Where Logic Meets Love

How Many Heaven Points Do You Have?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

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How Many Heaven Points Do You Have? | Faith Permeating Life

How many heaven points do you have?

I mean, let's see, we practice NFP, so that's gotta be one point, and we tithe 10%, so that's another point, and I go to Mass every weekend -- actually twice, so I guess that's two points, with maybe a bonus point for singing in the choir...

I hope you realize I'm not serious.

Yet I keep seeing this way of thinking cropping up, particularly among those who seem to be feeling guilty that they aren't doing everything right.

Take family size, for example. Not only within the Quiverfull movement but among in some NFP-practicing Catholic circles (as I've written about before), there is this notion that those who strive to have large families are somehow the most holy, the most Christian, the most obedient to God's Law.

Of course, there are caveats, like if you're not married (wouldn't want you having sex outside of marriage now!) or if you are part of a religious order. But the married couples who are being most "fruitful" are clearly the holiest... right?

The upshot of this is that I see women who are already receiving pressure from society about their "biological clocks" stressing out about not getting married soon enough or not making babies soon enough or feeling called to parent only a few children.

But why?

Do we really think God is up there with His clipboard going, "Oh, you get bonus points for having your 10th child! But you, you lose points because you only had two children"?

What about material goods? Is God counting the square footage of your home and giving you blessings the tinier your living space is? Is he docking points because you buy a 4-bedroom house?

Do you automatically lose points if you had the misfortunate to be born in the wealthiest country in the world and didn't immediately decide to leave?

Do you see how ridiculous this sounds, and how completely out of line with the Gospel?

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also." (Matthew 23:25-26)

I've been reading The Message version of the Gospels, which, because of the conversational tone in which it's written, means that I'm able to read through an entire book much faster. It's given me a broader perspective on Jesus' teachings, and I see just how much He repeats the same few simple messages: It's what it's your heart that matters. Have faith. Treat other people with love.

These are things you can't count up on a scoreboard or check off on a checklist.

They require a complete transformation and giving of self.

They are about who you are at your core, and then what you do because of who you are. Not because of what you think you're supposed to do to get into heaven.

It's the same reason scorekeeping doesn't work in marriage. You do loving things for your spouse because you love your spouse. If everything you do is a way to balance the books, to make sure you've done "your share" of things; if you have sex only because you're supposed to and not out of any affection for your spouse; if you are constantly calculating whether you've done "enough," then haven't you lost touch with what a loving marriage looks like?

Why should our relationship with God be any different?

Not everyone has the same callings in life. We know this, and we see it in the Bible as well. Jesus Himself says only some people are called to marriage (Matthew 19:11) and Saint Paul says God gives everyone different gifts and different ministries (1 Corinthians 12:4-6). The core commandments remain the same -- faith, hope, love -- but can we really expect the manifestations of those to look exactly the same in every person's life?

Let go of your guilt for not living the perfect Christian life. There are no heaven points to be earned. There is no one right answer for everyone to the questions, "How many children should I have?" or "How many possessions am I allowed to own?"

Instead ask, "Where am I forgetting to trust God? How can I do better at loving others?"

Those are much more difficult and more worthwhile questions.


  1. It's true. We do try to keep score. I find it interesting how originally we probably do all of these things because we genuinely want to follow God's will. But then it turns into who can be the best Christian, who can be the most holy, etc. Which is sad. There is nothing we can do more or less to make Jesus love us more or less.

  2. @Emily Hornburg
    I think you're right, and that's why I wanted to share a message that was more like "Relax, you're not getting judged on these things" instead of like "Stop showing off how holy you are! Argh!" because I do think that people genuinely want to do God's will when they focus on these kinds of details. But the more I read of Jesus' teachings, the more I see Him redirecting people toward what actually matters. As our parish priest likes to remind us over and over again, you cannot "earn" your way to heaven.

  3. I love the Message. I find it so helpful in understanding pasages that are obscure in the King James or The New Oxford Annotated.

    As a Presbyterian, the KJV is kind of a "default" bible for me. Do Catholics use it as well, or do you have a different translation that your modern bible builds off of?

  4. @The Lost Goat
    The New American Bible is the one we always used growing up, and I think that's the English translation used for the Mass readings, but I'm not positive. Apparently a revised edition of the New American Bible was just released last year; I'm not sure if there's a connection to the new English translation of the Mass being completed around the same time.

    I like The Message a lot as well. I've found that there are some passages that I know so well that they've almost lost their meaning for me, so reading them with completely different words forces me to reflect on, well, the message :)

  5. This reminds me of something I read by C.S. Lewis, probably from Mere Christianity. He was talking about sin, and he said something like, it's not about breaking rules or following rules; it's about what certain acts do to your soul. It makes sense to me, especially when you look at how psychology supports such an idea, and I always see the soul and mind as inextricably linked. Doing certain things can have a negative effect on the psyche, but so will witnessing or experiencing things which you haven't caused too.

    That's why I think the "accountant's ledger" model of God is so harmful, because God is emulated as the perfect parent. If this is how God treats us, how will believers treat their children? The ideal goal of any parent is to help one's child to become a person who is healthy in mind, body, and soul. That whole attitude that "if you do X, you receive Y punishment, because that's what you deserve" is a broken model of parenting, because it loses sight of the real goal, replacing it with the negative human desires for control, retribution, and sameness.

  6. @Mórrígan
    You have such a great way of putting words to the truth!

    The book Liberated Parents, Liberated Children helped me get a grasp on exactly what you're talking about--that it is not, or should not be, a parent's goal to raise well-behaved, obedient children. The psychologist whose work the book covers says that it should be our goal to raise humane children, children who genuinely care about other people. They will strive to do the right things because they understand what is loving and what is not, not because doing one thing over another has been beaten into them.

    I think this is a helpful lens through which to understand what Jesus tells us, why there's such an emphasis throughout the Gospel on our hearts and on love and faith. It's not that the actions are unimportant, it's that the more important thing is the heart behind them. It's exactly what 1 Corinthians 13 starts off talking about: "...If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing."

    I had not made the connection between the humane children statement and God's role as parent, but it makes a lot of sense. Thank you!

  7. This is a great post and it's great to hear this point of view. I know quite a few people that, though they don't say it aloud, really seem to think that there are "heaven points" and it drives me crazy. I especially dislike it when they try to make me feel bad about my life because I'm not living my life the way they think I should be.

  8. @Brie
    Yeah, I know what you mean. And it's silly because for everything they could point to in my life that I'm doing "wrong," I could probably point to something else in theirs, because everyone chooses to focus on what they feel is most important. The same thing happens in marriage -- you never want to start one of those scorekeeping arguments about "well, I did this and you didn't do that" because your spouse probably has 50 examples you've forgotten about of things they did do or you didn't do... and what's the point?

  9. This is an absolutely AMAZING post, and hits on one of the core issues facing Christianity today.

    I can't count the number of times when I was struggling in life and faith, people would tell me that what they were instructing had to be right, because THEY go to church every week -- as if somehow that gave them the bonus points to have their perspective mean more than mine.

    I think this whole idea that the bigger the family, the holier the Christian is another example of things where people forget that all humans, Christian or non are built differently than others. I know looking at myself, I would not be able to have a large family -- I simply wouldn't have the capacity to take care of them; its not in me. How then, would it be Christian, to bring a large amount of children in the world knowing I would not be capable of giving that many the affection, instruction and guidance they deserve?

    I think all too often, Christians tend to forget that faith isn't about fitting into a perfect little category, earning favour for their 'perfection' as cookie-cutter Christians. It's about being who each of us are in Christ, getting to the heart of who God has called us as individuals to be.

    On a side note, I desperately want to check out The Message sometime. I've read bits and pieces of it and loved how to the point it gets about things.

  10. @Tabitha
    Re: someone's perspective meaning more: I was once in a Bible study with a guy who was going to school for theology. When he was there we were never able to have any real discussion about the passage we read because he would declare, "This is what it means." If anyone tried to raise a different point, he would say something that was basically like, "Sorry, I study theology, obviously I am right here."

    Yes, we are not all called to be exactly the same. I remind myself of this by looking at all the people I know who are fighting for different causes--promoting animal welfare, putting an end to human trafficking, raising money for cancer research--and I think about how much less effective they would each be if they all felt like they had to be promoting some other cause instead. I know that not everyone feels as strongly as I do about gay rights, so I speak out on that and try to remind myself that I'm more effective doing that than if I felt obligated to support some other cause instead. We all do the most good, I believe, when we follow our individual callings.

  11. A few weeks ago, you commented on a post...and now I can't remember which one, I think it was something to do with kids, because I DO remember what you wrote. It was along the lines of this post, and how some people aren't meant to have a lot of kids and that's OK, it's not a contest with God.

    That made me feel better (I don't think I ever did comment back, nor did I expand my post in another one, as I hoped to do--someday!).

    I think some people believe that there's an ideal personhood, something like the Platonic form of a good Christian woman and man, and if you don't conform to that description, you're SOL and you might as well just be as horrible as you can because you're going to hell anyway! Whereas most people are rational beings, who know that only God knows how we're doing. It's easy to feel judged for things that we've done or haven't done, when we see someone who did the opposite and seems to be so much "better."
    That gets to me at times. I think, well, maybe if we had kids right away, we'd be better people because we're not being REAL Christians since we've been married almost 4.5 years and still haven't had any. Or, if only C made more money, then I could be a stay at home wife and I'd be a BETTER wife to C because of that, since everyone out there who is a SAHW seems to have this perfect little life and they worship their husbands and everything's hunky dory. But like Tabitha said, I know we wouldn't have had the capacity to take care of children earlier in our marriage and sometimes, I don't know if I have it now! I don't think we were strong enough as a couple. I'm sure there are people who'd say "Well, only God knows, and He could have worked through that child's birth to make you guys stronger." Maybe, maybe not. I don't know. And re: me staying home, it's most likely not going to work for us, so I've given up on that idea. But I still feel like I'm not pulling my full weight as a wife.

    What I've come to realize is, God is behind everything. And everything happens for a reason. My life path was determined before I was born. I was not meant to be a "young" mom, for whatever reason. I might only have 1 or 2 kids, and that is what I was supposed to do. I am probably supposed to keep on working, even if other women look down upon me for not being a good wife or mother. It is what it is.

    I don't know the faiths of the other people here, but since Jessica and I are both Catholic, it's not only what God says, but what the Church says. That's where it can get dicey (and Jessica, I know you don't agree with everything they say, nor do I). Is disagreeing with a body of Cardinals and Bishops OK? Even if it's the "law?" There's guilt from that.

  12. @Rabbit
    Your post on babies was definitely one of my inspirations for this post! And also Jackie's recent post on Christianity and capitalism.

    The grass-is-greener effect can be incredibly frustrating, and spending too much time in the Catholic blogosphere makes it worse for me. Because what do you find? Woman after woman who is doing the same thing--staying home and homeschooling her 5+ children, and seems to be totally happy and at peace about it. What I have to remind myself is (1) their blogs are only showing one piece of their life, usually highlighting the best parts and (2) they're probably happy because they're doing what they feel called to do, and if I don't feel called to do the same, then forcing myself into that identity would not make me happy.

    Re: Catholicism's rules -- I'm actually glad, in a weird way, for all of the horrible and false things that Church leaders have said about gay people and gay marriage because it took a burden of guilt away from me for not trying to adhere my life to the Church's rules. It's like that was what sealed for me that the Church's teachings are not infallible and that I need to glean what good I can from them without trying to measure my life up against their One Perfect Standard of Living.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts--this is a tough topic, and I appreciate getting others' reflections on it.

  13. @Jessica
    The grass-is-greener effect can be incredibly frustrating, and spending too much time in the Catholic blogosphere makes it worse for me.
    YES. YES. YES. I was actually thinking of writing a post about that topic...something like "Why I can't deal with the Catholic women in the blogosphere."

    And this is why: Because what do you find? Woman after woman who is doing the same thing--staying home and homeschooling her 5+ children, and seems to be totally happy and at peace about it.

    I tend to feel guilty, like I'm doing something WRONG or am being sinful or something! You know why? Because there's no one out there, to my knowledge who works full time, maybe has 1 child, or 2, and blogs, and STILL has a deep faith! Probably because they are too busy to keep up with a blog! There's no one for "us" saying "it's OK, you're doing the right thing for you." Maybe that is why you and I have started blogs? Maybe that's our path?

    What I have to remind myself is (1) their blogs are only showing one piece of their life, usually highlighting the best parts and (2) they're probably happy because they're doing what they feel called to do, and if I don't feel called to do the same, then forcing myself into that identity would not make me happy.
    Exactly. Part of me wants to at least try it (for a few reasons) but on the other hand, wouldn't I have been called to do this already? Wouldn't my life have...carved out this possibility, either by just happening or me/us working harder? Who knows?

  14. Because there's no one out there, to my knowledge who works full time, maybe has 1 child, or 2, and blogs, and STILL has a deep faith!
    Ah, now you know why I'm always talking about 'Becca! She is not Catholic but otherwise fits your description.

    But that is one of the reasons I blog, so that people like me--like you--know they're not alone.

    I would love to read a post from you on being a Catholic woman in the blogosphere who doesn't fit that mold. It sounds like our experiences are very similar in that regard. I mean, I think it's understandable that when you read 20 blogs of Catholic women who all have the same life pattern, you start thinking maybe that's the only right one. So we will have to make a path for others :)

  15. TOTALLY agree with you. I just read the post from Jackie that inspired you and yes, I can get behind what she had to say, especially as we've come into "some" money, after a very unfortunate event.

    I will definitely write a post on what it's like to be me in the blogosphere and not fitting that mold. I don't even think I'm that holy. Really. Yes, I have a deep faith, but hello, I swear like a sailor (just not on the blog) and watch ALL sorts of movies and listen to all sorts of music. In a post coming up, I reference BORAT of all things! I can't fit in with these "others" out there...but then again, there's nothing wrong with being yourself :D

  16. @Rabbit
    Re: swearing, Mike has been such a bad influence on me the past couple months. I always used to swear occasionally (only by myself or in front of him), but since he started his new job, due to frustrations which will not be detailed on this blog, his swearing rate has gone way up, and I've noticed mine has, too.

    It's another one of those things that I don't believe I'm going straight to hell for cursing or anything, but I do remember from The Year of Living Biblically that A.J. Jacobs said he felt more positive about his life when he stopped swearing, so I try to keep that in mind and rein it in.


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