Photo by Milada Vigerova on Unsplash

How’s it going to work when we get to heaven?

Will we be changed in an instant? Will I be entirely different in the first millisecond I’m there? Will all the vices I’ve chased in this life simply vanish from my person and my personality, never to desire them again? Will we be made perfect, instantaneously and forever?

Or will we come as we are by the grace of God, face-to-face with heaven, and be left to make our own adjustments to its reality? Will there still be change beyond that first millisecond? Will there still be growth?

“This is heaven,” perhaps we’ll hear, “and your lust can’t be here. Your greed. Your sloth. Your pride. But something much better is waiting for you. Come and learn. You’ve got trillions of years.”

What if when we get there, instead of being greeted by friends and family long gone, God decides the best way to teach us this better way is to plop us down at a table of multi-colored strangers, our only connection this common grace? What if at first it’s not the people we hoped we’d see but the people we thought we wouldn’t? Or perhaps the people we just didn’t think about at all?

Maybe in heaven we still learn to swim by just being thrown in the pool.

On Sunday we had a family become members of our church. There are questions we ask upon such an occasion, and two of them are what you’d expect: variations on repentance of sin and profession of faith in Jesus Christ. But in our church, there is a third: “Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?”

I’ve seen many of my United Methodist friends and colleagues find solace in this question the past few days. It means saying yes to being part of a church – ours and so many others – is more than just agreeing with doctrine. It is believing we are free, and powerfully so. And it is believing this freedom and power are not without purpose.

The question acknowledges evil, injustice, and oppression can come in many forms, and so too must our resistance. But in any form, two things must remain constant. We have to pray, without believing it is all we can do. And we have to act, without forgetting that same common grace.

It seems impossible to be empathetic toward someone who marches with Nazi paraphernalia or drives their car into a crowd of human beings. But if we can allow ourselves the question of whether such people have always been this way, we might find something significantly more relatable.

This week NPR interviewed Christian Piccolini, a reformed white nationalist. The whole thing is worth your time, but this quote stood out:

I think ultimately people become extremists not necessarily because of the ideology. I think that the ideology is simply a vehicle to be violent. I believe that people become radicalized, or extremist, because they’re searching for three very fundamental human needs: identity, community and a sense of purpose.

I am thankful that I struggle to relate to such hatred. But a need for identity, community, and purpose? That I do know.

There is no room for racism in the kingdom of heaven. It belongs to the kingdom of hell, home of all that is worthless, and one day between that first millisecond and the trillionth it’s going back. Between now and then, a church can and should condemn it. A church can and should pray for those facing its evil, injustice, and oppression. But we can do more.

Every day people are asking who they are, what they’re here for, and who they can be with. Our churches can have such powerful and freeing answers to those questions. It is vital that we are intentional in joining the conversation happening in our schools, our service organizations, and many other places that will speak out against racism. This is especially important in parts of the world like ours where history has a hard heart and stubborn roots. And it is vital that our eyes, ears, and hearts are open to those who are looking for those answers, that they might find a truth so much better and far more beautiful than the lies they will be sold from causes seeking to use them to harm others.

Our way forward is not found in vandalizing statues or finding ways for our favorite political party to leverage the latest news, ways that are more divisive than helpful. Our hope remains in a God who continues to sow, even amidst such hatred. It is found in mourning with those who mourn and standing up for those who are oppressed.

It is found in doing life and ministry with those who may be different than us in many ways but share that common grace. When we share our lives together, we consistently learn we have far more in common than we thought. And at the same time, while we hope we have nothing in common with Nazis and white supremacists now, we might find we have much in common with who they were when they first went looking for answers.

Our hope is found in knowing a truth that continues to set us free. And it is found in sharing this hope with those looking so desperately to be known, loved, and needed.

Maybe one day all our imperfections will be washed away in the blink of an eye. If so, hallelujah. But if not, I trust God will continue to be with us as we grow, just as God is still with us now. And as long as that is the case, hallelujah.

One day all of this too shall be made right. But if the kingdom of heaven is truly at hand, we might as well get started.

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