Religion, people sometimes say, is all about pie in the sky when you die. And why give up good stuff now for something that may or may not materialise later?
So it may surprise you to hear that “later” was not why I became a Christian, and that no, I don’t feel I’m missing out on anything, I don’t feel I lose out in any way – no, my life here and now is a lot better than it was! You see, Jesus is the way to heaven but he’s a lot more than that. He is the way, the truth and the life. He is Immanuel – this is a Hebrew name meaning: God with us. When you put your faith in Jesus you get a lot more than a promise for later – you get God himself living in you, from that moment on.
Other religions may tell you about some distant, lofty deity up there in the sky, someone you have to try and appease in the hope that maybe, if you do enough good, you’ll get to heaven in the end. But Jesus? He is so not like that! He is God come down, down to our messy earthly lives. He offers us a way to heaven even though we don’t deserve it – and yes, when my time comes to leave this life I look forward to that, but that’s not the reason why I follow him, it’s not the thing that attracted me to Jesus in the first place, it’s not the deal breaker that clinched it for me, and it’s not at the forefront of my mind day to day. It’s important because the “later” bit is actually a lot longer than the “now” bit, but I’m human and I tend to be more focused on the here and now.
Someone asked me recently why I became a Christian, and it turned out her assumption was that it must be because of the promise of heaven or the threat of hell. Not an unreasonable assumption, but when I think back to that time – no, I wasn’t thinking about heaven and hell, it wasn’t an issue I was concerned with. In my pre-faith days, if someone had come up to me with a leaflet about how to get to heaven, I wouldn’t have been in the slightest bit interested. It just wasn’t on my mind.
What was it then, what attracted me to Jesus and got me to put my faith in him? It’s hard to unpack this – a bit like when you meet someone and fall in love and decide to settle down with them, you don’t usually have a clear list of reasons. And it was very much like that – meeting Jesus, falling in love with him, gradually getting to know him better over time, and finally coming to the point of saying “I do”.
And then sticking with him because life without him would be impossible. Life here and now – yes, that’s what I’m talking about. The promise of heaven for later is great and it does help with the here and now when you’re facing death or terrible suffering, but most of us most of the time are not, and most of the time I don’t think of what’s going to happen when I die. Most of the time I’m living in the here and now, and Jesus – unlike those lofty deities of other religions – Jesus is with me in the here and now, and I can’t imagine going back to trying to cope with life without him.
You see, I believe we humans were created to be in a loving, intimate relationship with God and we’re not supposed to be able to cope without that. So it makes complete sense to me that I made such a huge mess of my life when I tried to do it on my own. It makes complete sense to me when people sink into all kinds of addictions and misery, when they make a mess of their lives, when they search desperately for a sense of security and belonging and look in places that bring pain – we all need unconditional love and we can’t get it from anyone other than Jesus. Even my husband, who sincerely promised to love me for the rest of our lives, is a fallible human being who has moments of not living up to it – not to mention the fact that one day he will die, and if I rely on his love for my sense of well being then wow, that is a recipe for disaster!
I had more thoughts when I started drafting this, but maybe I’ve said enough for now. My journey to faith was long and convoluted and any attempt to describe it means having to leave some stuff out because hey, attention spans. Maybe I’ll say more another time. Or maybe – ok, one last thing before I go, because I think it’s important: putting your faith in Jesus is not just a case of “I like the sound of what I can get out of this deal”, but a case of recognising that you’ve been wrong to try and live life your own way, you’ve sinned against God by trying to live without Jesus. Say sorry and mean it, then ask Jesus to take control of your life and to give you the Holy Spirit to help you live God’s way from now on.
It’s our rebellion that gets us into trouble, and keeps us from having that loving, intimate relationship with God that we were made for. But the good news is: God loves us and he sent his only begotten son to die so that all who believe in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
And that life starts the moment you put your faith in Jesus. New life, guilt-free, with God himself accompanying you every step of the way, helping you along. Immanuel – God with us, not just later but right now.