by Bil Aulenbach

Pie in the Sky in the Sweet By-and-By

I love the saying “pie in the sky.” It describes much of the church’s theology.

“Pie in the sky” comes from a song called “The Preacher and the Slave,” written by Joe Hill in 1911. The song made fun of some of the “pie” the church markets about Jesus.

Why do I even care? I recently reread Mark 10:17, in which a rich young man asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

That triggered a reaction: I have absolutely no interest in eternal life. It sounds more like hell than heaven to me. Here’s my question: who would I have to spend eternity with? How about the priest who fired me in 1969 because I spoke out against the war in Vietnam? Or the preacher who fired me in 1988 because he felt threatened by little old me? Eternity with either of them would be hell for me.

Even the earth and the universe will end eventually. The word “eternal” implies no end. What a load of pie!

I have no idea where believers will spend eternity, but I do know that I can’t survive more than five miles above sea level unassisted. Will believers have eternal space suits?

Suppose I had to live with narrow-minded, bigoted folks—I know we wouldn’t do well together. I suspect someone’s eternity might end.

Which Jesus would I hang around with? The human one or the fictional one? I’m not sure if the historical Jesus would recognize the Jesus the institutional church likes. The two are like night and day.

The phrase “life everlasting” only appears once in the Old Testament (Daniel 12:2), and that was likely a metaphor. In the New Testament, variants of “eternal life” appear at least thirty times.

Paul pushed the concept of eternal life strongly on early Followers. I’m not sure why—maybe because Paul never met Jesus and only used him to promote Paul’s own weird ideas.

The Gospel of John goes overboard with eternal life. But please remember that the authors thought the world had three levels and God lived above the third one in many mansions. Most folks know that’s not true. However, sometimes I’m not sure the institutional church knows that the earth isn’t flat (just listen to its official prayers).

Here’s the bottom line: eternal life is not a reality despite John 3:16 saying that if you don’t believe some perverted god sent his only son, Jesus, down to earth and had him tortured to death for you, you can’t have eternal life. What an awful god and terrible father. Arrest him! I don’t buy into that kind of thinking for a nanosecond.

But I am very interested in this Jewish man who lived two thousand years ago and taught me how to live life to the fullest every day. I appreciate him so much that I call him my Christ.

How do you feel about eternal life?

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