Strangely enough, I don’t feel nearly as concerned about spending eternity in hell as I once did. Further, I don’t feel the flames being quite the motivation they used to be to prevent me from sinning or make me feel guilty for sinning when I did sin. I also don’t have very many days where I am outrageously gung-ho for Jesus, but I don’t have as many low days where I question whether or not the whole thing is worth my time and faith, either.
The motivation for being more righteous and less sinful seems to come more from a practical concern–most sins and vices do not accomplish whatever lasting pleasures they promised, but many righteous acts and thoughts seem to yield longer-lasting consequences of happiness.
Obviously, the simple fact that I am growing old and my flesh is less lively than it used to be could be part of the list of reasons for why I am not nearly as compelled to sin as I used to be.
But, the real focus for me comes in the yardstick of having someone or something promise what they deliver. The era of following myself and the world, and trying to become successful on the world’s terms saw me succeeding very little and being miserable most of the time. The era of following God and going regularly to church saw me more successful with finding a life partner and finding work that was more satisfying and paid better. There is an honest practicality to my faith that is hard to prove to anyone else, but I know that it works for me where not practicing my faith does not work, therefore, I am going to keep practicing it.
I tend to think that the kinds of people God will hold up in high regard as being especially wonderful human beings are mostly unknown to all of us. The mothers and grandparents and doctors, nurses, teachers, etc. who made exceptional sacrifices and greatly changed individual lives are the ones God will place near the front and center when we get to heaven. The quantity of lives won’t always matter, either, which is why I am always a little taken aback when Mother Teresa is criticized for having fed fewer poor people than other organizations. I am not completely dismissive of quantity, but I don’t think it will be everything.
Your average globally known name, be it a Shakespeare or a Ceasar–these kinds of folks may or may not be God’s favorites. Who knows, really–my point is just that we will likely be astounded at who God gives preference of place to in that heavenly seating chart that the disciples fought over in the Bible.
I for one will be happy just to be there. I will gladly accept a tiny, ramshackle nothing of a dwelling on the outskirts of Heaven–as long as it is on the desirable (I’ve changed this word a few times, but most definitely want posterity to know that I see the right side as the heavenly side) side of the great chasm between Jesus and the flames of hell, I’m good. It’s fun to sing AC/DC Hell’s Bells when you are young and pretend that it would be cool to be a star in hell vs. a slave in heaven until you really sit down and think about what that means. No, hell will likely not just be a rather warm and dark place, but still very cool and full of lots of heavy metal and sex and drugs. It will likely be the most exquisite torture that you can’t imagine, coupled with the deep and certain knowledge that you are there for eternity. Or, so I am inclined to believe as I write this.
I mean, I am not completely one to discount alternate ideas about hell–that eternal damnation is based on a certain conception of time and that hell is really the hell of eternal birth and death as understood by the Buddhists. However, as I get older, I don’t find a lot of comfort in keeping an open mind. Is comfort everything? Certainly not, but it can be a starting point.
But, more importantly, as I stated at the beginning of this, I think that a desire to serve the Lord and be immersed in righteous things–be it prayer, worship, the Bible, learning about the history of the biblical world, or helping others–this is the desire that nets a lot more profitable life changes over a simplistic desire to simply avoid being burned in hell for eternity. For me, the Lord and his Son Jesus are wonderful and amazing beings who are every bit worthy of my praise and adoration, and the unsavory bits about Yahweh in the OT and Jesus in the NT are born more out of the wishful thinking of humans who would have these powerful deities on their side doing their killing for them, than the true nature of these deities. After all, if someone is as powerful as Yahweh–why would he waste his time killing these people or those people, just out of some grim satisfaction? Of course, I see Jesus and the Lord as one God, and am good with the 1-3, 3-1 descriptions of the Trinity as understood by most Christians. But, I do see them as separate deities or beings where the emphasis of what they do in relation to this world is different, which is why I can get just as excited about the OT as the NT.
I do think that it is incredibly difficult to completely discount the religions outside of Judeo-Christianity as having no merit or being incorrect, simply because the individuals who are caught up in adoring God in their particular way are every bit as certain as I am of my faith, and their traditions are every bit as ancient and richly developed most of the time. I also have a hard time seeing an almighty God be so quick to put so much of humanity into hell for eternity–it doesn’t make sense when you concede that he is indeed almighty and all-loving.
Of course, I’ve said similar things a million times, but I think it bears fruit to occasionally touch base with some of the core things that I believe and understand to be drivers for why I am here, doing what I am doing, vs. being a Systems Admin, or something else secular. There is a path, and I have chosen to follow it, and I generally feel that I profit from it in ways I was never able to profit from trying to be the best secular human I could be. I am intensely devoted to this path, but sometimes, I too, need a reminder of this. The path of playing in the world with worldly things has long since lost its shine, and it only remains as a backup plan if it means choosing between it and seeing my family starve.