Dear Marketplace Friend,
I get the question, fairly often. "So, what do you do for fun?" Tough question, for me, because I have fun doing just about everything I do. But I know what they mean; they want to know about my recreation; my "hobbies." Answer: "Run." That usually changes the subject…
Yesterday, I had a fun run: alone, at 8600', for 14 miles on a dirt road in the Rockies. My iPod Shuffle was my "buddy." Phenomenal scenery; temp stayed under 70°; it was just me and my music. Mostly Christian tunes... but there was a new release slipped in, from Paul McCartney's new Starbucks-released CD.
He's still poppin' out the music. On the Beatles' Sgt Pepper album, their song asked the question: "Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm sixty-four?" Now that he's 64, his musical musings have shifted a bit. Forty years ago, he was projecting into retirement. Now, his horizon has extended. The cut from Memory Almost Full (the new album) that I'm playing is titled, "The End of the End."
"At the end of the end, it's the start of a journey to a much better place. And this wasn't bad, so a much better place would have to be special. No need to be sad..." Paul's old writing partner - John Lennon - would have cringed at those thoughts, about a "much better place." Lennon's most enduring lyric was post-Beatles, under the influence of Yoko Ono, when he wrote “Imagine:” "Imagine there's no Heaven; it's easy if you try. No hell below us; above us only sky. Imagine all the people, living for today..." Lennon commented that the song was "an anti-religious, anti-nationalistic, anti-conventional, anti-capitalistic song, but because it's sugarcoated, it's accepted." Lennon also described it as "virtually the Communist Manifesto."
This what-comes-next stuff is a big thought. If life is a journey, what's the destination? Our friends at AARP (people who went to Beatles concerts as teens) did a survey of 1,011 people 50-and-over "to learn what Americans in the second half of life believe about life after death." Whose influence - Lennon at 31, or McCartney at 64, or Jesus at 33 - has shaped my contemporaries' view of "what's next?"
No surprises, really. Here in America - among the "seniors" - 94% confess belief in God. Slightly less (86%) believe in Heaven (does that mean that 8% believe in a God who is homeless?). We're optimists, too: the belief in Hell is down around 70% (no upside in that belief, apparently). Here's the interesting finding, though: the richer people are, the less likely they are to believe in Heaven. For the folks whose households make > $75,000/year, only 78% believe; for those < $ 25,000, the number is 90%. Poor folks long for heaven; rich folks don't need it, it seems. Money shapes one's thinking, but education does as well. If you went to college, Heaven stands at 77%; for the high-school-or-less crowd, it's up to 89%.
Surveys always demand evaluation. Author Bill Newcott concluded his report with observations from two historic writers - not McCartney and Lennon, but Dante and C.S. Lewis. His observation: "... both writers seem to reach similar conclusions: whether we choose to take any side in the afterlife conversation, the reality is heading relentlessly toward us. We can straddle the line between belief and unbelief all we want, but in a world where we love to split the difference when it comes to spiritual matters, where inconclusiveness often means reaching consensus on conceptual matters, the answer to the ultimate question of life after death leaves no room for quibbling. The position you took during your earthly life is either spot on or dead wrong." Newcott doesn't write for Christianity Today; he's on the staff of AARP Magazine...
He wasn't part of the survey - or, part of the AARP article - but his comments on the subject are more informed than anyone else. Here's Jesus' take on the Heaven question: "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am... I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:1-8) Straight talk. Line in the sand. Absolute criterion. If you want to go where God the Father lives - to Heaven - there is only one way to get there.
C.S. Lewis said, of Jesus, that he was either a liar, a lunatic... or, he was the Son of God. Which is it?