For anyone raised in a traditional Christian household, Heaven is considered to be the Kingdom of God and what we spend our lives trying to attain. If we are good enough -follow the Ten Commandments, do what Jesus told us to do, be like Jesus, then maybe – only maybe – we might get to go to heaven when we die. Heaven is the place of eternal peace, somewhere “up there” (in the clouds or something) where we get to see those who died before us and hang out with the angels and saints. But if we aren’t good enough, we will be cast into the fiery pits of hell where we will suffer for all of eternity.
This threat of eternal damnation is the weapon used by institutional religion to mold us into a people afraid. We are afraid of the jealous, wrathful God whose love we have to earn and which can just as quickly be taken away. We are afraid for all the ways in which God will punish us in this life when we misbehave. We are conditioned to believe that every moment of suffering and pain is God’s way of punishing us for things we don’t even know we did. I mean – for real – this version of God has been punishing all of humanity since the beginning of time for Adam and Eve’s disobedience. We’re being punished for something we didn’t even do!
This is how institutional religion gains its control – by putting us in an ever-anxious place of fear and trepidation – looking over our shoulder for any wrong we might have done, shaming ourselves over that misdeed, and then doing everything we can to make ourselves right with God. We go to mass. Give money to the church. Fast. Abstain from life’s pleasures. Oh wait…..it sound’s an awful lot like Lent – the 40 days set aside in the Church calendar in which we are expected to make ourselves right with God.
But here’s my question – if we believe in the God that Jesus taught – the one of unconditional love and mercy – then where and how could we ever have gone wrong with God? The answer is that we cannot. God loves us no matter what. At least that’s what Jesus said. Jesus spoke of a God who loves without condition; who seeks mercy not sacrifice; and who is forever standing at the gate with arms wide open waiting to welcome our return. And there is no question about our return! There is no other place that we can go after we have completed this human experiment but back to the Source from which we came. That Source is God. At least that is what we’ve been told.
BUT we don’t have to wait until we die to be in the presence of eternal love. Even in the perceived separation of the human experience, we are never separate from God. Jesus said so!
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