What does the word ‘heaven’ say to ordinary blokes? There’s ‘chocolate heaven’ which sounds a bit girly and after all, is just a pudding which women especially drool over. Then a lot of stuff about heaven seems to get mixed up with all the romantic hoo-hah around Valentine’s Day, with cute little fat, baby cherubs in adverts floating about with tiny non-threatening, dangling willies (or willies safely covered by some random bit of scarfy looking stuff). But the only reason why blokes get onto the Valentine bandwagon is because the retail industry has got them on a guilt trip unless they buy a Valentine’s Day present for their partner.
When does a bloke say to his mate, ‘fancy going for a beer?’ and his mate says, ‘oh, that would be heaven!’– like never, unless they’re both heavily into amateur dramatics. On the telly or in films, the only people who say something is heavenly are upper class women or some bloke in the caricature role of the harmless, effeminate, bumbling twit of a country vicar. Heaven is where parents tell their little kids, Grandma’s gone when she’s just died, even when the old bird never mentioned the place or never appeared to give a tinker’s cuss about the place when she was alive. Heaven is soft, fluffy, nice, boring, pale and filled with middle aged, middle class women in white dresses who spend their time getting a buzz from Philadelphia Cream Cheese.
Heaven is for wimps and posh women. And who gives a passing cloud for whether it really exists or not?
‘Hell’. Now there’s a word worth thinking about. ‘Give ‘em hell’ is a battle cry to strengthen your brothers in arms. Hell’s Angels are respected nowadays and ‘hell raisers’ are sort of rogues you admire. Hell Boy is a cool super hero. The primary American carrier-based fighter plane in the second half of World War II, the Grumman F6F, was called the Hellcat. The Scottish infantry regiments in the British Army still wore kilts into battle during the First World War. This and their fighting ferocity caused the German Army to honour them with the nickname, ‘The Ladies from Hell’.
‘We rode like bats out of hell’, is a proud achievement. ‘We’re in this till hell freezes over,’ is a determined vow of endurance and ‘we’re with you come hell or high water,’ is one of loyalty. Hell only starts to get nasty in those horror films with a touch of the occult in them, but—hey, they’re only films and you can come back to Earth with a beer and a curry afterwards. Hell only really gets a bit nastier with ‘restaurants from hell’—like the clip where the bloke complains and the CCTV shows the waiter in the kitchen peeing into his coffee. Or slightly worse, ‘neighbours from hell,’ but—hey, any bloke worth his salt would soon sort them out (if he wasn’t one himself—chortle, chortle).
‘Hell’ may not be nice but it’s not soft, fluffy, pale or boring either. Once you’ve chucked the worn-out joke version where little devils with tails run around pricking sinners with their forks, like unhappy barbecue sausages, what we’re left with is challenging, exciting, dark red and crunchy. It’s definitely not for wimps or posh women.
My thoughts on all this weren’t helped a while ago when I sat through a sermon on heaven, meant for non-believers. As I write this I see that the phrase ‘sat through’ gives the game away. The preacher got very enthusiastic about heaven. He made out that heaven would be heavy on singing and a thing called praising, which was closely connected with singing. Everyone there would be full of joy because Jesus would be there. You wouldn’t be allowed in unless your sins were forgiven and got rid of. Perhaps the force of that might have been lost a bit by him saying that if you weren’t a Christian you wouldn’t enjoy it anyway. The logic that followed was—well, you’d better become a Christian so you could enjoy heaven.
The longstanding church goer in me who has been on the receiving end of ‘sound’ Bible teaching for years and years acknowledged that everything he was saying was true. The ordinary bloke in me, who steadfastly refuses to keep his thoughts to himself, thought the preacher had succeeded in making heaven out to be like an endless church service, which is another view of heaven which turns ordinary blokes off. It even turns some believing blokes off who have a boring or embarrassing experience Sunday by Sunday sitting passively in rows, listening to long monologues or singing songs they cringe to. But of course, it’s less likely to seem boring to the one bloke who gets a huge buzz standing up in front of them being 100% engaged in giving everybody else his message. That’s ironic—init.
It seemed to be one of the best examples I’ve heard, of preaching the Gospel mostly from inside your own mindset and not trying to put yourself much into the non-believer’s mindset. A likely result of this is a doctrinally accurate message, with no communication with the people you are trying to reach. Or worse, communication of a message you didn’t want to communicate. After all, if you won’t like heaven because you’re not a Christian, the obvious alternative to becoming one so you can enjoy it, is to say—well, because I can’t connect with this ‘heaven’ you’re talking about, I’ll do without both the heaven and the ‘becoming a Christian’ bit, thanks. But perhaps I’m missing the point. Perhaps, on the subject of heaven, preachers in the UK today are only meant to be communicating with wimps and posh women. That can’t be right though, can it?
Heaven Is For Wimps And Posh Women is a 3-part blog. Part 2 will be published on Wednesday 17th November.