How would you finish the title sentence above? It’s hard to imagine anyone not wanting to go to heaven, unless their vision of God is so anemic and insipid that they imagine the shadows of this world to be better than the bright realities God has promised. But people sometimes put their own conditions on their entrance into heaven (as if God is anxiously hoping that He won’t be rejected and lose out by not having us around because heaven just wasn’t up to snuff). I’ve heard folks say (half in jest): I don’t want to go to heaven if —
there are no golf courses
I can’t have sex anymore
my drinking buddies won’t be there
my drinking buddies will be there
they don’t serve pizza (or fill in your favorite food)
my beloved pet of 15 years isn’t there….
Most of these statements are really aspirational, I believe. People are saying, “I can’t imagine a perfect existence without _____.” But if they were assured that heaven will be better than any experience or relationship they’ve known to date, who’d be so foolish as to turn it down?
Last week I was at the gym working out, and in an attempt to ignore my body’s cries for relief I focused on the music blaring from the overhead speakers. I’d never heard this song before, but the tune was catchy and the lyrics sounded vaguely religious, so I was intrigued. Turns out the song title is “Heaven”, and it was released about 6 months ago by an up and coming band named O.A.R. (short for Of a Revolution).
The refrain that grabbed my attention was “I don’t want to go to heaven if I can’t get in.” What a revealing line! Now in the interest of full disclosure, I must report that one of the band members ( guitarist Richard On) declared that this piece is not really about heaven (or religion) at all, but about one’s attitude in this life: “The song comes from the belief that you are perfect the way you are and if anyone thinks differently, you probably don’t need them in your life” .
With respect, I would challenge the notion that such a perspective has nothing to do with religion or heaven. Woven throughout “Heaven” is the theme of self-justification:
all i want is understanding to live my life the way that i planned it; wouldn’t change a thing…
cause I’m no criminal I’m not your enemy all i have is life and i don’t wanna go to heaven if i can’t get in…
everybody got a problem with the way i live i don’t wanna go to heaven if i can’t get in…
oh, I’m not your enemy i never met no criminal and in the end I’d do it again i don’t wanna go to heaven if i cant get in.
The main complaint seems summed up in this couplet:
everybody got a problem with the way i live
i don’t wanna go to heaven if i can’t get in.
Far from being non-religious, this song reveals the heart of our fallen, human nature. We want to define life on our terms, to set our own standards for good and evil, to be free of any outside authority, living life the way we want to and calling it good because it’s the way we want to live. If others get in our way, or point out our shortcomings and “make us feel judged,” well, to hell with them. If they won’t embrace me on my terms, then I don’t want to be around them. Of course, the ultimate extension of this attitude is reflected in the words, “I don’t want to go to heaven if I can’t get in.” I may be a crotchety old buzzard, a self-absorbed prig, a strutting peacock, a shameless orgiast, but if God won’t accept me as I am, then “Hasta la vista, baby — I’m headed for the freedom of hell!”
I find this attitude frightening — eerily reminiscent of the pose struck by the character Satan in Milton’s Paradise Lost during the opening scene after Lucifer and his minions have been tossed out of heaven for their revolt against God. As the Evil One seeks to rally his dark troops, he justifies their actions and revels in their newfound freedom, urging his compatriots with these memorable words: Tis better to reign in hell than to serve in heaven!
There is a world of difference between saying, “Let me be the person God created me to be” (i.e., “Don’t box me in to your expectations for my life”) and “I will be whatever I want to be, and no one, not even God, can overrule or pass judgment on my decisions.” Humility bows willingly before divine correction; arrogance angrily shakes it off. Humility looks with astonishment on those who would make demands on God’s hospitality, preferring instead to cling to God’s mercy; arrogance sets the terms under which the creature will deign to fellowship with the Creator.
Perhaps you think I’m making too much of a song. Maybe I am. But our theology (whether Christian or not) is often reflected in our music. From the biblical Book of Psalms to the full range of hymns and spiritual songs in every era of the Church universal, people know that what we sing and listen to shapes and proclaims lyrically what we believe most deeply.
Instead of the message, “Welcome me as I am, and leave me to be whatever I wish,” I much prefer this redemptive song which highlights not just welcome but forgiveness and transformation through the mercy of God offered us in Jesus Christ:
Just as I am, thou wilt receive, wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve; because thy promise I believe, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
O that God would raise up more talented musicians like those of O.A.R, but whose minds and hearts are saturated with biblical truth. Music is such a powerful medium of communication, and the messages carried in song shape our thoughts and attitudes slowly but surely.
“Heaven” has a catchy tune. But it has deadly lyrics. Someone needs to tell O.A.R. that when they stand before the One with nail-pierced hands and thorn-scarred brow and say, “I don’t want to go to heaven if I can’t get in,” the host of heaven will roar with encouragement, “You can get in! Just not on your terms. Accept the gift that will make you fit for heaven!”
O Lamb of God, I come, I come….