Is the news good?
Yes! Of course, the news is good! But sometimes culture obscures its basic foundation, and the news may not seem so good from a particular perspective.
In the USA, a person’s view of the afterlife is very often peopled with those known and loved who have “gone on before.” I recall my uncle’s memorial service—a time that was both joyful and poignantly sad. As over a hundred of us stood belting out the hymn “By the Sea of Crystal,” I could see him at that shore, waving, grinning broadly and waiting for us. In fact, sometimes it’s who we know that even motivates us to initially follow Christ. I heard a speaker talk about “going forward” when he was about 4 years old. Why? His brother was going to live with Jesus in Heaven, and he was going to go whereever his brother did.
Because of living in Asia, I’ve seen that our American tendency to think so much about joining our personal family in heaven is misplaced. I don’t choose a heavenward path in order to continue my earthly relationships. Settling down by my uncle and my grandparents, being able to play with my young friend Heather or chat with my old friend Rose is absolutely not the point. And of course we know that—our time in heaven will be to give praise and glory to the triune God.
Interestingly though, when we Americans let that misplaced emphasis color our thinking, the Good News is easier to accept. We are following a well-worn path. However, for millions around the world, that line of thinking provides an additional barrier to God’s Good News.
What if your grandma died and she was Buddhist? What if all the relatives you’ve ever known have been Buddhists? How can you go all alone to heaven? How can you not support your ancestors in their world with your offerings and incense? How can you not care for them when they did so much for you when they were alive? You love them still. Following Jesus to heaven feels like abandonment.
Our emphasis—in Asia and in America—needs to rest on the one relationship that matters. As dear as my grandparents were to me, they are not the relationship that counts eternally. For my Asian sister who feels as I do about her deceased grandparents, it is also not the crux of the matter. As I think about it, I can make a shift in my thinking; remind myself that heaven is not about my earthly community. For others accepting the Good News means a complete reconstruction of their view of the afterlife and a rejection of their families’ world view. How hard!
But when we look to the foundation of God’s love, de-emphasizing what we merely imagine heaven will be like and emphasizing the Father’s great love and our own desperate need… then yes! Yes! The news is good! Good for every family, tribe and people—very good!
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