If you go to heaven alone, wrapped in your private worthiness, it is by definition not heaven. If your notion of heaven is based on exclusion of anybody else, then it is by definition not heaven. The more you exclude the more hellish and lonely your existence always is. – Richard Rohr; Falling Upward, A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life
When I was a younger man I spent a lot of time building a container for my life. I was preoccupied with figuring out what didn’t belong and would therefore not be a part of who I was. I experimented with a few things but ultimately rejected certain behaviors like smoking and gambling and certain other activities and attitudes that I don’t care to list. Without writing it down I essentially created a manifesto of what it meant to be me.
This process was obviously exclusionary. By figuring out what I wanted in my container of life I had to, at the same time, decide what didn’t belong. Through the process I convinced myself that this was the right thing to do. I clung to verses in scripture about righteousness and being set apart for a higher purpose.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled. [Matthew 5:6]
I was very dualistic in my thinking. Certain things were allowed in, but more often than not other things were rejected as worldly or sinful. But then about 3 or 4 years ago something happened to me that I was totally unprepared for. I started to notice that in building this container I had excluded things as a matter of principle without really thinking about the consequences. While some of things I claimed to value were relationships I had inadvertently prevented a number of people from getting too close because of some arbitrary rule I had created surrounding a certain behavior or aspect of their person-hood that I had rejected. The more I thought about this, the more I noticed it and the more it disturbed me.
When I was a teenager I had a youth pastor who insisted on preaching from The King James Bible, ever since then certain passages of scripture have always sounded best in my head in old English, none more so than John 3:16.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
It’s that one word right in the middle of the verse that has, in recent years, convicted me of my dualistic thinking; “whosoever”.
God does not exclude anyone from his offer of salvation. It is open to “whosoever” believes in him. The implications of that one word are massive. It means that you don’t have to be perfect, you don’t have to be righteous, you don’t even have to be the right race, vocation or even sexual orientation, all you need to do is believe. If you need to make any changes in your life beyond that God will work with you on your own time. It is not my job to fix you and make you fit within my container. My container is not God. It is my job to work with you through relationship to live outside my container and embrace the whole world, just as God has done. It’s the ultimate in outside the box thinking.
Living this way is messy. It requires a certain level of comfort with tension. Some would call it wisdom, or even grace. And that my friends is what life is all about.