Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Jailhouse Rock

Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

                        Revelation 1.17-18

Life or Death

I’m presently at a meeting to launch the expanded indication of an HIV/AIDS treatment. In the opening session, the keynote speaker asked the audience to stand in groups: those who’ve been fighting the AIDS wars for the past 20 years, then 10 years, and so on. To the first group, he said, “You entered this battle when it focused on preventing death and you’ve watched it shift to where we are now—saving lives.” The contrast seemed subtle and elegant when he said it. But I’ve been rolling it around in my mind and the more I think about “preventing death” and “saving lives,” the more starkly one compares with the other. And this leads me to ponder a bigger question: what’s behind our need to believe? Are we preventing death or saving lives? Because, when you get down to the nub of why we have faith in Christ, it really is a matter of life or death.

Here or Hereafter

Christians typically view their faith in one of two ways. One group’s actions, words, and mindset focus on “prevention”—i.e., following a strict protocol to escape eternity in Hell, far removed from God’s presence. The second group seems more interested in “salvation”—i.e., realizing full potential in this life through the power and words of Jesus Christ. Without a doubt, the two philosophies overlap to cover a great deal of common ground. But I also think, when the alarm goes off in the morning and we begin collecting our thoughts about what the day holds, how we approach it places us in one of two camps: the “Here” (or “Life”) crowd, or the “Hereafter” (or “Death”) bunch.

Fact or Fiction

Where we fall regarding here/hereafter gets complicated by personal afterlife theologies. And that, I believe, comes down to need. Some of us require the premise of a literal Heaven and Hell to keep going. Others, not so much. And still others can’t get their minds around such a concept. Yet here’s what we should remember: whether the afterlife is fact or fiction, reality or metaphor, has no impact on its purpose. The main reason why belief in life-after-death is essential to following Christ is because it enlarges every present moment with eternal significance. In steadily journeying ahead—pressing “toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus,” as Paul describes it in Philippians 3.14—we’re ever aware that what we leave behind has lasting value, just as much, maybe more than what we’re striving to gain.

The Keys

When the resurrected Christ is revealed to John of Patmos, it’s fascinating to consider how He identifies Himself. He says He’s the First and the Last, the Living One who holds the keys to death and Hell. In other words, He unifies everything. He prevents death and saves lives simultaneously. We shouldn’t get locked into approaching our faith exclusively from one angle or another. We shouldn’t live in fear of Hell, nor should we be so focused on earthly life that we forget our attitudes and actions have eternal significance. 1 Peter 3.19 tells us that when Christ died, “he went and preached to the spirits in prison”—i.e., those who died before His sacrifice on Calvary. When He descended into their “prison,” He rocked the jailhouse for us all. It’s not about Heaven, Earth, and Hell. It’s about Him and our life in Him—now and to come.

It's not about going to Heaven, avoiding Hell, or living on Earth--it's about life in Him.

(Tomorrow: Always)

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