Was a man who passed away
St. Peter met him at the gate
Pete said: Walk with me if you will
I'll take you to the house you built
Man said: I can't wait!
Passed a mansion made of stone
But with each new house he's shown
They get smaller by degrees
Stopped in front of a two room shack
Pete said hope you're happy with that
Man said: How can this be?
That's all the lumber — that's all the lumber
That's all the lumber you sent
Looks like the Builder—Man, he's got your number
That's all the lumber you sent...
("The Lumber Song," words & music by Eli)
I heard this song on the Christian radio the other day, and it got me thinking.
About a year sober, I met up with this real Jesus-freak guy who also went to AA. He knew that I'd newly returned back to church, and was seeking to understand this relationship with a God of my mis-understanding. So he invited me to come to his pastor's house for "a bible study that will really open your eyes." I told him that I'd never studied the bible, and didn't think I'd fit in well. And he said (in words so familiar to addictive personalities) "Hey, just try it once. If you don't like it, you don't have to come back." So I went.
The home we drove to in Leawood (a ritzy neighborhood south of Kansas City) was beautiful, and the welcome I received was a warm one. But it didn't take long to realize that I was not in the right place at all...
You see, the topic for that week's "study" was this so-called pastor's interpretation of the various "levels" of heaven and the structure of the heavenly realm. In this particular pastor's view, the Kingdom of Heaven was like a cruise ship. Your place in eternity was determined by how the spiritual price you paid while you were still on Earth, it seemed.
The folks who were good and righteous, who gave considerably to this particular church and ministry, the folks who did right all the time, would be up on the 1st-class decks of heaven, dining on prime rib and French pastry. The folks who weren't all that perfect would be in the "second-class cabins," whereas the folks who just claimed Jesus as their Lord but otherwise didn't do much would be down in steerage, near the "bottom" of Heaven.
And one's role in the New Heaven and New Earth would be determined in the same way. The cherubim and seraphim would be made up of the truly righteous, and so on. Us barely-repentant critters would spend eternity living as the waiters and janitors for the rest of the holy and glorified assemblage.
It went on a lot longer than that - with lots of diagrams and hierarchical drawings - but you get the gist of it.
And then, as the pastor had completed his presentation, he tacked up a chart of the various levels and branches of heaven on the wall, and asked us to put a blue dot where we felt our lives so far would put us in the celestial pecking order, and then a green dot where we'd like to spend eternity. And he looked out at us with great anticipation.
It was all I could do not to laugh.
Remember - I was just a year sober..
A year earlier, my life as I knew it had ended. I'd been fired, divorced, cut off from my old friends, and contemplated suicide on a number of occasions. I'd been lifted from the depths of guilt, shame, and despair to a place of relative peace, serenity, and knowledge of the absolute love of God.
And this guy wanted to know if I was going to be happy with where my chair may (or may not) be in the heavenly seating arrangements?
I was the last person to speak, and I listened to the other 6 or 8 people rationalize about how they would be on this level, or that area or role. And it's been 14 years since that night, and I still remember the feelings of astonishment that someone would even bother to sit and study this stuff. I remember the pastor turning to me with this expectant air, and saying, "And where do you believe you will spend eternity, Steve?" As best I remember it, this is what I said:
I appreciate you all inviting me into your home, and your bible study group. And I appreciate your welcoming me into your group. But listening to you folks tonight, I have never felt more of an outsider than I do right now. Because evidently we come from two entirely different places.It still does.
For 17 years, I walked away from faith - not just away from church, but away from God. I lied, cheated, stole, and broke the laws of God and man. I knew there was a God, but I believed myself doomed to Hell and to be abandoned by God. And only in the last year have I come to understand about being justified by grace through my faith, not by my actions. So I'm a lot closer to the position of the 'good thief,' who simply asked, 'Remember me when you come into your kingdom.' That's my story.
I don't deserve heaven; I am not righteous, or holy, or good. Just being sober in this world beats the hell out of where I was; so to me, being the janitor in Heaven, in service of the God who saved me, sounds like a damn good deal.
Back to the song that I opened this post with...I haven't sent much lumber up yonder, brother Eli, so there won't be much more than a fishin' shack for me. But I'm convinced that being in the presence of Everlasting Love will more than make up for that. Just hand me my broom, and let me sweep the streets paved with gold. After all, the only reason I'd be there at all is because Someone Else paid for my admission ticket...