Pay Now, Get Later
Hebrews 11.1 Now faith is the assurance
of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
The Scriptures are full of promises - promises of
descendants, of wealth, of power, of revenge, of resurrection. Considering
how much faith people over the ages have put into these promises, it�s
interesting to note that they are rarely fulfilled.
If the Bible were a political manifesto we�d be pretty soon be looking
for another god. Over time we see the writers of the Bible attempting to
gloss over God�s failure to keep promises made. God is constantly saying
to the Hebrews that he loves them and will never forsake them. But it
doesn't take much to get him fed-up and visiting catastrophe upon the
descendants of Abraham. Despite all that, they did not give up the notion
that they were heirs to the promises of God.
The writer of the letter to the Hebrews adopted this notion of God's
promises. But instead of the fulfillment coming in this life, he extended
it into a life after death. Only after death will all God�s enormous
promises become available to those who have faith.
Although it's not fashionable to say so, I think we will do well not to
underestimate the power of this promise of life after death. Convince
somebody that they will receive a heavenly reward and they may be prepared
to do many things. They may choose martyrdom, live a life of poverty, give
up sex and children, and be utterly obedient to authority. They may even
kill doctors who perform abortions, and fly planes into huge office blocks
in New York.
In other words, in the 21st century these kinds of promises
are still able to motivate people to both good and evil. Psychologists
refer to this as "deferred gratification". If we�re honest, it's perhaps
the promise of life after death which brings many older people to Church
The pity is that for those near the edge of survival, such promises are
a great way of organising social control. It's possible to tell people not
to rock the boat now, not to question their poverty in this life - because
one day in another existence they will receive their reward.
Similarly, Christians often talk about equality but rarely put it into
practice. They may still sing with zest and vigour,
The rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate,
God made them high and lowly and ordered their estate.
This is a verse from the hymn All things Bright and Beautiful,
now rarely used.
Unfulfilled promises in the Bible of heavenly rewards have enabled
unjust societies to exist for centuries, based on the premise that full
equity and justice will be ours in the hereafter. Meanwhile, be satisfied
with what you've got. Pay now, get later.
"Liberty, equality, fraternity" was the radical cry of the French
Revolutionaries of 1789, perhaps the first social movement to attempt the
overthrow of a complete system. Yet they found the courage to do so only
once they had rid themselves of their Christianity. Likewise, Marxism was
atheistic, pointing to the narcotic effect of the promise of heaven, of
religion as "the opium of the people". Real attempts to create equal
societies have generally been inspired by secular people, not religious.
In today�s Gospel reading (Luke 12.32), Jesus also promises a rosy
future: "Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father is pleased to
give you the Kingdom".
But he does so with an uncompromising challenge, worthy of a
revolutionary. What he says does not make easy reading for those who wish
the promise to remain entirely in and of the future. God wishes to give us
a heaven where true riches are. On our part, however, it is up to us to
sell our possessions and give alms. However, I'm not sure we help
ourselves if we see this sort of radical behaviour merely as yet another
way to earn now a future heavenly reward.
It is at this point that Jesus� teaching seems most to resemble that of
the Buddha. This great mystic of the East also taught that if we can
dispossess ourselves of attachment to material things we may achieve
Similarly, Jesus said that as long as we remain rich we cannot even
glimpse the future kingdom. For if we have wealth, that, and not social
equity, will always be our chief desire and treasure.
As he said, "Your heart will always be where your riches are."