One of the most destructive views, in my opinion, is the belief that we are just passing through this world.
Why is this so destructive?
This belief leads to the idea that the whole point is to decide if your going to go “up” or “down” after you die. (Up being good and for the special elite. Down being bad and where the vast majority of the human race goes…and somehow this is couched under the idea that this is good news?) Often this idea is said for one of two reasons.
First, this is said frequently when someone is frustrated with the way things are going or they see so much injustice around them. In other words, behind this view is often the unspoken idea that “this world is messed up and doomed. You all are screwed, but I’m glad I’m not.”
Secondly, people fear the unknown, particularly what happens when you die and they desperately desire certainty. Certainty is likely one of the greatest deceptions and yet greatest draws toward religion for most conservatives.
Not only does this produce a sort of arrogance and an attachment to one’s views (what happens when people die is pure speculation and none of us know), but it is also destructive. Before I share why I think this way, let me first say that I resonate with part of the reason behind this saying. I do think that our beliefs about the afterlife matter. Try telling a mother whose child is about to die that she shouldn’t have any hope or that she may not see her child again – not helpful or hopeful!
Hope is at the core of the Christian story, but it isn’t a hope focused on the afterlife it is a hope focused on this life.
Again, as a Christian, I think we can have hope for some form of life after death – though I am less and less convinced it will look like streets paved with pure gold, harps, or a burning fire of ceaseless torture. I am much more hopeful than to think that only a select few will enter into “paradise” while the majority suffer. I think we will all be shocked.
In the Jewish tradition there is a phrase called tikkun olam (pronounced tee-KOON oh-LUHM) which means “the repair of the world.” It is this idea that God is working to bring about reconciliation, healing, and wholeness to the entire world and we are invited to be a part (this is how I understand salvation). This goes beyond the overly simplistic idea of individualistic human salvation (very anthropocentric). God is not just working to save humans, but the entire cosmos.
Both the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Bible would seem to support tikkun olam more than the idea that the world is not my home. Starting in the beginning is a story that speaks poetically about a God who creates a good and beautiful world and then invites humans to continue creating, naming, and tending to this world. Nothing is said of this being “temporary” or there being “another, better place” afterwards. According to this narrative, God takes delight when humans continue to create and continue to bring about order and beauty in this good world.
Interesting to me that those who believe that God created the world and called it good are often so quick to want to leave it behind!
The vast majority of the stories found in Scripture are stories of a God working to help bring about justice, peace, equality, and wholeness in this world. Instead of trying to escape this world or tell everyone how bad, evil, or messed up they are, it seems much more in line with God’s movement to work toward things like sustainability, equality, natural energy, health care for all, businesses that benefit all not just a few, education that encourages forward thinking, and so many other creative ways. Our carbon footprint matters. Our use of water matters. Our diet effects others. Our way of transportation matters. Where we put our trash and if/how we recycle matters. These are all issues of tikkun olam – working to bring about healing and repair. We are not “just passing through,” but are a part of this world and what we do with life in this world matters immensely.