Heaven is for sinners

I was talking to a group of students. “Good people go to hell”, I said. “The only people who go to Heaven are bad people.”

They stared at me, the eyes glazed, the minds in neutral, the handbrakes firmly on.

I could stand it no longer. “What did I just say?”

“You said good people go to Heaven, and the only people who go to Hell are bad people”, came the tired reply.

“No”, I protested, “that is not what I said”.

“Well, you didn’t really say that”, volunteered one. “You actually made a slip of the tongue and got your Heaven and Hell mixed up.”

“That’s right”, chipped in another helper. “You meant to say good people go to Heaven, but you accidentally said good people go to Hell.”

“And you made the same slip on the other part.” They really had my problems sorted out by this time. “So you said bad people went to Heaven instead of Hell.”

The group had previously been too polite to notice my mistake. Now they noticed it, unanimously agreed about it, and even found pleasure in it.

They were content. They knew what I meant. They had corrected my faulty notions about Christianity. They had fitted my message into their preconceived and preconditioned patterns of thoughtlessness.

What does someone have to say or do to get past such screening on religious issues? Everybody is an expert on what Christians believe. But nobody seems to listen to what we say.

So fixed is the idea that Christianity is a morality (albeit a religious morality) that people won’t allow Christians to talk about anything else. There is a hidden assumption that Christians believe in the divine merit system. God is supposed to have a huge calculator in heaven constantly awarding points for behaviour. When Judgement Day comes, our positive and negative points are accumulated. If we have a positive score, all is well. If a negative score … well, we’d rather not discuss that. We used to call it Hell, but then most people going there didn’t like the idea so we’ve dropped it from the travel brochure. After all, it’s bad enough that they’re going there; we wouldn’t want to ruin their lives by frightening them with the news!

So what we must strive to do (under the divine merit point system) is be a bit better than worse.

Mind you, it’s hard to work out the assessment system. Am I compared with some other competitors? If I only have to be better than my neighbour, I’ve got much more scope than if there’s some absolute pass mark to achieve.

Furthermore, what’s the relative value of different acts? Is one lie equal to helping two little old ladies across the street? Or is one little old lady equal to two lies?

And what about motives? If one little old lady is worth 10 points, do I lose two if I was going to cross the street anyway? And do I lose two more if she’s wealthy or has an attractive granddaughter? What if she didn’t want to go across the street?

Is there allowance made for people born and brought up in morally more difficult situations than others? And if so, are merits and demerits ever transferable?

And why do Christians think they have a monopoly on good points, unless there are super bonus points for enduring church services?

This is a crazy religion, and Christians cannot seem to escape it.

Some people have seen the stupidity of it all, and helped we poor Christians by removing Judgement Day. You should do the positive and not do the negative, but in the end, no-one will keep score.

This is like those endless BBC quiz shows where they play for points but never pay attention to who wins. The game is in the playing, not the winning—like the legend about British cricket.

But this non-accountable lifestyle says that my actions do not matter to God. My life, Adolph Hitler’s Idi Amin’s, your life—they are all indistinguishable to God. If I should educate my children or put them in coal mines, it’s all the same. It doesn’t matter. When I stand before God, he will smile benignly and say, “After all, boys will be boys”.

The technique of defending ‘Christianity’ by dropping Judgement Day doesn’t help. This defends a false ‘Christianity’ by changing it—by turning a stupidity into an immoral stupidity.

But if there is, in fact, a day of reckoning, and if it is not the good to heaven and the bad to hell, what does Christianity teach?

Christianity teaches what I said at the beginning: the good people go to Hell, and the only people who go to Heaven are bad people. For Christianity is not about morality but relationships. It is about rebellion and amnesty.

Those who rebel against their maker—those who choose to live their own way, not his—those who devise their own standards, their own morality, their own values—those people are living on a collision course with God. But in this world, they may be good, moral upright people. They will rely upon their own achievements to confront God (if he should be there, or if he ever calls them to account).

All of us are like that. All of us are in rebellion against God. But God has declared an amnesty. He is willing to take back all rebels who capitulate now. The rebellion has been paid for by his son’s execution. All rebels can go free! But only those who acknowledge their rebellion will benefit from the amnesty. All those who profess their own goodness, their own innocence, their own morality, their own high principles—they will be destroyed.

So who goes to heaven? Only bad people, forgiven because of Jesus. Who goes to hell? The good people whose only crime was rejecting God.

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