writing these Bible bursts for over a year now and there have only been a handful of times when I disliked the verses randomly given to me.  Not that I “dislike” the content of the Bible – but some passages leave me shaking my head.  Like this one from Deuteronomy.

Is it the word of God that, if I listen to God’s judgments and keep them, keeping all of God’s commandments, then my family will be large and healthy and my possessions vast and increasing?  It sounds like God is saying, “If you do what I tell you, then you will be worldly wealthy.”  Sure, I could reinterpret this to mean that God will bless me with spiritual richness and abundance in Heaven – but I don’t think that’s how the people who kept this Scripture as sacred understood it.  For them, plagues and hardships were punishments from God for being bad, while healthy crops, livestock and children were rewards for being good.  And I know that there are people today who believe that this is true.  But I don’t.

When I was a child, crippled in my wheelchair, I remember picking up from other people this thought: “If I am a good girl, then God will make me be able to walk – but I really have to believe that it’s true or God won’t cure me.”  And I remember praying to God and believing and then pushing downward with my legs and upward with my torso, ready to be wowed by the miracle.  But nothing new happened.  The thing is, I don’t remember being devastated by the lack of miracle.  (Perhaps “authentic” faith would have been devastated?)  I do remember thinking something like, “Does this mean that I’m not good enough?”  And then my little mind began to work.  With a slight smirk and furrowed brow I tried to figure out the puzzle.

I knew that I felt my faith surging in me when I made the prayer and the attempt to rise.  But I also knew, when I didn’t rise, that I doubted that this was how God worked.  I would hear about miracle stories, like a contemporary one where a woman with MS, I think, was cured at Lourde’s, and I would think that maybe I had to go all the way to France for God to work a miracle – but this just didn’t make any sense.  I do mean logical sense, in that, if God is God then God is all-powerful and doesn’t need me to buy a plane ticket in order for His cure to work.  (But, then again, I knew that such a trip could be a sign of my faith, of my willingness to go the extra mile (literally) in order to receive God’s blessings.)  Having to go the extra mile also didn’t make sense to me in a personal way, though, based on my faith.  Because, and I think this is important, I didn’t believe that my disease was any kind of a curse or punishment.  My legs are not dysfunctional because of something bad that I did or my parents did – so they’re not going to become functional because of something good that I do or my parents do.  There is no curse to be undone.

I think, however, that this is not what the people of the Old Testament believed to be true.  Like many ancient peoples, they believed that God’s wrath was just and, so, God rightly inflicted punishments upon wicked people – and, therefore, they believed that God’s wrath could be appeased and punishments reversed through right behavior.  If one could follow the letter of the law – and with the spirit of the law, which is love – then one would be earning God’s esteem and receive happy rewards from God.  The afterlife was not a given to all ancient people and, so, these rewards would be received here and now.  Good people would get what good people want: healthy children, productive growing seasons, healthy livestock – comfort, plenty and ease.  This is a system that we humans can understand, because this is what we would do.  We reward good behavior and punish bad.  It’s part of conditioning children (and society) so that it may be shaped into something desirable for the parents (and the majority of people in society).  We expect God to act like us.  And God, who wants to reveal Himself to all of humankind, speaks to us in a way that we can understand, at every developing level, as individuals and as societies – just as a parent communicates with a growing child.  That’s why we have the promises in Deuteronomy.

As a Christian, I shouldn’t try to make the people of the Old Testament believe things that they didn’t believe.  As a Christian, I should try to understand the Old Testament writings in the light of Christ.  I heard somewhere that the Bible is a book of questions with the answers in the back.  In other words, the Hebrew testament contains the questions of life and the Christian testament contains the answers – not in black white, unmistakable, concrete terms.  It’s not a science book exploring material matters.  Rather, where God once communicated to us in words at our level, the Hebrew testament, God now communicates to us in the Divine Word (his level) made flesh – not just the pages of the Christian testament, but Christ himself.  Christ says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life…”.  And when you hear Christ’s message and you look upon Christ’s life, then you start to think of blessings in a new light.

Yes, Christ’s resurrection and ascension, as well as his promises, cause us to believe in the afterlife.  So, it can just be an easy matter of changing the whole punishments and rewards thing to being meted out “in the life of the world to come” instead of in this earthly life.  But… This still doesn’t do it for me.  That’s like saying, “If you suffer enough (like Christ) and keep faith that you will be rewarded in Heaven, then you will be rewarded in Heaven – and don’t worry, all those bad people are going to get their punishment after they die.”  This doesn’t seem like we really learned anything by God becoming Man, does it?  God will save us from the injustice of earthly life when we die and are freed from the earthly bonds – no, unh-uh, not divine enough.

God created the earth, earthly bonds, earthly bodies – and looked upon them and saw that they were good.  Now, I know that the free-willed choices of man to continually choose pride and turn away from God wrecks things.  I believe that this “fall” has inherently darkened our intellects and weakened our wills – and I believe that we need saving.  God made a deal with the ancient people of Israel and they broke their end of the bargain – an act that they agreed would warrant their deaths.  God becomes a human being and takes on that broken act and its justified punishment of death – Christ atones for sin on the cross of redemption.  And then Christ rises from the dead and ascends into Heaven in order to reestablish the covenant – indeed, to make a new covenant – with its fulfillment in the afterlife, which he opens up for us, instead of on temporal earth.  And it could all end there.  Nice and neat and orderly.  But the danger – and there is a real danger – lies in focusing upon what needs to be done in order to be rewarded.  If I am acting in a good way solely in order to get pleasure and riches in an unknown, but promised and very material sounding, other place, then I am totally self-centered.  How is that different than being like Adam and Eve?

I am supposed to be like Christ – “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,  who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,  but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form,  he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.”  (Philippians 2:5-8.)  And if this obedience is done solely for reward – then it is not done with love.  For we know that we can have the words of angels, but, if we have not love, then we sound like gongs.  Love makes the difference – and true love is given with no thought of reward.

I should love the Lord, my God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength BECAUSE He is the Lord, my God.  That’s it.  Pure and simple.  There are no material rewards here for doing that.  There might be some kind of reward hereafter for doing that – but this is not my focus.  My focus is knowing that God loves me, sinner that I am, for no other reason than that God loves.  I love God because God first loved me.  If I love God (if I’m a good girl) then God will reward me simply with His love that He was already giving (I will be happy because I am loving and open to loving).  Without this earth there is no me to love God.  Heaven is the clear and eternal understanding of this love.

Times up and I’ve rambled away another hour – did I write anything of worth?  I’m more confused than when I began.  I really want to hear what other people make of these verses from Deuteronomy… I am a pilgrim on a journey, I am a student in God’s classroom, I don’t know anything on my own – help teach me, fellow pilgrims!

Christina Chase