Let’s be honest, the primary reason Christianity is so attractive is the promise of eternal life. Jesus said that whoever believes in Him will not perish but will receive everlasting life. What a wonderful offer.
Do the math. Compare all of eternity to our brief 60, 80, or 100 years of life here on earth. It’s no contest. Eternity is a really, REALLY long time. It makes perfectly good sense for people to desire to spend eternity in a place described as paradise rather than in a place described as never-ending torment.
However, many Christians who are very firm in their belief in eternal life in Heaven, are convinced that we are REQUIRED to suffer in this world while we wait for the joy of the next world. Maybe that’s why so many Christians always seem to have such sour expressions on their faces, or why secular critics often describe Christians as people who are haunted by the idea that someone, somewhere might be having fun.
The Baltimore Catechism asks the question, “Why did God make you?” And the answer memorized by school children is, “God made me to know Him and love Him and serve Him in this life, and to be happy with Him forever in the next life.”
I’ve heard this interpreted to mean, “See, you’ll eventually be happy when you get to Heaven. But for now you’re supposed to sacrifice and suffer and serve God—so just forget about being happy.”
Well, that doesn’t make any sense. If someone truly knows God and loves God and serves God, he or she will be the most joyful person on earth.
Don’t get me wrong; we obviously live in a fallen world. The stench of sin has corrupted our entire planet, which often makes life very difficult. All of us at one time or another are forced to deal with illness, accident, disease, crime, and death. This world is definitely not paradise.
But Jesus never said our life on earth is destined to be a joyless journey of somber sadness. We are not supposed to mope around here with sour expressions on our faces while we wait to go to Heaven. Jesus clearly said, “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”
Sure, Jesus was talking about eternal life in Heaven. But He also was talking about having abundant life here on earth. We are supposed to have joy in this earthly journey, despite the struggles and the pain. Jesus wants us to be filled with joy—right here and right now—not just later in Heaven.
A lot of the suffering and pain here on earth cannot be avoided. Illness, accident, and tragedies often strike without warning, bringing pain and grief to people. But there is still a great opportunity to experience joy in this world. And ironically, the best way to experience joy is to do exactly what the Baltimore Catechism says: know God, love God, and serve God.
Those are simple words; after all, they were designed to be memorized by school children. And yet, those words are incredibly profound. Knowing, loving, and serving God are the very things for which human beings were created. They are the fundamental purposes and goals of our lives.
So yes, the promise of paradise in Heaven for all eternity is very attractive—THE most attractive aspect of Christianity. But Our Lord is a God of immense love. He not only wants us to experience eternal joy in Heaven, He wants us to have a taste of it right now. If we know Him and love Him and serve Him, those sour expressions will disappear from our faces.