Heaven is a sparsely populated place. Considering its vast celestial real estate, vis-a-vis the earth, it must be downright lonely. Maybe that’s the way the elect like it.
Official teaching, as it is often called, for many churches is downright brutal for those who dare explore. This past week the sin of Rob Morris, a Lutheran Pastor (Missouri Synod) who had the audacity to pray for the children slaughtered in Newtown, Connecticut in the same room as—gasp—Jews and Muslims, has been in the news. You see, Missouri Synod pastors aren’t allowed to worship with those outside their brand, and the president of the Synod, Matthew Harrison, insisted on an apology from Morris. Never mind the twenty-six coffins in the room. This is about doctrine!
Exclusion is part of what gives religion a bad name. Yes, there are some people who appear evil—I’m glad I’m not often put in the place of judging that. For some Christian sects, however, the gate is very narrow indeed, and the path exceptionally difficult. More than one Christian denomination, presumably those not so good with arithmetic, officially teaches that only 144,000 will be saved. A thousand gross, and not one more. These poor sinners keep hoping they’ll get in without adding up the hundreds of generations standing in line before them. I get the sense that their heaven wouldn’t exactly be paradise for any of the rest of us who happened to slip in. If the world were full of people like me, I think I’d be on the first space shuttle off to parts unknown.
Overlooking the gross insensitivity to the fact that Morris was trying to heal his community after a tragedy where children—children! To whom most religions give a free pass into heaven—were being mourned, we must wonder what the paradise of Missouri Synod Lutherans looks like. A heaven without diversity. Smiles must be rare indeed. And long, long, long naps very common.
For those of us committed to the common good, heaven on those terms is no ideal place. In fact, I doubt that God would be tempted to spend much time there. I think that God was present at the interfaith prayer vigil, and that Rev. Harrison has yet to receive an apology postmarked “Heaven.”