For Michael Bloomberg, on Easter
Dear Mr. Bloomberg,
(Michael? Mr. Mayor?)
A quote of yours has been floating around the internet lately. I’m sure you remember it — you said it, after all — but here it is:
I am telling you, if there is a God, when I get to heaven I’m not stopping to be interviewed. I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It’s not even close.
It’s a snappy quote, and has all the makings of a great sound bite. You’ve also hit on a sentiment that resonates with everyone, though maybe not in the way you intended.
As a species, we’re big on self-reliance. The idea of leaning on someone else for anything can be humiliating, especially when that thing is justification for our very existence. We like to think that, if there is a heaven, we could get there on our own merits.
The thing is, we suck. Left to our own devices, we’ll screw it up, every time. Our decisions are rarely made with anything but ourselves in mind. We’re selfish, petty, broken creatures.
We build mechanisms and systems to keep ourselves in check. As individuals, we censor our nastier words and actions, at least if anyone’s watching. As a society, we create laws to contain the more egregious breaches of protocol. Despite all this, we still can’t get our acts together. When’s the last time you went a full 24 hours without a single thought, word, or deed that wasn’t 100% pure? How about an entire lifetime?
We’re broken and shortsighted. We can’t help it — it’s part of our identity. We aren’t sinners because we sin; we sin because we’re sinners.
There’s good news, though. God has provided an out! Even if we can’t save ourselves, he’s still intent on reconciling us to himself. All we have to do is accept his grace. Christ died on a cross for us — he took the punishment we all deserve, and he did so willingly out of his love for us. Our debt is paid, justice is served, and all we have to do is put our faith in Him.
We don’t have to do anything. It’s already done.
Nothing says it better than the Bible itself, in one of its most famous verses. John 3:16 says:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
I don’t know about you, but I find that much safer than “I have earned my place in heaven.”
This is the short version, and while the big idea is there — yes, “Jesus died for our sins ”really is the whole gospel message — it’s worth finding a more nuanced version, written by an actual theologian. I recommend CS Lewis’ Mere Christianity which is short, smart, and digestible. The man was a genius, and he knew what was up.
Happy Easter, Mayor Bloomberg. I hope it’s a good one.