Thanksgiving reflections about blessings the Almighty has bestowed on us sometimes awaken our pity for those who seem to have been cursed more than blessed in the year gone by. If we avoided direct hurt from tsunami or hurricane this year, we must already feel lucky compared to vast numbers of people still needing re-supply of brotherly love in strong doses.

If we delighted in the survival or rehabilitation of a loved one – as the good Lord allowed in the case of my grandson Ryan, who’d once been deemed likely to remain “a vegetable” after suffering brain injury in a tragic accident – then this year we especially pity Terri Schiavo’s parents, who lost every legal battle to prevent her state-sponsored death by starvation.

Her family’s ordeal exited center stage, but the controversy surrounding her treatment by the state only died down. As the dust dissipated after the long storm last spring, some of the scraps of verbal debris still aloft were challenging Christians not to exhibit a flimsiness in their faith.

The idea in the one-liners from some familiar voices was this: It’s illogical for Christians, believing in Heaven as they do, to resist death so strenuously.

With apologies to their publicists, none of those clever individuals will have their names repeated here. Criticism of believers’ fervor about protecting life can be refuted with arguments from Biblical scripture, but the pertinent argument here needs only to be about the non-absurd character of “true believers” who so often are caricatured as mindless fanatics, lopsided zealots. Fanatical secularists, when they scorn believers for so valuing life on Earth, while believing in an eternal heaven, sound mindlessly intolerant themselves.

Famously, the shortest verse in Scripture is “Jesus wept.” Though he was about to raise Lazarus from the dead, Jesus wept, feeling the sorrow Lazarus’ sisters and others were feeling. Christians do ask why our Lord would not just bless Lazarus’ soul in transition to Heaven instead of bringing him back to this life, since he would just die again. Apparently, living here on Earth must have its value – big time.

We needn’t be theologians here – let’s just not be simpletons. Jesus didn’t leave us to wonder about the value of being alive on Earth. When He spoke of how things would be valued in the end, He was all about individual accountability with respect to taking care of each other in this physical life. “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” would be a standard for our very worthiness for the Kingdom of Heaven.

Hard-thinking believers have been known to complain that we could just as well have been created fully formed angels of Heaven in the first place. Thinking just a bit harder coaxes the idea that “the first place” is under way for us here and now. Our existence on Earth has its purpose. It could be that, rather than mere pets or ornaments for His kingdom, a complex God wanted free-willed companions “in our own image,” as He said, who partake of the glory in His creation and their own creativity as part of it.

If we don’t humbly entertain the likelihood that God’s eternal purposes are alive and well and under way – right here and right now – we might as well saddle up for suicide. We should ride out to quicker glory with any Jim Jones or David Koresh or Heaven’s Gate sort of cultist who gives us a method. Christians betray no flimsiness in their faith by treasuring each day of this life and viewing suicide as an upside-down approach to God’s eternity.

Most believers, in fact, are acutely aware in this day and age that they are in fundamental disagreement with all the perfectly articulate atheists, and it isn’t complicated: You look to your study, you look to your own experience, and you eventually make your choice. It’s about whether conscious Spirit gave rise to the material world we know … or the material world gave rise to consciousness. Take your pick.

We who believe the former are excited to get up each morning, are in awe of each new stranger. We know each morning and each stranger to be another manifestation of something eternal and infinitely creative.

Those who believe the latter need different approaches. Life for them is one where hopelessness is ultimately a more intelligent choice than hope, and the most they can ask of it is transitory pleasurable experience. There’s really nothing else to be here for. Not even caring for children matters much in the long run, though it’s something most of us seem to be “hard-wired” to enjoy.

But notice: Not all of us seem to be hard-wired for caring for each other. This is a chief difference between secularists and people of faith. Because faith brings a sense of duty to Creator and your fellows in creation, believers will make the effort to care for each other even when it doesn’t feel good (as with a Terri Schiavo) or bring any prospect of reward. We see each life, no matter how limited, as an extension of His life – and not to be extinguished at will.

“Heaven Can Wait” is more than a clever title – it’s an absolute fact for a believer. Thanksgiving is more than a sweet holiday – it’s a permanent attitude for a believer. We do have eternity in front of us, and the corollary of that recognition is the wish always to maximize the present and all its opportunity, whether apparent or still hidden. When John Lennon sang “Imagine all the people living for today,” in the enlightened atheism the song seemed to advocate, the idea of a loving God as a way to assure it wasn’t there. But it could have been!

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