When We Make Heaven the Point

Welcome to this week’s edition of Why They Call Me a Heretic.

“Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one gets into heaven but through me'” (John 14:6, NITBV).

This message is so widely preached and embraced, I imagine it’s getting a few solemn head bobs from the evangelical crowd. I imagine if I plastered the quote above onto a graphic and posted it across my social media platforms, it would spread like gospel truth, because well, to some, it is gospel truth.

And I wonder.

I wonder if anyone would catch it.

You know, the fact that Jesus didn’t say that at all. Or the fact that NITBV stands for Nowhere in the Bible Version. (Not that I actually expected anyone to pick up on that last bit.)

Here’s what Jesus really said: “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me” (John 14:6 NASB, emphasis mine). And this is where I imagine my head-bobbing evangelical friends saying, “Well, you can’t get to heaven without going through Jesus to the Father, so really it’s the same thing.”

It’s not, friends. It’s not.

In fact, I would submit that whenever we make heaven (or avoiding hell) the point, we miss the point.

Recently, I’ve been reading The Curate of Glaston by George MacDonald (companion to There and Back). Two characters are discussing the purpose of the Church: one feels it is up to the Church to prove there is a God, the other that it is the Church’s duty to proclaim Christianity. Thomas asks, “What is Christianity, then?” His companion replies, “God in Christ, and Christ in man” (The Curate of Glaston, George MacDonald, Location 919). The Church just celebrated Christmas – the Incarnation of Emmanuel, God with Us. As Mel Wild of In My Father’s House says, “Christmas is about presence.” I have been arguing for some time now that the entire gospel is about presence – God’s presence.

When Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me,” it’s part of a larger discussion with His disciples about where He is going (John 13:36; 14:5). He mentions going to prepare a place for his disciples in His Father’s house, and it seems Thomas misses the point, just like many of us, and wants to know how to get to this prepared place (John 14:5). Interestingly, Jesus doesn’t point the way to the house, but to the Father. Even later in his discourse, He says, “I am going to the Father” (John 16:28).

News of heaven, or even news of avoiding hell, is simply not good enough. And I know, because that was the gospel I believed growing up. I had some kind of hope (I suppose) in my name being in the Lamb’s book of life (Revelation 21:15) an eventuality of God wiping away every tear (Revelation 21:4), but I did not perceive a God at work in my day-to-day life, and had very little use for Him. From the time I was eight or nine years old, I began contemplating suicide, because death seemed to be the only way out, and along with those thoughts, I lost whatever hope of heaven I had, as well. Christians did not commit suicide, or so I was told.

I tried being a “good Christian girl” for years. I knew Biblical doctrine inside and out (even opposing viewpoints), and I taught it in Sunday school. But I felt bad teaching, thinking if parents knew a depressed and suicidal person was teaching their children, they’d boot me to the curb, and eventually, I stopped teaching on my own. I think I avoided God for much the same reason: I imagined He was disgusted by my mental illness, and didn’t really want anything to do with me.

I was nineteen years old before I understood that God knew and loved me personally, mental illness and all; it was like a dam between my head and my heart was breached. And from there, not all at once, but little by little, my intellect and my heart have been coming together, and I begin to understand restoration, not as the means by which to make me better, but as God’s means to draw me closer and closer to Himself. And as I grow closer and closer to Him, more and more, I become who I would be if it weren’t for sin. Of course, that process won’t be complete until Heaven, but I have Him now. And He wants to be with me now.

Yes, I believe I’m going to heaven, but the only reason heaven offers any hope for this girl is because it’s eternity in the presence of God without sin getting in the way, but even then, the hope is not heaven, but God’s uninterrupted presence.

The real good news, the real hope for right now is that through Jesus, I have access to the Father. Through Jesus, I can say, “You have made known to me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness evermore; in Your right hand are pleasures forever” (Psalm 16:11 NASB). Through Jesus, I can attest that abundant life is not your best life now, but the presence of the Father, who walks with me no matter what I’m facing or what my attitude is. Through Jesus, I can say, “I am going to the Father,” anytime I want.

What are your thoughts?