Two weeks ago, I left Slippery Rock, PA after a 3-day visit to my family. My Gammy had commented throughout my visit that she had received no rain for quite some time.
The rains were kind enough to choose my departure date to unleash.
I sat in my car on the PA Turnpike with countless others as we struggled to navigate the slick roads. We were traveling a sluggish 45 mph when we should have been going 70. My Waze app kept bringing up flood warnings, and I could barely see the car in front of me despite my slashing windshield wipers. I have driven in rain before, but never like this, and never for an extended trip. I was pretty nervous.
And then I saw this sign:
And as I peered out the windshield, past the furious windshield wipers, the cautious cars, and the flooding Turnpike, I cried out: “I don’t care about either of those. I just want to get home.”
In that instant, the last thing I cared about was my eternal destiny. All I cared about was living through this drive so I could see my fiance, snuggle with my cats, and sleep in my own bed. I didn’t want to worry about where my soul, or the souls of the travelers around me, would go if this trip resulted in fatality. I wanted to focus on getting home alive to be with other living loved ones.
I don’t worry about my eternal destiny as much as I once did, and for a while, I thought I was “wrong” to let that fear go. The thought comes up every now and then, but most of the time, I focus on how I’m acting in the here and now, whether or not I’m showing God’s love to those around me. Most of all, I am trying my hardest to live, to be fully alive and present to this world and life around me which I only get to live once, because sometimes, that alone is a struggle for me.
This desire to live and be alive to the world around me is a major reason I have walked away from this “heaven vs. hell” theology. It has nothing to say to real human beings in our very real lives. It only commands us to worry about our death.
This theology had nothing to offer me and the Turnpike drivers as we trekked through a dangerous downpour. It has nothing to offer my anxieties, real and imagined. It has nothing to offer anyone in difficult situations, or who are living real lives. It only provides an idea of escape, a way to not care about what’s in front of us or be attentive to the very real concerns of our neighbors around the world, because this can’t matter in light of the eternal destiny of heaven or hell.
So what’s the point of it? Why do so many of us spend so much time and energy trying to determine a fate that isn’t ours to determine? Why do so many of us lack faith in God that we worry about where God will put us forever? Why do so many of us lack faith in ourselves and God’s love for us?
Because I see both a lack of faith and a lack of love in these billboard signs.
I see a lack of faith in a God we claim loves us unconditionally when we say that being a part of this love depends entirely on a guilt-initiated, one-time choice, instead of a difficult, daily commitment to living into God’s love as embodied in Jesus.
And I see a great lack of love in allowing for this type of escapism to persist in times when those who claim to follow Jesus close their eyes to the broken world around them, which Christ died for, as they blindly gaze up at heaven.
Don’t worry about the heaven and hell, whose gates and guidelines are not yours to manage, and don’t be led astray by those who say they are. Look for the people who care enough about Jesus’ words about the Kingdom of Heaven that they do their hardest to find and make it on earth as it is in heaven, who live real, difficult, beautiful lives reflecting God’s persevering love for all Creation.