A Room in God’s House

I’ve had an image in my head for a while that as we do good work in this life, our reward in heaven grows proportionally. These sorts of allegories are used in sermons sometimes, where the rich man gets to heaven and has a shack while the humble man who gave everything away has a fabulous mansion. As for me, I don’t really want either.

At some point in our lives, we may have heard the phrase “If you’re going to live in my house, you’re going to live by my rules!” I’m pretty sure I had it directed at me when I was younger, and I’ve certainly heard it on TV. That’s what I want, though: to live in God’s house, under His rule. I don’t want a mansion, or even my own shack where I live alone. I want a room in God’s house.

Just thinking about it fills me with excitement; the whole idea seems cool to me. A room, or a small suite, where I have a bed and a desk, maybe a wardrobe with some things. Living right in the middle of the Kingdom of God, in the same building as Jesus. I picture living in the British palace, or living in one of the palaces of the fantasy fiction books I read, and get all fluttery and excited.

Better is one day in Your court
Better is one day in Your house
Better is one day in Your court
Than a thousand elsewhere

-Song by I’m-not-sure-who, adapted from Psalm 84:10

Heaven’s going to be so cool, you guys 😀

Thoughts on Buddhism – Rewards

As a Christian, I can’t deny that other religions have some very attractive aspects to them. In this entry, let’s focus specifically on rewards and reward systems.

One of the key aspects to Christianity is the concept of Original Sin, stating that we are all born into sin and that it is only through God’s forgiveness that we can be purified. There is no amount of work, no set of good deeds, that we can do to earn this, because our sin is so great. We are so tainted, and continue to fail so regularly and to such degrees, that the bridge between humanity and God can never be completed by our work alone.

Through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, forgiveness is extended to all of humanity, and those of us who are called by His name have been grafted into His family and will enter heaven when we die. We will transition from this life to the next in an instant, to spend eternity with our heavenly Father.

Our reward is assured because God promises it.

Buddhism accepts the karmic system as a natural law, in that good actions will return to the actor, just as negative actions will return to them. Good actions that fall within the Buddhistic laws earn an individual merit, or puñya, and an abundance of merit will ensure an improved rebirth. You will not escape saṃsāra, but you might be reborn as a god in the heavens.

This has a strong pull and attraction to me. As humans, or at least I perceive Americans this way, we want to earn what we have and/or receive. To work hard and do good works and thereby achieve godhood; to be reborn in heaven to live thousands of years and have immense power… well, it’s certainly appealing.

The problem is that it’s not true, no matter how appealing it is. My statement and subsequent arguments aren’t convincing to either believers or unbelievers, but I know what is true based on my relationship with God and His Holy Word. Buddhism and Christianity, despite the attempts of some, are simply mutually exclusive. Not to say there aren’t aspects of Buddhism, such as meditation, that can’t be employed by a Christian, but our focus and goals are entirely different.

We cannot save ourselves, nor can we earn our respite or rewards. I really wish we could, but in my (recognizably) limited experience, I am confident that we cannot earn heaven. And though there are certain things about God and this life that I must take on faith, I do so whole-heartedly.

So, what does it mean that our reward is assured by God, rather than our own works? Some have interpreted this to mean that we do not have to work for it, or something along those lines… and that argument has gone round and round for centuries.

The truth is, we owe Him our thanks and love, and I think if we really understood both God’s sacrifice and His love, we’d gladly give it. I’m only recently beginning to understand this concept, and intend to write more on it at length… just not now. Let me leave it with this:

Our earthly kings wear crowns of gold and jewels to denote their greatness. Our Heavenly King wore a crown of thorns, and gave His everything for us. Yes, earning our reward has a certain satisfaction inherent in both the belief and the action, but it’s not only false and impossible, it rejects the gift given to us by our King. We should work to serve, but we can never supplant Him.

Freedom to Choose

As I have mentioned before, I believe that God gives us the choice whether to spend eternity with him or without. There are a number of Biblical passages that point to humans having to make a decision whether to follow God or not, and Jesus invited people rather than commanding them. The key is that we have a part to play in God’s work, and we must either accept or reject that part. Accepting God, as you are all probably aware, leads to an eternity spent with God. Rejecting him leads to an eternity apart.

Non-Christians will often ask me, “If God loves us so much, and eternity with him is so much better than eternity without, why doesn’t he just force the matter or make himself known so we can all just be happy with him?” I believe that the question underestimates humanity far too much and, in my observations of humanity, I doubt that a revelation of God would make all of humanity happy.

Working backwards, knowledge of God does not necessarily beget happiness. There are a great many people who know God but, due to some tragedy or a confusion in their lives, they come to distrust or despise God. Moreover, revelation also does not make faith, belief, or adherence certain. The Jews were led through the desert by God in their exodus from Egypt, led by a tower of flame and fed manna from heaven, yet they still built a golden idol near the end of their journey and turned away from the Lord their God.

Just the same, I’ve seen a number of people pray the desperate prayer of “God, if you’ll just let <whatever they need> happen, I’ll believe in you!” And if God should answer their prayer, as I have seen it happen several times, the person will immediately espouse wonder and amazement… and within a week or two, have rationalized it away. Faith is not born of miracles.

The choice is not, to me, so much one of heaven vs. hell, but one of eternity with God or without. Even if God made himself irrevocably known, as the Bible tells us he has done in the past, people will still choose to live without him. Free Will allows us to make this choice, and the only way to “make” everyone happy would be to strip their freedom away. At that point, however, we are no longer human. We could not even be considered happy in this instance, for what is happiness when one had neither a part in the process nor knows anything else?

In God’s love, he gives us the freedom to reject him, but he also gives us the freedom to choose to strive for a life spent in his service. As for why, perhaps it is something one cannot truly understand until they are faced with the prospect of having children, knowing full well that their child may grow to be rebellious, to reject them, to dishonour their family name and spit on their upbringing. And yet, knowing the depths of evil to which a person might fall, and recognizing that their child might be the individual to plumb those depths, they bear the child anyways, full of hope and love and the equal knowledge of the heights to which humanity has ascended since creation.

Freedom is not always comfortable, but it is necessary for humanity. Which is more holy, a man set apart or a chalice? I argue that it is the man, for he is active in the process and must struggle with God and sin to reject evil. Our lives are made richer by the struggle.