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The Paradox of Heaven

Crossposted from Writings from the Grass-Roots: Thoughts on God, Life, and Culture.
The famous Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard writes, “Most people rush after pleasure so fast they rush right past it” (Either/Or, 14).
From the start, it will do us well to arrive at a definition of pleasure since it is often the case that pleasure within a Christian context has been linked to “fleshly desire, the things of the flesh, or even sin”. In other words, pleasure is used to reference the things we are taught to avoid at all cost. In this particular case, I suggest that we define pleasure as that which brings us a feeling of happy satisfaction, enjoyment, and even meaningful endeavors. I would argue that within the context of the traditional Christian experience, the highest level of arriving at pleasure is Heaven (in an other-worldly sense). For countless Christians—and I see this first-hand from working as a Pastor—the purest form of happiness, excitement, or pleasure is reaching the pearly gates of heaven—what some might also call the Kingdom of Heaven, though I would not. This is evidenced when a person experiencing a tough time in their life exhibits an initial response of “I can’t wait for Heaven,” because an escape to heaven seems the only possible solution.
If this observation is true, then the pursuit of happiness for many Christians is Heaven. an appropriate bumper sticker might read “Heaven or Bust”. Perhaps even, “Heaven or Hell”. However, as Christians in this quest for pleasure in its purest sense, or reaching heaven as we just described, do we inadvertently rush past other pleasures, moments of happiness, or even meaningful endeavors? The kind of pleasure that Solomon writes about when he says, “I know that there is nothing better for humanity than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his work—this is the gift of God.” (Ecc. 3:12-13, NIV, emphasis is mine) Is it possible that we, in rushing to heaven, rush past the gift of God?
This rush is best illustrated in the film Click (2006). Click is about a workaholic architect whose desire to get ahead in his job leads to the neglect of his family. One night, after not being able to find a misplaced remote-control, he drives to the only open store and obtains a “universal control” that has the power to literally control the universe. In the end, the main character finds himself having rushed past not just the un-pleasurable moments in his life but also past missed opportunities—perhaps even past a real sense of happiness. The very thing that the universal control promised, such as happiness and a pleasurable and stress-free life, was not what he was left with. He was left with the opposite: regret, sadness, and emptiness.
I can understand rushing past unpleasant things in our lives, such as sickness, traffic, heated arguments, moments of sadness, and depression. But I cannot fathom why anyone would want to rush past the pleasures we as humans are supposed to enjoy. Life, after all, is what Solomon describes as the gift of God. One thing I have observed in the Adventist church is that at times, the language of heaven has been used as that universal remote control that calls us to rush past the pleasure of this life, so that we can get to the next life. Yet the life we are encouraged to leave behind is the very life that is described as a gift from God. At times talk of the impending end of the world is used to hurry us along to an impossible state of sinlessness in this world. Yet at the same time, while we are working on becoming ‘sinless,’ it’s possible to neglect the world that is around us.
So perhaps an even more important question to ask is not “Have you ever rushed passed pleasure in search of it?” but, rather, “Is it possible that we are taught to rush past pleasure?”
Has talk of heaven been the means by which we justify ourselves as a whole, to disengage from entering into real ways of addressing the pressing needs of our time? I think of the need to care for our environment; the need to find plausible solutions to bring poverty to an end; the reality that slave trafficking still exists; the healthcare need of children and adults alike.
For Jesus, heaven was the realm where things are as they should be. This life is a gift of God and we have the choice to either rush past it in hopes of another world. Or we can embrace and engage our world and co-operate with God to make it more heavenly.
To read more about engaging our world read Ryan Bell’s Commentary on the Sabbath School Lesson for July 26-August 1, 2008, “Matthew 10: Jesus and His Disciples.
*David Oceguera received a BA in Religious Studies from La Sierra University and an MDiv from Andrews University. He pastors the El Centro Seventh-day Adventist Church in El Centro, California.

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