Recovery · Religion and Spirituality · Science and Philosophy

Losing Grip on Eternity, Part 2: Heaven as an Excuse

This post was originally uploaded on July 28, 2015. It was re-uploaded as part of the archive restoration project.  

“Aren’t you sick of wasting so much time?
And yes it’s true – you’re a fool
If you think you were born
To be waiting while you’re hating
What you’re waiting for.” –Celldweller, Birthright

Growing up, I often heard that planet earth is just a waiting room. Life sucks here, but it will get better when we get to heaven. Everything that happens between now and then doesn’t matter much. As long as you’ve prayed the sinner’s prayer, you’re going to be in heaven after you die.

Except…Christianity wasn’t totally clear about what you’re supposed to do with the time between accepting Jesus into your heart, and death. Try to live a good life? Righteous acts are like menstrual cloths before the holiness of God, and we’ve been saved through grace.

Then of course there were all those sermons and bible references about how it’s not enough to just believe in Jesus…even the demons believe, and tremble. The sinner’s prayer isn’t enough, but don’t ask me what is enough to get you into heaven. Modern Christianity is set up to keep people confused about assurance of salvation, so they keep coming back for more confession, being lectured and cut down to size, and then returning for more. It’s like an abusive relationship or a drug addiction.

What disgusted me was how many Christians I saw who used heaven as an excuse to neglect life. I watched countless people stay in bad marriages, put aside their dreams, deny their own desires, and endure general misery because, as they put it, there would be a reward. Plus, Christianity really values sacrifice a lot, so spending time doing what you don’t love is admirable. People stay in bad relationships in the name of sacrifice, saying heaven will be better. People don’t care about saving the earth in the name of immediate prosperity, saying it doesn’t matter what happens on this world, it’s going to be destroyed anyway.

Heaven became an excuse to neglect this life.

So I wondered, if we’re all supposed to just ignore life on earth, why doesn’t God just whisk us all away? What’s the point of us being here?

And most Christians would answer, “To spread the gospel. We must witness.”

Why? So they can also wonder what the point of it all is, too? I wouldn’t wish this kind of dissonance on anyone, which is probably why I never “witnessed” or “shared my faith” or “converted” anybody while I was a Christian.

Instead, I longed for death. I wanted to die in incredible pain, because I learned very early on that a life of suffering and martyrdom would give me a great reward in heaven. Torture scared me, but I wanted to be a good Christian who would endure it gracefully. I pored over books about Christian martyrs, and fantasies of torture were a way to avoid thinking about sex. I wanted to be strong, and I wanted to be tested. Heaven faded in my motivation, and I was obsessed with torture. It seemed more interesting, and would make me feel more alive, than wearing robes and singing in a chorus in God’s throne room for eternity.

Somewhere along the way, I realized I wasn’t dead yet. Then I learned another interpretation: that heaven starts here, it’s not necessarily the afterlife. Then I remembered that I’d believed in reincarnation before I’d become a Christian at age 3. Then I thought about how truly dystopian the idea of so-called paradise sounded, based on all the descriptions in the Bible.

Losing grip on eternity gave me a greater sense of urgency and presence in my life here. I looked around me and realized that if heaven starts here, we’re not doing a very good job of making heaven on earth. The planet is being destroyed, and the majority of humanity is sitting around, waiting for heaven. We’re not present and mindful – the modern first-world lifestyle is full of distraction, and few people are listening.

I was tired of waiting around for something to change, I was tired of anxiously waiting for death. So I stopped waiting. I started looking for ways to make heaven manifest in my everyday life.