It's one of the main tenets of Christianity that doing good work in this life will bring us blessings in the next life. If we suffer for God here, if we are persecuted for righteousness' sake, or if we are meek or poor or lowly in heart, these things will help us to make it to heaven. Right?
Well, my view of Christianity has changed dramatically recently and I have begun to reconsider claims that we trade this life for the next life. After years of depression, I don't want to be miserable anymore, and telling me I'll have joy in the next life has only made me more suicidal. I used to think that being miserable was simply part of this life and I should submit to it patiently and meekly. I'm not sure this is true anymore. I want to be happy and I want to be Christian, and I don't see any reason I can't be both.
Here's my question: if something is inherently, intrinsically good, isn't it good in this life and the next life? Surely it has to be. Good is good. So why isn't being a Christian now about finding and living as many part of the "good" as we can find here and now?
OK, I know that there are many things that we don't control in this world. Natural disasters, wars, other people's choices, inheriting genes that don't work properly, being subject to disease, and on and on. These are things that Christians believe won't exist in the next life and so the problems that come from these things won't plague us there.
But part of living a Christ-centered life is finding happiness in this world despite the things that we do not control, and also participating in a Christ-centered community in which we help others through their problems as they help us through ours. This means sharing our wealth, as described in the first chapters of Acts, but it also means mourning with those that mourn, comforting those who stand in need of comfort. This means making this life a better one here and now, doesn't it?
Sometimes when I see people dismissing problems in the here and now, things like global warming, child prostitution, or racial inequality, and saying that we won't have to deal with those problems in the next life, it sounds like an excuse not to try to make this life a better one for everyone.
I think it is our Christian duty to help alleviate suffering around us when we can, and when we can't, to share suffering as much as we share food or money or anything else that we would think good to share. There is a kind of joy in this communion of the bad as well as the good. It's not because suffering more will get us to heaven, in my opinion. It's because sharing suffering means we are building a more compassionate community, and we're making this life a little bit more like heaven now, instead of waiting until we're all dead to find it.
When Christ said that we should render unto Caesar that which was Casear's, when He scourged the temple of the money changers, when He pardoned the woman caught in adultery, He wasn't shrugging His shoulders and saying people should just wait until heaven for social justice and a better life. He was changing the world here and now, making people see things differently and leading in compassion. He offered the promise of heaven to the downtrodden, not only to help them live with their suffering, but to make them believe that they were worthy of more than they had now. Christ's command that we become perfect even as our Father in Heaven is perfect doesn't just apply to our souls--it applies to our governments, communities, and to our lives in their here and now.
So when I see people shrug and say that it will all be better later, that we just have to wait, I call them out on it. Whatever heaven is, it's not an excuse to do nothing now for those who need our help.