One of my favorite hobbies is hiking. The cool mountain air, the refreshing scent of pine, the sound of rushing water from a mountain stream, the exhilaration of reaching the summit—nothing is quite like it. This year, with so many activities shut down, our family even tried our hands (or feet) at winter hiking and found it to be a surprisingly peaceful way to experience God’s creation.
This spring, however, I was introduced to another new hiking experience. After a lifetime of hiking in the Rockies and Yellowstone, I had an opportunity to hike in a new environment, the desert. I’ll admit, I was somewhat biased. After all, while the mountains were equally as beautiful and rugged, they were speckled not with pine trees but tall shade-less cacti. Instead of scurrying squirrels, stealth geckos silently darted in and out from among the rocks, and the only water was the in the bottles we carried. It was in many ways a foreign experience, but my boys still climbed rocks, and the treeless landscape made the vast views spectacular. After a few different desert hikes, while a little sunburnt, I had a new appreciation for my favorite hobby in a new context.
Just like doing an activity in a new environment, confronting the issue of diversity in the body of Christ can be an uncomfortable activity. Different buildings (or none at all), music, worship styles, prayers, congregants, school choices, and political leanings are just a few of the challenges that can make us feel uneasy. While diversity is a “hot button” issue in secular society, it is not one we, as believers are at liberty to ignore. Consider the following:
- Heaven will be filled with different music, languages, customs, etc. The book of Revelation mentions “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne…” (7:9) as a result of the command to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:19).
- Heaven will house people with whom we’ve disagreed on secondary matters. In Romans 14, Paul addressed such disagreements: “One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables…” (14:2). He emphasized the importance of their unity and appealed to their common faith in the Lord, … “we belong to the Lord” (v.8).
- Heaven will host many ability levels and talents. As 1 Corinthians 12 relates, “As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty. . . .God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another” (12:20-25).
- Heaven will hold people from varying income levels. James tells us “Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom,” (James 2:5) and “…only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:23).
- Heaven will be in habited by those with differing pasts. Just as Christ told the thief on the cross, “Truly I say to you, today, you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43), he also makes it clear that he “came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:13) and “seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10).
Quantity isn’t everything but based on the frequency that diversity and unity in the body is mentioned in the scriptures, gaining wisdom in this area is essential. If we’re honest, our comfort is of such importance to us that our daily lives are a far cry from the sea of diversity we will experience in Heaven. One of the privileges of teaching in public school is the chance I get to observe, interact with, and pray for Christian students from vastly different backgrounds. The joy of getting to know believers from different ethnicities, denominations, and income levels is often accompanied by the heartbreak of realizing they seem to be separated by a wall of polarity. Just like adults, their affiliations are influenced more by background, politics, preferences, “parts of town”, etc., instead of the gospel. The truth? It is time for us (the church) to admit how uncomfortable we are with those whom we are going to spend eternity with.
Life in a fallen world is well, scary. As believers and parents, we struggle to balance protecting ourselves and families from the ever-changing cultural context of secularism and the effort to be “in the world but not of it.” So, what can we do? We can start where we are. We could put our child on the city soccer team instead of the one in suburbs. We could sign our children up for VBS at another church, volunteer for a parachurch organization, or participate in a community event filled with diverse people. Even simply refraining from derogatory talk about those who are different from us is a great start. As believers, we are heading for a surprisingly diverse eternity in heaven. As we pray, “Thy kingdom come,” may our daily actions prove our heartfelt desire to journey toward a heaven not imagined by our own preferences, but by the diversity the Bible promises.
About the Author:
Jessica Roan has a Bachelor’s Degree in English Education from Oklahoma Baptist University and a Master’s Degree in Special Education from Montana State University-Billings. She is a high school English teacher, mentor and blogger. She can be found at carriedalong.blog. She enjoys writing, hiking, skiing and traveling. She lives in Billings, Montana with her husband and two boys. Her home church is Rocky Mountain Community Church.