I have two friends, both Catholic. The first hopes to enjoy an eternity with God as his reward for an obedient life of love and justice. He hopes to obtain this reward upon his death. He evaluates all his actions now by whether God will find them pleasing. The inherent value of his present life matters little. Only his obedience and loyalty to God is important. “Life, he told me, is a course you run not because you want to change your location. The point is to run well enough to win the sponsor’s prize.”
My other friend doesn’t speak much of rewards when he talks about religion. He actually talks little about religion but when he does, he focuses on its support for finding hope and courage for day to day living. He is concerned much more with earthly matters like improving life for his family and neighborhood than other-worldly matters. He doesn’t feel an acute need to deepen his love for God in the abstract so much as he feels the need to widen his love for life beyond his immediate circle.
I once mentioned these friends to a priest who replied that it wasn’t really important which attitude my friends adopted as long as they were saying their prayers and following the rules. God loved both equally and both would end up in heaven. That was all that mattered.
The more I considered this, the more certain I grew that a lot more mattered.
A parent once said to me that if his daughter didn’t make to heaven, then being there himself wouldn’t be heaven, it would be hell. Those aren’t words one easily forgets.
Loving God isn’t just about valuing God, it’s about valuing life. When we concentrate primarily on God in heaven, we risk missing the experience of God in the life we have here and now and, even more, the life that we’ll have when the world becomes loving and just. How can we hope to love the God in Heaven whom we can’t imagine if we haven’t fallen in love with the life God inhabits right in front of us on earth? Our attitudes about life here and now do matter.