There was this incident on Facebook a few years back. Shocker, I know, meanness on social media is so rare. But a guy from high school--I'm intentionally not calling him a "friend from high school," because he wasn't, I'm also intentionally not calling him a "bully from high school" because that doesn't reflect much grace or compassion for what his life was like. Anyway, back to my story, a few years back I commented on a friend's post agreeing that I had also loved the book The Shack. Seemed pretty non-controversial at the time so I was surprised when that was followed with an attack from a guy I hadn't had any interaction with in at least 25 years. None, zip, nada. We live on opposite ends of the West Coast, we don't meet for coffee to catch up when I'm back in my hometown, we don't run in the same social circles. Knowing nothing about my present journey, he proceeded to tell me that loving this book meant that obviously I didn't love God, that I was stupid, that I didn't have true faith, and that he wasn't surprised because he remembered my Catholic roots. He wasn't nearly that concise, it was paragraphs long, spanning a couple of ranting posts. A couple of friends jumped to my defense which just fueled his rage and caused additional posts. I blocked him and we again ceased to exist in each other's worlds.
So why bring it up now? The other day I was thinking and praying about the way we love to be right as Christians. We look at our own relationship with God, or our own brand of Christianity, and decide that's the only way. We love being right so much that we will hate others in the name of the one who died because he loved us so much. To me, it's as ridiculous as if I said, "Wait, you don't brush your wife's hair every now and then? But my husband loves to brush my hair. It's an expression of his love and care for me since he knows I like it. I guess you don't really love your wife because your relationship doesn't include every detail mine does and it doesn't look exactly like mine."
This guy's zeal grew from his love for Jesus. He was defending Jesus by attempting to prove the rightness of his own beliefs, and if I was a casualty of that defense that was ok, because I mattered way less than Jesus. He was making sure we knew he was going to be at the big party in heaven, and since I suck so much and don't like all the right people (or pieces of fiction) I am not going to be welcome at that party. And as I thought this I laughed. Not the sweet laugh of a woman with a gentle and quiet spirit, but the "HA! In your face sucker! You're going to be shocked to see me in Heaven!" laugh of someone who can be a little obnoxious deep down. That laugh was immediately followed by the thought of "dang, I can't wait to have him see me in heaven and then I'm going to avoid him." which led me down the rabbit trail of who else I will be happily avoiding in heaven.
That's when it hit me. Creating a list of who I plan to avoid in heaven is ridiculous. It's just as graceless as those who confidently declare who is not going to heaven. I'm outraged that they believe they have some insider scoop on knowing who isn't a true follower of Jesus, as if they have access to the workings and intricate details of someone's heart and private wrestling with God. But my inside thoughts show the refining I still need in my own heart. They show the areas where I'm so much quicker to pick up a grudge and silently carry it around rather than work on releasing the offense and the hurt back to Jesus. They show the lack of faith I have in God's ability to continue refining others when meeting Jesus didn't cause the 180 degree turn around and they still act like jerks. God can and will continue to form each of us into a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17) and he'll continue to guide us as we work out our salvation in fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). He will continue to invite us into a deeper relationship with him that's not exactly like his relationship with anyone else because we are not exactly like anyone else.
That's the good news that we can share. The news that God loves us enough to form a unique intimate relationship with us based on the minute details of who we are now and who he created us to be. The news that God wants to work with us so we can grow in righteousness through Jesus--and that he cares a lot more about that than our rightness on issues.
The other good news for me, and maybe, just maybe you need to hear it too, is that when scripture tells us there will be no death or sorrow or crying or pain in heaven that all of those behaviors we see in ourselves and each other that wound and infuriate are included in that list of what won't be there. I won't want to avoid anyone in heaven because I won't be the petty, grudge holding person I am now.
Remembering that God makes all things new reminds me again that I want to submit and allow him to remake me. I want to focus on eliminating the things in my heart that are sick and painful and dying or dead. I'm going to start now rather than waiting for heaven.