Hereafter - Are We All Going There?
Even in pagan origin there was a respectful, "pre-Christian" understanding of human nature and relationship with supernatural reality. Yet, for most of the popular culture, this is the season of ghouls, witches, vampires, warlocks... and popular musician/Hollywood personalities.
While I have not yet seen the newly-released, blockbuster film starring Matt Damon (Hereafter - congratulations Matt on baby number four yesterday!), it's sure to provoke conversation, and controversy. Is there an afterlife? If so, what is it like? Is there criteria? Says who?
Curious about what the new movie may have drudged up on the subject, I Googled "life after death." The search returned "about 234,000,000 results." And to my surprise, if not shock, standing on top of that massive mountain, was a short, little video-story I produced two years ago (No. 2 on Google, No. 1 on YouTube).
First, some background before the main message.
Two years ago Tim O'Neill (The O'Neill Brothers - sold millions of CDs, Billboard charting music appearing on HBO, ABC, CBS, etc.) and I began a company called Keys2Heaven. The basic vision was to gather people's inspiring stories of faith and produce beautiful, instrumental music based upon the respective story. The first, 12-track CD, called "Songs of Faith: 12 Songs Inspired by You," was released, and includes some of the most beautiful music you'll ever hear (Go here for a preview). The below video, "Life After Death - AMAZING STORY!", was the first Keys2Heaven story, told by Tami and her surgeon. The longer, 20 minute version is even more amazing-- accessible at Keys2Heaven.com.
At least one, good critique of this video was allowing Tami's words to stand unqualified: "I know where we're all going... you don't need to worry about that." In fairness, Tami is challenging our anxieties over daily concerns. Having experienced "the other side," she's inviting us to put our trust in God, to have confidence in a bigger purpose: "Don't live like you're dying, live like you're living."
Beyond Hollywood, the conversation is important. Is "Hereafter" a guarantee?
If you've been to a funeral lately you get the sense that everyone goes to heaven, that the only criteria is "being good." It's roughly equivalent to little-league sports where rules and penalties are optional, scores are not kept, and everybody wins. That may feel good, but does it resonate with our experience in every other area of life? Work? Home? World? Clearly, there are defining boundaries and rules, the violation of which has implications. People get fired. Couples get divorced. Teams lose. People get unhappy. You get the idea.
Similarly, with regard to the hereafter, is there not reasonable basis to consider that there are defining "rules" of the moral life... a "field of play" so to speak, which shape the potentiality of our present and eternal lives?
Even William Nicholson, screenwriter for Gladiator (starring Russell Crowe, directed by Ridley Scott), had Maximus exhort his troops before battle: "What we do in life echoes in eternity." This "pagan" sentiment resonates with the dominant Roman and Greek thought: There is an eternal realm. We are fashioned with a particular design and purpose. We are given free will to determine either for, or against, that design and purpose.
On this landscape, this playing field, we discover the meaning of heaven and hell. Choosing to live for our design/purpose, which results in harmony, intimacy, union - is heaven. Choosing to live against our design/purpose, which results in discord, exclusion, alienation - is hell.
Here's the meaning for us today. God doesn't "condemn" anyone to hell. (Nor do any of us know the state of any other person!) God reveals and lets us decide: "Today I present to you life and death, blessing and a curse, therefore choose life that you might live" (Dt. 30:19). We choose heaven, or we choose hell! What we do today not only shapes our eternity, it is lived/experienced in the present. The truth is that many are choosing to live in the shadow of hell right now- not just on the level of some juridical state, but in their experience.
Contrary to popular opinion, God is the opposite of a dictator. He gives us what we love. And what we choose is what we'll live in, forever and ever.
Today one thinks "open minded" is being open to everything. In truth, it practically means being open only to self. In short, it means being closed... to any information, guidance (etc.) beyond one's immediate predilections. In short, as popularly used, "open minded" is a religion of self. One is worshiping the god they fashion in their own image. Of course, the supreme contradiction here confronts one willing to look honestly at human experience in every other way. Think all you want about that lump not being cancer, but beyond what you think, there is the truth of the matter. Self does not determine reality.
Let's be practical-- move from the proposition that there must be a shape to eternity, to something about the specific nature of that shape. In this regard, Christ proclaims, and human nature validates, that fornication, theft, homosexuality, contraception, divorce, abortion, lying, etc., are not simply some kind of "heaven litmus test list" given by a tyrannical God. These have to do with a choice against our nature/purpose... not as we would have it, but as we are. They result in discord, exclusion, alienation. Invariably, beyond religion and faith, they reveal that we really can't break "the law," we can only break ourselves against the law.
And here's a truth that needs to be shouted: One's desire is not the norm for who they are, or what they are created to do. There's not a human being on this planet who doesn't recognize the need to curb an innate desire or appetite, to conform to a greater good. Does that make us slaves? No! That makes us free-- in the fullest, richest, truest sense. Morality has to do with our happiness and fulfillment. Moral freedom is not defined as what one is able to do, it is defined as what one should do... in accord with their nature. Such freedom entails "ennobling limitation" - the very kind that shapes (defines) a song, art, words, values; freedom is not about being open to everything, it's about devoting ourselves to the tremendously valuable something.
While many fashion themselves as "individuals," isn't it uncanny that so many such "individuals" look, dress, speak, act (etc.) the same? In the end, we're all taking cues about who we are from something beyond us. We're all looking for guides. Billions are spent by the advertising industry on this conviction.
Ask yourself the questions- what guide are you following? Who's written it? Where is it leading? For many, the answer can be traced to Hollywood. So looking at the lives of the Hollywood pipers for direction, ask yourself, is that the life you want? Is that where you want to go? They statistically rank among the most depressed, addicted, abusing, divorced, suicidal, broken. And we want to follow that script?
At the end of the day, we're all broken. We're all far from the mark. We've all eaten of the shiny Apple, and forgotten who we are, and how we work. Just as one might look to a manual to discover what a particular device is, how it works, so we need to turn to the Manual, to the Designer of who we are. We need to look beyond ourselves. We need to question our wiring.
Our Designer is Love. We are the fabric of His Love. God-who-is-Love is our nature, and Love is what we are suppose to do. In our amnesia, He gave us His Son, to reveal who we are. And in Him we discover a life not open to everything, but a magnificent discovery of a defined something-- for us to either accept or reject.
And here we find that the heart of ritual is relationship; the heart of ethics is intimacy. God fashioned us for Himself. And yes, He revealed the contours of that relationship (as any song, or piece of art, etc.). We will not be truly happy, on earth or in heaven, if we do not turn to Him... seek Him, not simply in matters-religious, but in the relationship. In Him, in His Spirit, we discover our incompleteness completed. Guided by His hand we can have a tangible, living, breathing confidence of a continued intimacy "on earth as it is in heaven."
Today let's make the decision. Let's humble ourselves and look to Him. Let's go there together.
We all fall short. That's where we need a Savior... where He enters. Let's be in prayerful communion with one another in striving for it.
Please join us for our next Catholic Men's and Women's Gathering.
God bless you and your family this day.