Imagine There's a Heaven
Imagine there's a heaven a place of truth and love.
Start by imagining there is such a thing as "goodness" in this life, and then imagine we can recognize goodness because there is evil too. And we can see the choice clearly. And we can see that choosing evil leads to great heartbreak and destruction. And we can see that choosing good brings joy to life and to our souls.
Now imagine you have a soul a place of truth and love something in you that longs for goodness, that longs for the God who made you. But imagine also that your soul is in a body controlled by other powerful senses, and in a mind which encounters other inclinations: Selfish desires, evil thoughts, compulsive yearnings, which if followed take you away from your goal and not toward it. And imagine these yearnings are powerful. And that you are not.
Imagine that you hate seeing you are not powerful. Imagine pride. Pride is a thing that longs for power. It urges you to empower yourself at every opportunity. Succeed or fail, you can't win with pride. Pride puffs up when you are powerful and resents when you are not. It resents people more powerful than you are. It believes their power is rightfully yours. Imagine the many kinds of power that pride seeks: the power of pleasure and possession; the power of anger; the power of hate; the power of sex. Power over other people. Power as law-giver, king and judge. Pride looks for power everywhere. This leads to wrong choices, because pride wrongly motivates you. Those wrong choices are called sin which means "missing the mark." Pride hates the idea of sin because pride never wants to be wrong. Pride can't imagine "missing the mark" because pride thinks it is the mark.
Now imagine suffering. Imagine that when you make sinful choices, they cause you and those around you great harm. As a result you suffer you suffer the pain of doing wrong, and also the pain of not knowing what is right. You react with feelings of emptiness, of loneliness. A life without meaning is painful because it is a life without truth, or hope in the future. So you seek more pleasure and you suffer more. Now here's the tough one. Consider this: Despite the pain you feel, imagine that your suffering is actually a good thing and be glad for it because it helps you to know when your choices are good and when they are evil or harmful. Imagine that this is the way God guides you, like a good parent disciplining a child. The purpose is not to hurt the child but to help him make right choices and to guide her away from the sin and misery that ruin lives. And that is a loving thing to do. Imagine God is love.
Imagine love. Imagine love is about much more than affection. People can have affection for you and still take advantage of you. Imagine that love is not advantage-taking for the sake of pleasure and power. Sex is not love. Imagine love as truth, self-sacrifice and the desire to do good: Men who honor women enough to respect sex and wait for marriage women who honor men enough not to tempt them. Or imagine the love of good parents who endure the pain their children cause and still love them, and want the best for them. These parents put their children first they submit themselves to the higher good for the sake of their children. That's what makes it all work. Imagine it was designed that way from the start. Imagine family.
Imagine the very idea of family love expressed and learned. Imagine the logic of it: A man and woman joined together to create the future not just the worldly future, but also a heavenly future new souls. Imagine you yourself are created purposefully as a man or woman, and that this is a fact. Each sex, with its individual strengths, is a full miracle of design, power and purpose. Think about how a woman is made. Think how a man is made. Children can see the miracle. They expect great, but different, things from you. They look to Mommy for this and to Daddy for that. They know. Imagine you have a special anointing, not only you as a person, but as a man or a woman. You are part of a whole, but you are also complete. You have a place in life in which you can be what you were meant to be fully man, or fully woman, and also fully yourself. But somehow you don't live up to it. None of us do because we are prideful and want to be the center of all. The pride in us will submit to nothing. And so we are nothing. But it doesn't have to be that way.
Imagine hope. Imagine that life makes sense that there is such a thing in this world as Truth and Love. That you can find your purpose young or old, single or married, rich or poor find the good you are meant to serve. And serve it. Reach out to others, not for gain, not to keep busy. Reach out because there is need for you. Yes, you are needed how else can God act but through us? Give of yourself. Create life around you. Marriage is not the only way but marriage is a wonderful way.
Imagine marriage as a promise that teaches us love. We learn to submit to responsibility even though we are afraid. Imagine commitment. Imagine overcoming fear. Imagine the two of you being devoted to what's right devoted to each other as you have promised. Imagine you, a man, you, a woman, were designed to fit together in all ways, psychologically, physically, emotionally, spiritually if you will only let it happen. Imagine that you do.
Imagine trust. Imagine that marriage is the way for men and women to live together and create joy. Imagine that in marriage you were meant to learn what love is and how to be happy. And yet, in that adventure there is pain, because there are faults. Each of you is prideful. You hurt each other with your sin. Imagine not resenting the pain. Imagine you endure the pain because you agreed to endure it for each other's sake and for the sake of the family you wanted to be. And trust grows. And love grows. And so you go beyond yourself. You love each other past your faults. You become something greater. You become the next generation. You create the future.
Imagine that a child is born to you actually, it's unimaginable. And he looks into your face and sees everything. And she looks into your heart and expects you to be what God meant you to be a good judge, a good sovereign who defends truth and represents good law. Imagine you can be the parent your child needs, not perfect none of us can be but loving and true, and firm in your devotion. Perfect comes later, after the pain of life. If you choose, one day you will have eternal life, but for now the best you can do is create life here. Make it a good life that you create yours and your child's.
Imagine children. Imagine they are fragile, impressionable. You are everything to them. You can hurt them easily, and they resent that hurt, and remember it. You did too when you were a child. Do you still feel resentment? Parents can hurt children in so many ways. Hypocrisy hurts children. Impatience hurts children. Even your minor flaws hurt your children. Remember that they are prideful too. They expect perfection, and you don't have it to give. What can you do? What can they do? They are simply not old enough not to resent your faults. So they fall to judgment, fear and anger. Now imagine they carry that anger forward in adult life and bring it into marriage. And it is hard for them to let go of their pain. And it is hard to forgive parents. Children feel their anger so deeply not just because they were hurt, but also because their prideful little selves wanted to rule at home. And they couldn't. So they rebelled. They need forgiveness for that just as you did when you were a teenager. Are you sorry for the anger you still feel? Are you sorry for your old rebellion? Are you sorry for the ways you hurt your parents for the ways you hurt your children? Ask them to forgive you. Don't wait. You'll only regret it.
Imagine repentance. It is a mystery, this genuine regret you feel when you do wrong. It isn't being sorry you were caught. It's deeper and truer than that and it isn't just being sorry that the wrong you've done has hurt people. It is being sorry for the wrong you've done simply because it was wrong. In the end, the harm you do to others is one of life's great regrets. It is a partner to the harm you do to yourself. You can't abuse others and not eventually yourself. You can't abuse yourself and not eventually others. It is all one process. In your young life, you corrupted yourself and others. Didn't you? The good news is that you can change you can go down a different path. But first you must stop and realize you're on the wrong path. Are you? Do you repent of it? Of course, you do. So here's the good news.
Imagine forgiveness. Repentance opens the door to forgiveness, but forgiveness was really always there. That's love. You may not deserve God's forgiveness, but you get it anyway if you want it. You must really want it. Do you think you can't be forgiven? Are your wrongs so terrible? Maybe they are. Yes, you hurt people. Yes, there is no end to the wrong you did. (How can you even know the length and breadth of it?) But wouldn't you forgive your child if she hurt you? Wouldn't you still want the best for your child, despite his rebellion? Are you a better, more loving parent than God is? Wouldn't His forgiveness His capacity for love be much greater than yours?
Imagine grace. Imagine you can be made clean of the wrong you've done no matter what it is even when you haven't actually corrected that wrong yourself. Yes, you can change your ways personally, but how do you take back the hurt you've already caused other people? How do you repay that debt? Your sin made a permanent change in their lives which caused other changes and so on. It is a fallen domino effect. You can regret the domino you knocked over, but you cannot stop the process of other dominos falling as a result. It never ends. Your sin causes sin causes sin. So how can you make up for the wrong you have done in your life? You can't. And yet, there is forgiveness. And yet there is grace. Your full debt can be paid. Imagine that.
Imagine the Grace-Giver. Imagine there is a God who rules over this world and the next, a Good King who has defined a good law and balances that law with justice and with mercy. One who knows you personally, down to the last detail good and bad and longs for you to join him in heaven. Imagine a Camelot made real and for all eternity. And it is there. And you can have it if only you can forgive others and humble yourself to ask for forgiveness. In other words, love God and your neighbor. It isn't hard to do. And yet, it is. Pride makes it hard. God makes it easy he can change you if you'll let him. Stop judging others. Stop trying to be king. It is so tempting to play God. But there is only death down that road.
Imagine salvation. Imagine you don't have to die. Can you do it? Test your imagination right now. Just for a moment sit and consider how different your life might be if you really believed in a life after death not some vague notion of coming and going, and coming again not some vague never-ending goal of how to be or what to become. Not some salvation you earn (because you couldn't earn it, and you know it). But a clear, joyful choice an alternative to death life everlasting. We either choose love and self-sacrifice or we choose pride and self-serving the way of the soul or the way of all flesh. One lives forever with God and the other doesn't. In that simple but profound choice we define our fate. It is a question of what we want. Imagine that the choice of heaven is up to you. And that you can choose it. And you do. And then life's greatest adventure begins beyond that adventure lies eternity ever new, ever inspiring, always joyful.
Imagine there's a heaven. And that you are part of it. Not just later after you die, but in a way, right now even in the midst of life's stress and suffering you can be joyful. Right now, you can love and express God in your life. It's up to you. You no longer need to imagine it. You have become the very thing you longed for and the very thing you love.
The Miracle of the Bible
I've been a writer for many years, working on all kinds of projects from screenplays to corporate speeches to playwriting to academic essays to journalism and commentary. As a former English teacher, I've read all kinds of writing but never anything that comes even close to the Bible. In fact, as I will explain from a writer's perspective, the Bible is not possible. And yet, ironically, this amazing book is taken for granted.
Most Americans have at least one Bible in their home. Most don't read it, or don't read it very much. In all likelihood that means you, or someone you know. Strangely, polls have shown that a huge percentage of Americans believe the Bible is the word of God but don't have time to read it. No kidding. Either we must think God has nothing to say to us, or something else is going on.
First off, be assured I am not going to ask you to become a Bible scholar. I am not going to ask you to take umpteen Bible study classes, or memorize chapter and verse. All of those are good things but they're not for everyone. Most of us need a simpler approach.
The Bible is about relationship. It's about you (with all your discouraging flaws) and about God (who seeks to encourage you). We should go to the Bible as we go to an old friend, or to a loving parent. But that's not reality for most people.
Let's face it: That "big thick book" intimidates us. We act like it's a school book and we're going to be tested on everything we read as if being "saved" meant being a "scholar." Our fear of fears is that if we don't understand the Bible, then there's something deeply, spiritually wrong with us maybe even that God doesn't love us, but saves His love for the learned. Yet, the opposite is true. Jesus thanks His Father for making the Faith for regular people.
Ironically, considering all our fears, this ancient spiritual manuscript called the Bible is not some high-toned, intellectual textbook, but rather a storybook full of very human adventures, full of heroes as well as people who continually make a mess of things and often the two together! It's actually fun to read once you get past your Bible trauma. Here's the key:
Don't worry if the Bible is hard to understand. What you need for now will be there for you and will be understandable. Don't expect some big revelation though. It may be only some small insight or oddly interesting bit of history. But on some level, it will feed your desire to relate to God. After all, it is His-story. Eventually, you'll want to know more. So let me repeat this essential point: Don't worry about what you don't understand. If you read 10 verses and understand only one you win! A little goes a long, long way.
Ultimately, the Bible is amazing because truth is amazing. The Bible is not only adventurous; it's also touching, meaningful, instructive, ironic, sarcastic, humorous, gentle and stern and ultimately both spiritual and human at the same time. It is also strangely modern despite its ancient text.
The Bible has been called God's love letter to us, and yet, the majority of Americans don't read it. If this is true for you, consider the following. The Bible could become something entirely different for you something that can change your life in the most wonderful ways.
The impossible Bible
The main thing you really need to know is that the Bible is a "living thing" with an ability to relate to you personally on the basis of your current needs. Simply put, the Bible is a miracle. I am not exaggerating. Let me prove it to you.
The first question a professional writer asks when given an assignment is, "Who am I talking to?" It is the key to getting started. In fact, you can't get started if you do not know the answer to that one simple question. Unless you know who your reader is going to be you can hardly know how to approach your assignment.
If an editor tells me to write an article about love, that's clear enough as far as the general subject, but the assignment changes completely depending on the reader. If I know I am writing to teenagers or if I am writing to middle aged married couples, my writing style changes and so does my content. The less you know who your audience is, the more difficult the assignment. You can't even be sure how to choose your words properly. Are you writing to highly educated people or are you writing to someone with an eighth-grade education? Or how about the references you make in writing? Are you writing to city or country folk? Sound difficult? Believe me, it is. Well, let's make it harder.
Now imagine this editor tells you he wants you to write about love in a way that works not only for Americans but works even when translated for people of other countries. You're thinking Europe with its Judeo-Christian roots, but your editor is more ambitious. He wants your article to work in all foreign lands, wherever he can sell it. Consider the difficulty of this: Asian cultures, African cultures, Islamic cultures, Buddhist cultures, Hindu cultures and regional cultures within those cultures must also be considered. You must write for them all and write effectively!
Impossible you say?
Fine, but your editor is not moved by your objections. He has other demands. Not only should everyone in today's world understand your book (he's decided it should be a book), he also wants you to write something that will be relevant a hundred years from now. In fact, he really wants something timeless, but even he knows that's impossible. Can you even imagine what American culture will be like in 100 years? How about 1,000 years from now? Now imagine writing for people living many thousands of years from now, and it will give you a little idea of why I tell people that from a writer's perspective the Bible can't be written in any normal human way. Nor can it be read "normally."
It is truly a miraculous document.
Consider that the Bible was written for all people, of all backgrounds, of all education levels. It was written for all races, colors, creeds and cultures. It was written for people thousands of years ago and for people who will live many years into the future.
But even more!
It is also written for you as you are now, as you were when you were a teenager, and as you'll be when you are old. It's written for all the personalities of all the billions of people in all of existence. God wouldn't leave anyone out, would he?
The Bible is amazing, and all the more so because it was written over the course of about 1,500 years by many different people. This is not the work of a single human being with a single personality and vision. The Bible has at least 40 different authors, from all different backgrounds and walks of life and they write in three different languages. There are almost 40 books in the Old Testament and almost 30 in the New Testament. And yet, the result is a singular Holy book, tried and true, tested by millions of readers over thousands of years. This is a book capable of befriending anyone at anytime with just the right wisdom for our needs. As I said, the Bible isn't possible.
The Bible is written to reach you when you are happy and when you are sad. When life is good and full, and when it's empty and unbearable. So how should you read the Bible? Go to it as old friend, one who loves you and is patient with your progress.
So don't worry about what you don't understand. Read it for what you do understand, and in joyful expectation that more will come in good time when you need it. If you need it! This is not just a book. This is a Holy Book, a miracle God created for you capable of covering all your needs in good time.
It is a living document because the God who guides you is a Living God. His Holy Spirit is always with you, if you will only listen. And the Spirit that guides you in reading the Bible is the same Spirit that guided the men who wrote it. No wonder the Bible can speak to us on our terms and in anticipation of our needs.
Hard to believe? Yes, of course! All miracles are hard to believe, even when they happen to you as this one will. That's right. The Bible was written for you, to reach you, to revive you, to nourish you and to inspire you to seek its Author. It asks only one thing of you. Treat it as you would a loving parent and not as a homework assignment. Remember, those scholars who sent Jesus to His death knew the Bible cold. The secret isn't knowledge. The secret is love.
It's about process not results. Leave the results to God. Just make sure you read the Bible read little parts, or big parts read a sentence here, a paragraph there. Just open the Bible and let the adventure begin. Yes, many of us find the Bible intimidating. But that's not God's fault. It's our fault.
The "Good Book" is a handbook on truth. It is a living document, a spiritual thing, meant to minister to your needs over a whole lifetime, no matter who you are or where you live or what language you speak. We can all speak the language of truth. God helps us to know it's His Book by writing it in such an impossible way. Start by believing He wrote it for you as a matter of faith. Stop thinking that God is a boring, uncaring teacher! In your heart you know that's not true.
So get that book on your shelf right now. Don't think about it. Just do it. Start reading anywhere you like. And do it again tomorrow. Don't give up. You might start with something toward the end of the book. The New Testament is a little easier to grab on to but decide right now that it won't matter to you if you don't understand what you read. Let what you do understand come as a complete surprise part of the continual fun of picking up that ancient book and seeking the treasures within.
Do this on a regular basis, and your life will never be the same. And remember, there are thousands and thousands of churches and neighbors and friends who will be glad to give you any help you want. In the end, that's the real lesson.
You are not alone. You are loved. The Bible is proof of that.