Thursday, May 11, 2017
“Imagine there's no heaven, It's easy if you try. No hell below us, Above us only sky.” — John Lennon
It seems to me that doing good for others in order to get the reward of heaven or to avoid the pain of hell is not what Christ intended. Not at all. Serving others to get a reward is just one side of the same coin that has you serving others to avoid punishment or as Wesley called it, “Fleeing the wrath to come.” When I was the pastor of a church in Stoneham, Massachusetts, one of the congregation was trimming the shrubs on a Saturday morning. A friend of his drove by, stopped, and asked him if he was working his way into heaven. That made the member so mad, he dropped his shears and walked off. He knew that you can’t work your way into heaven or work your way out of hell. Those things would be determined by what was in your heart. To my way of thinking (and I can be wrong and am frequently), it shouldn’t matter if there is a heaven or a hell. Serving others should be what you do because you can’t do otherwise. A good person does good deeds because he or she is a good person—not in order to become one. I was very selfish most of my life and did almost everything to please myself. When I started going back to church, I decided I ought to try to help others. The first time I did, I told everyone. I told the check-out lady at the grocery store, anyone who would listen. I continued to do good things, not because I was trying to get into heaven but because I discovered it made me feel good—I liked it. The more good I did, the more I wanted to do. I still told others about my good deeds whenever I could, but I continued to do more and more for others. After a while (several years), I stopped telling anyone about what I did. Eventually, I got to the point where I would get thank-you cards in the mail for some good thing I had done—and I couldn’t even remember what it was. That’s when I knew something inside me had changed.
Turns out virtue IS its own reward. You do what is right because it is right, even if it causes you pain, inconvenience, or financial loss. This doesn’t happen overnight, at least it didn’t for me, but it did finally become a permanent part of who I am. When I started thinking about the men and women that I admired and respected, I discovered that the reason I admired and respected them was that they, too, did what was right, served others whatever the personal cost, and loved what they were doing. You probably know more than one person like this, and, I would guess, you admire and respect them. Yes, Christ did promise us reward, and, yes, Christ did talk about punishment, but more to the point, Christ called us to be like the Good Samaritan and to react out of love rather than anger. I believe that Christ knew that when we became one with Him, we would no longer care about heaven or hell (see John Lennon quote above) but would serve and care for others because that what made us feel the best about ourselves. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me as that rarely happens, but I do really believe that loving and serving others will make you happier, whatever the cost, than anything else you could ever do. I think that Christ talked about the rewards and the punishments to get us started doing the right things knowing that once we did, we would continue because it just felt right. But that’s just me. For me, heaven is just the icing on the cake that is serving Christ by serving others. I don’t need the icing to enjoy the cake. Think about it.