“Looking for a one-way ticket to heaven?
Ebay has pulled a New Jersey man’s auction for his “Portion in olam habaah (heaven),” right after one eager bidder reportedly placed $100,000 on the table.”
So begins the article on the NYDailyNews website. The quote is perceptive because it nailed the sentiments of many right on the head. “If there’s an easy way to heaven, count me in.” Ari Mandel is a recent convert to atheism who thought it would be funny to auction off his seat in heaven. The beginning bid? .99 cents. And the bids kept climbing and climbing until eBay at last pulled the charade from its website a few hours later. But not before the top bid reached $99,900.
I’m no expert on modern Orthodox Jewish beliefs, and don’t know how close the Jewish concept of “olam habaah” is to “heaven“. But that’s neither here nor there. What matters is that people thought they could purchase their seat in heaven. The ad treated “olam habaah” and “heaven” as synonyms. And for people to bid almost $100,000 speaks of their sincerity.
This accidental social experiment reveals a rooted desire our society has to secure our place in heaven. Is it any wonder that in 2009 Time magazine listed “Neo-Calvinism” as one of the ideas changing the world today (a garnishing of the facts, no doubt)? It seems to me that the feature of folk Calvinism standing out the most is “perseverance of the Saints,” otherwise known among lay Calvinist by the less precise phrase “eternal security.” People want to feel secure, and they will go to whomever fronts the most appetizing offer. And often without considering anybody or anything else. I wonder how many people who put a bid in on eBay gave any thought to the man giving up his portion of Olam Habaah?
The way our society thinks about heaven presents a few problems rooted in misconceptions.
First there is the concept of heaven itself. Biblically speaking, Heaven is more of a Person than a place. Notice, for example, how the Gospels use the phrases “Kingdom of God” and “Kingdom of Heaven” interchangeably (example: cf. Luke 9:2 with Matthew 10:7). We want heaven; a secure and comfortable afterlife. But do we want God? I’ve heard people say, “Shoot for heaven, and you’ll get hell. Shoot for God and you’ll get heaven thrown in.” That’s not accurate. Heaven is not a package deal with God. Heaven is God. And God can’t be bought.
Then there’s the idea of escapism. We want to secure our place in the afterlife so that we can live any which way here and escape the consequences. But if heaven is more of a person than a place, then heaven is something we can experience here on earth. “The Kingdom of God is in your midst” Jesus tells a group of Pharisees as he stood among them (Luke 17:20). And the proof was in the authority he had been given, “If I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Luke 11:20). Servants of Jesus today are called to operate as the hands and feed of Jesus (1 Corinthians 12:12 ff.) and heaven is realized when God’s will is done in this place (Matthew 6:10).
Third, it is incredibly selfish. Although no exchanging of “seats in heaven” is possible, this didn’t stop the apostle Paul from wishing he could do just that. “For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ,” says Paul, “for the sake of my own people” (Romans 9:3) If we don’t have the kind of love for other people that says, “I wish I could go to hell if it means somebody else would get to be with Christ,” then we don’t really appreciate the gospel. The credo verse John 3:16 tells us that God’s love was made visible in the “giving” of Jesus. This is the one place and time where an exchange of heaven and hell is made. On the cross Jesus cries out “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which loosely translates, “My God! My God! Where in this hell are you?” (Matthew 27:46). Whereas Paul wished he could be accursed for the sake of the people he loved, Jesus was accursed for the people he loved when he was crucified (Galatians 3:13).
But there are some Christians who seem to gloat at the idea that they have been elected and most of the world has been abandoned by God in terms of their eternal destination. And it is that kind of thinking which reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the gospel.
Finally I’m reminded of these words of Jesus:
“What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.” ~ Matthew 16:26-17
That last line gets me every time.