Heaven is Now

By: Dennis Bates

If you died tonight are you sure you would go to heaven?

Chances are you have been asked that question at some point in your life, or heard it asked by someone claiming to witness their faith. A woman told me after church Sunday that the pastor who married her and her husband asked that question shortly before their wedding ceremony.

Then, because he didn’t answer it correctly, according to him, he said he wasn’t sure whether he could marry them.

Tacky on his part, to say the least. It was supposed to be a happy day and the pastor increased the anxiety level about 300 percent. Even though he did finally agree to conduct the service, if he had intended to ask that question, he should have asked it long before then.

To me, no matter when that question is asked, it misses the point.

The question has at least two major problems, as far as I’m concerned. First, it comes from the negative point of view and is designed to scare a person into believing exactly the way the person asking the question believes. Anything short of that process leaves you out of heaven.

The woman who told me about her wedding said she answered clearly and unequivocally, yes, I am positive I would go to heaven. She was told she gave the wrong answer because she had never been born again using the pastor’s version of what that meant.

 In other words, she was damned unless she did it his way. Quite an uplifting thing to tell someone less than an hour before they are going to get married, and it is wrong.

Regardless of how she answered the pastor’s question, according to him, she needed to be led to her faith using the pathway he had laid out for her. Nothing else would do. Both the timing and the substance of the question sought to scare her into salvation at a very vulnerable time. Nobody wants to be damned, especially not on their wedding day.

I have to wonder if the pastor’s question came from a real love and concern for the bride or if it came from some sort of twisted desire to put another notch in his belt alongside all the other notches for the souls he had led to Jesus. Perhaps I’m too cynical.

It’s just that I’ve never liked the negative approach to anything. Jesus said people will know we are Christians by our love for one another, and he said the new commandment He had for us was to love. Where was the love in the pastor’s case?

His negative question focused on self, not surrender of self. “What do I need to do to make sure I go to heaven?” Christianity focuses on surrender of self. It doesn’t focus on what we can get out of a decision to accept Jesus. It isn’t measured by how many people we think we have led to the Lord. In truth, we don’t lead any. The Holy Spirit uses us to do what He wills for us.

Jesus didn’t base His ministry on some scare tactic to show us what we would lose if we didn’t accept him. On the contrary, He showed us what we had to gain if we surrendered to His infinite love. He did not come to scare us, but to woo us with his love. Heaven doesn’t begin the day after we die. It began the minute we accepted that love. Right here, right now.

I can approach Him now in joyous affirmation that He lives and I live with Him. Today is the piece of eternity that we know now. We don’t have to wait for it. The beauty of our God is that there are an infinite number of days ahead of us even when our earthly form changes to a celestial one.

Hallelujah for that!

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