I was part of a 6 way conversation on Tuesday about Eternity. Heaven and Hell and all that.
I wasn't sure what exactly we were discussing so I asked: "are we talking metaphorically here?"
And the answer was clear that we weren't.
My eyes glaze over, my mind goes blank and I lose control of my bladder when people start talking about heaven and hell.
Back where I come from, there's a joke that goes like this: "What's 'eternity'?" "Two people and a ham."
That's about as deep as my thinking goes about eternity and heaven and hell and what happens when we die.
I told my dear friends on Tuesday that from time to time, because I am a priest and people tend to think I know about such things, someone will ask me what I think about what happens when we die?
I tell them the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth: I don't know.
I tell them, if they're still listening after the truth about what I believe, that I do 'believe' something happens after we die, as long as nothing is part of something.
That usually gets me blank looks if not disappointed looks.
But that's the truth: I just don't know and have no idea.
Sometimes people take my response as meaning I don't truly believe in God. But I do. I trust that there is a God. But what happens when we die is something I leave completely up to Him/Her/It. I have no opinion on the matter.
So, why do I think we should be 'good' as we can be if it isn't a way to get to Heaven?
Simply because being as good as we can be is what we ought to do and what the God I find so mysterious wants us to be.
Not a quid pro quo of any kind--not to spend eternity in fulfillment and joy rather than punishment and pain. 'Doing what is right to do' is reason enough to do that. Being honest and good and fair and compassionate and loving and generous is reason in itself. And the God I love and who loves me (though I don't know Him/Her/It very well) wants all that from me. So, it seems to me that's reason enough to strive and lean into all that.
What comes next--I have no idea. I hope there is some way I'll still be 'me' after I die. Or, simply being a part of the cosmos without a clear "Jim Bradley" identity would be fine. Or, nothing would be OK, given that being alive was such a privilege and a joy and a wonder.
I stand by my stand: I leave all that after death stuff to the God I love and who loves me.
Life has been a gift enough. Let God determine the rest and what comes next. I'm OK with that....
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