Richard, my spouse, loves lists. He developed a list of gift cards we have at our disposal and posted it on the refrigerator so we know to use them before they expire. Richard maintains his own “Honey Do” lists, too: one is a daily list, and the second (again, posted on the refrigerator) is for long-term projects. When we lived in Texas he even scheduled activities for the kids’ visits on an Excel spreadsheet. At first we teased Richard about the spreadsheet; later, however, we appreciated its time-saving value. And I learned very early in our relationship to never present him with any Honey Do list which I compiled.
Lists are often useful tools for helping us prioritize our lives. They can be as simple as a daily To Do list, or as profound as what is sometimes called a “bucket list”–a list of things to do before we die (kick the bucket). Throughout history many people have used the tenets of various religions as information for compiling what we might call their “eternal bucket lists”–that is, things to do in order to secure a carefree and peaceful afterlife. These lists, of course, often vary by the religion of choice.
I understand the sincerely felt need for these lists, too. Belief in an afterlife–a “heaven” for “good” people and a “hell” for “bad” people–can fill our need for justice when bad things happen to good people and when good things happen to bad people in this life. Belief in an afterlife can also help address our very real fear of death.
I also believe some religious authorities in the past used–and some today still use–the promise of heaven and the threat of hell as little more than behavioral control devices, as though no one can make good moral and ethical life choices without such promises and threats. In the end, however, no matter how strongly we believe–or not–in an afterlife and its attendant rewards and/or punishments, the existence of an afterlife and those rewards and/or punishments can neither be proved nor disproved.
And for the folks who are being “good” just to hedge their bets? Well, if you believe God is a separate being who is going to judge the actions of our lives when we die, don’t you think that God would be aware of such scams? And knowing that, would you really want to face such an entity when you die?
At the same time, when it comes to living well, we aren’t without guidance. The prophet Micah reminds us that we have already been shown what is good and what is required: to do what is just, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. Later, words attributed to Jesus summarize all the law and prophets as loving God, neighbor and self. Other faiths contain similar teachings. These are the actions and attitudes that lead to life.
Justice. Mercy. Humility. Love.
Now that just might be a list to live–and die–by.
Blessings on your journeys!