Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Even They Go to Heaven?

There are very few small questions when it comes to faith and God, but some questions are bigger than others. I received a e-mail today asking me whether people who are not baptized can go to heaven? How about those who were raised as Mormons, Muslims, or Hindus, can they go to heaven? This was my response:

There are two stories (one from the Bible, one that a friend of mine once told me) that come to mind when I think about how people who are not baptized can get into heaven, or how can those who are Muslims or Mormons can.

First I think about the Book of Jonah. In the story of Jonah God calls him to give a message to the city of Nineveh: "repent from your ways or God will destroy Nineveh." Jonah does not want to do this, but after the whole whale incident he is convinced to do what God called him to do. The people of Nineveh are not Jewish and are great sinners. They deserve the fate God has promised to give them. Jonah sure thinks so. But after they receive Jonah's message from God all the people of Nineveh do indeed repent, from the king on down, and God changed his mind about destroying them and did not do it. This a nice message about God's forgiveness.

But the Book of Jonah does not end there. Jonah is furious that God chose to not destroy Nineveh and so he goes and pouts. The bottom line message from God then is "Who do you think you are to pout about me changing my mind about Nineveh?" God can condemn or save anyone he chooses to save, regardless of what we think. You, a mortal creature, are not capable of seeing or understanding all the reasons God may choose to save or condemn another creature. Leave the saving and condemning to God the Father.

So when I think about the saving power of baptism, I don't think about it in terms of who is going to be condemned because they are not baptized, I think about it in terms of who is going to be saved because of the baptism. God can condemn and save anyone God chooses to condemn or save, all I know is that through the water and Word in baptism I, and everyone who is baptized in Christ, is promised by God eternal life with Christ. What God does with those who are not baptized is God's choice, though I believe the mercy he shows to Nineveh can be the same mercy and love God has shown, and will show, to those not baptized.

Which brings me to my other story... A man I once knew grew up in Washington State and loved going to see Mt. Rainer. Mt. Rainer is a grand, majestic mountain that looks different depending on where you are standing when you look at it. What all the views have in common is that they are of a mountain, but you really cannot be sure that they are of the same mountain unless you walked around Mt. Rainer yourself. Though they look different, the Mt. Rainer viewed from the north is indeed the same Mt. Rainer viewed from the south.

Well God is of course greater than Mt. Rainer, but lets compare God to Mt. Rainer anyhow. There is no way for one person to stand in one spot and be able to see all of Mt. Rainer. Well, likewise there is no way for our human minds to contain everything there is to know about God. What we do know about God has be revealed to us through Christ. We are standing from one vantage point looking at God... and let me tell you what we see in ABSOLUTELY TRUE. What we know about God through Christ and his Word is true. I believe it, as should you. But I also understand that my Jewish brothers and sisters might be looking at God from a different perspective. What they are looking at might be true also, I'm not going to say its not, but I will without any hesitation stay my view is of God is correct. I believe that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ. I believe we are promised forgiveness and made righteous through our baptism into Christ's death. I believe we are promised the same resurrection life our Lord lived on Easter.

Again, I am open to the possibility that our Muslim, Hindu, and Mormon brothers and sisters may also be looking at the same God as we are. Therefore I will befriend them. I will work with them to help others and to strive for peace. But that does not mean I agree with them or will worship like them. It does not mean I will pick and choose what things I like and don't like about other religions with the hope that I can simultaneously stand at 10 different spots around Mt. Rainer. The breakfast buffet religion does not work for mortals created by God. And I do believe that some religious groups may not be looking at God at all, and are instead looking at Mt. St. Helens.

I am a Lutheran Christian and subscribe to our confessions and point of view regarding Jesus and God 100%. Faith and baptism then, for me, is solely a question of what God is working through the power of the sacrament, instead of what God is not doing to those who do not believe exactly as me.

Seek no delight in the possiblity that those who don't believe as you do might be condemned. Do not limit God with your faith. Believe what you believe 100%, but understand that God cannot be boxed in your brain.

"But God said to Jonah, 'Is it right for you to be angry about the gourd?'
'It is,' he said. 'And I'm so angry I wish I were dead.'
But the LORD said, 'You have been concerned about this gourd, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?'" (Jonah 4:9-11)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Pay Attention to Me; Quit Looking at Me

I recently was reading a book by Robert Frank called Falling Behind: How Rising Inequality Harms the Middle Class. In the book Frank claims that things people buy (or want to buy) depends on context. A middle class family feeling great about their 1200 square foot home in 1963 feels left behind in 2007 because their friends all live in 2400 square foot homes.

Frank begins his book with an interesting insight that I agree with: "it is a basic human need for other people to engage with you, to pay attention to you, to take you seriously." It was that way for Egyptian people, Roman people, Colonial Americans, our grandparents, and for us. Today you will be noticed by the home you own, the car you drive, and the clothes you wear. It's why its so expensive to get the real good homes, cars, and clothes of today. They are in great demand. Frank believes we live in a time when the middle class is falling farther and farther behind the upper class. Today's middle class must live in older homes, buy economical cars, and shop at Wal-Mart for clothes. "The failure to meet this need [to have others pay attention to you] will prove the most serious and enduring mental health problem of the future."

Also recently, I happened upon my friendly neighborhood Google Maps which allows me to scroll all over accurate maps of the USA with my computer mouse. For years you have had the option of displaying a birds-eye-view of these maps, looking at actual satellite photographs of the world. You can get a great view of the huge Black Locust tree that covers the top of my house if you typed in my address.

Well now Google gives you the option of also viewing places from the ground, and not just from space. It's called "Street View." The street I live on is not available, but you can move a little man to the street next to my church and get a nice view of my office window. It seems the Chicago area is one of the first areas Google has thoroughly covered with "Street View." And people are not happy about it. Apparently some "Street View" pictures have included people in positions they would rather not be seen in. Many see this as another way big bad Google is invading our privacy. I think it's kinda neat personally.

So sometimes in life we want to flaunt it: "Look at me!" Sometimes we want privacy: "Mind your own business." In a world where we have to spend more on electricity, gasoline, and food, there is so little left for "bling." In a world where modern communication allows us to never be face-to-face with those we communicate with there is no one to say "look at me" to. So sure you can try on Facebook or Myspace, but then you loose your privacy and people will be looking at you who really shouldn't.

One of the best ways to avoid the "mental health problems" Frank predicts will happen is to opt out the age old "keeping up the Joneses" race. Living simply and living faithfully allows you to look at your "stuff" with gratitude and not envy. Living simply and faithfully frees you from envy and fear. Let the Google monster spread its reach from space to your street and even in your office. "The Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. (2 Timothy 1:7)" Faithful living allows you to say "look at me!" when others would say "Go away." Faithful living also allows you to say "look at me!" even when your clothes are from K-Mart and your car is 11 years old. Look at me, I'm a child of God.