The Muslims get seventy-two virgins, the Mormons get their own planets; but every Evangelical born-again Christian gets a mansion just over the hilltop! For all these folks, dying really has its perks, huh?
There is a certain book that has been floating around in Evangelical circles for a few years now. It is entitled The Purpose Driven Life. It was written by some big-time megachurch pastor in Arizona or somewhere like that. It has been a big hit, and has really managed to put some purpose into the lives of otherwise rather flatline Christians. Every few years a book hits the Fundamentalist play list, and everybody goes gaga for it. It is just one more religions fad. And, believe me, I have lived through many in my day as an ordained Evangelical clergyman.
Well, I did try to read the thing, but gave up in disgust and sheer boredom. What a crock! Like most books of that type, it is just a pile of platitudes and nebulous challenges to live a rich, full, and abundant life in the Lord Jesus Christ. Nothing wrong with that, I guess. But it is just so dull and predictable.
My experience with born-again Christians revealed that, for the most part, their lives are not at all driven to any higher purpose. They pay lip service to the Gospel's admonitions on good behavior and good deeds. Helping the needy, the infirm, or the castaways in society is all well and good, but should be left to professionals like Mother Theresa or Teen Challenge. A donation now and then to a real charity is usually sufficient. The real motivating factor is called Evangelism. The Bible challenges Christians to “go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.” That is referred to as “the Great Commission.” I was heavily into that task – as assigned by Jesus back in the day. And, yes, I guess that in many ways I was living a reward-driven life as well.
Christians say that they want to serve their lord ... and that sounds fine to me. It always did. But what does that mean? Giving to the poor, helping the sick, and feeding the hungry are noble undertakings, to be sure; but, in a rare moment of honesty, most believers would likely admit that they are in it for a reward in the hereafter.
Most know that their altruism is not something to which they are naturally inclined. They have to work at it. Some do quite well, and others just fall flat. They can't even pretend to care about the “eternally lost souls” around them. So why do they “do good?” Because they know that in the end they are going to get something for it. They also believe that their efforts are cumulative and that there is a storehouse in an imaginary realm far away “beyond the blue” where their treasures are “laid up.” I can't wait.
The rub for modern Christians is that not all good deeds are of equal worth. Some things count more in the afterlife than others. Sure, feeding the hungry is a good thing, but anybody can get behind that. Heck, even liberal, non-religious, and socialist governments can give free stuff to victims of famine, earthquakes, and civil wars. But convincing another human being to convert, change his mind, and take on a whole new worldview – accepting Jesus as his personal savior ... now, that's real good mojo – the best. The rewards keep piling up, and wow, are they ever great.
When I was younger and seriously into “winning souls for Christ,” I was not really all that excited about the promised bling so often sung about in churches far and wide. I never was all that jazzed about wearing some big clunky crown. I am still rather unimpressed with a mansion just over the hilltop ... and besides, I never even learned how to play the harp either. Too bad, huh? In fact, after years of attending church, later in the ministry, I finally concluded that there was nothing in the rewards category that much interested me at all. The heaven that is on the minds of modern pew-sitters has no appeal for me whatsoever.
The serious problem I face when contemplating an eternity of bliss (in a city built foursquare) is the inhabitants. The people there are all the same. There is simply no diversity at all. Everyone in the Evangelical paradise-to-come is a born-again Fundamentalist Protestant Christian. These are the very people I ran away from years ago! The idea of spending my forever with the likes of many whom I have met, interacted with, and even worked with, is an incubus that I have no stomach for at all.
Actually, in retro, I would have to say that I learned more from some 1950s and 60s television than from the pulpit. One of my true heroes of the faith was a humble fellow named Jed Clampett. He was a simple man, content with his lot in life as a poor mountaineer out shootin' for some food. He was likewise content in his wealth when providence smiled down on him. He was always doing good – often without thinking about it – giving away freely of his abundance to any he saw in need. I think he is more of the ideal that Jesus must have had in mind way back there in the Beatitudes.
And then there was Granny, the rip-roarin', paranoid Fundamentalist. Everything to her was black-and-white, right and wrong. I recall a particular episode when she was totally pissed off about something or other. Something had gotten her dander up, and she was stormin' out to set things straight, complete with her NRA shotgun in hand.
It was Jed who tried to reason with her – to appeal to her better nature, her inner Christ. Well, that fell flat. She would have none of it. But, true philosopher and theologian that he was, he pulled out his trump card to deal with her mania and righteous indignation. Do you remember how he appealed to her to stop acting like a moron and to let the true love of Jesus shine through? He appealed to her greed.
“You'll get another star in your crown!” Jed said softly. That did the trick. It worked then and is still working as well to this day! Ah, yes ... the reward-driven life.