It seems to me that it is the smaller, inward stuff that messes us up most. The biggest battles in our lives are not fought in the dramatic, historic, spotlight times. What determines who we will become has more to do with the small choices that arise from attitudes that occur every day, moment by moment, in the most mundane corners of life.
Author Charles Williams wrote seven novels during the 1930’s and 1940’s. He was very interested in heaven and hell and how they relate to human behavior. That may seem an odd pairing, but in essence he was inviting readers to see the commonplace routines of human existence against a massive backdrop. That under the surface of even the most ordinary things lay enormous and alarming significance. Just like a scientist may speak about subatomic activity racing and swirling within a simple piece of Kleenex, Williams suggested that heaven and hell are under every bush.
His phrase reminds me of the words of one of my early teachers who suggested that heaven is real on earth anytime we live out “my life for yours.” He suggested that heaven is the way of Jesus Christ – the way of laying down my life for the sake of others. Bringing heaven into reality means treating with honor those who can do nothing for us. It means responding to the people around us not based on their worth to us but based upon how we can serve and give away our lives for them.
On the flip side, Hell is real when we choose “your life for mine.” We bring hell to earth by treating others based upon how their lives can benefit ours.
For example, if you walk into a room filled with people, who is it that you really want to see and get to know? The way of hell leads you to connect first with those who will benefit you, or from whom you can profit in some way. It could be good-looking members of the opposite sex or someone you want to get to know career-wise. It could be someone influential or popular. You want them to make you feel a certain way or respond to you in a way that you are able to benefit from. In other words, “Your life for mine.” On the other hand, in the same room there are people who really don’t profit you at all. They’re not at the place where you want to go. They are not good-looking or useful to you and your inner attitude toward them – how well you listen to them, how much time you give them, how motivated you are to serve and be warm and accept people like that, reveals the choice of your heart about which path you are on… heaven or hell?
As a result, the way of heaven means a lifestyle of courtesy and kindness and thoughtfulness and generosity in everyday life. It is revealed by respectful service to all. The way of hell is pettiness and jealousy and self-pity and harshness. When you start looking “under every bush” you will find that this reality can be found in every encounter of our lives. The whole conflict of heaven and hell bumps up against us a thousand times a day.
Are heaven and hell real? Sure, just watch how we interact with each other! We all make choices daily about how we will respond to those around us, what we may not have been aware of is that our inner attitudes towards others reveal that Heaven and Hell are much closer than an eternity away.