Into the grey: Life and death. Heaven and Earth.
There’s a ticket to a train ride that will take you to the most beautiful place you’ve ever seen. A place without suffering, a place without pain, a place with eternal peace. The only cost to ride the train is that ticket. Suffering didn’t matter. Not yours and not others. The only thing that mattered is the ticket. So hold on to that ticket for dear life because it’s the only way to ride the train.
In the Church, this is how heaven is often talked about. Sometimes explicitly and other times implicitly. Earth is nothing but suffering but a personal relationship with Jesus where you acknowledged him in a specific way was the ticket to heaven. So grit your teeth and bare whatever life has to throw at you. Hold on to that ticket. Because as long as you have your ticket into heaven, nothing else matters as much. Even the suffering in the world.
This idea fed my suicidal ideations more than almost any other. Whenever you struggle with depression, self harming behaviors and suicidal thoughts, life feels like constant suffering. And all you want is for it to stop. If heaven was the only way to end this suffering, why would I stick around? I just wanted to punch my ticket to the train ride as early as possible.
But as I continued my evolution and wrestling with depression, I came across this idea: Heaven and hell start a long time before you die. Rob Bell explores this idea phenomenally in his book “Love Wins” (which had a hugely positive impact on my life).
And this is a truth I think we all know in our hearts. From sickness to homelessness. From depression to anxiety. From hunger to addiction. Abusive relationships. Racism. Sexual assault. The list goes own. In the scope of life, heaven and hell seemed to take more and more of a back seat. We’ve all experienced our own little hells. Life seemed to be a pretty good example of what this suffering would be like.
But all throughout the gospels, Jesus talked about bringing the kingdom of heaven down to earth. In Matthew 25, Jesus even gives us an example of what this looks like—how we treat the lowest and most disenfranchised people of the earth. The apostle John takes this idea even further by talking about loving because we were first loved. We could bring heaven down to ourselves. We could bring heaven to others. Life could be about ending our own suffering and the suffering of others.
The train didn’t have to be the ride we took whenever we died. We could ride it today. Through things like counseling, healthy loving relationships (with ourselves and others), sitting in nature, meditation, eating and drinking, being alone and being with others, we could ride the train as many times as we wanted. Better yet, we could jump in the conductor’s seat and drive the train to anyone we wanted. Tools like charitable giving, kind, simple gestures of kindness, helping your neighbor, volunteer work, protesting on behalf of people suffering or disenfranchised, these were all ways of bringing the train to our neighbors.
The Church’s unhealthy ideas of holding your ticket increased my suffering and created a culture of ignoring the suffering of the world. But the Church also introduced me to Jesus. And Jesus taught me that I didn’t have to wait to die to experience heaven. And it didn’t matter what someone else’s religion, sexuality, ethnicity, gender or any other characteristic was for me to bring them a piece of heaven. I could actively participate in this idea of increasing love and decreasing suffering for myself and my neighbor.
Each of us can bring Heaven down to Earth—for ourselves and others.