Is eternal life a matter of being a funny guy?
The tributes poured in on television, in magazines, in newspapers. No one seemed to have a bad word to say about the man who had ruled late-night comedy for three decades. No doubt he had many fine qualities. He had an eye for discovering comedic talent. He made generous donations to worthy causes.
Missing from all the accolades, however, was any mention that Johnny Carson had any sort of faith life. I have no way of knowing if he ever made a profession of faith. But those using religious symbolism in connection with Carson’s death did so based on his talent and celebrity status, not his spiritual beliefs.
Comments by comedian Jerry Lewis to Fox News typified the sentiment of the day. “Johnny Carson made an awful lot of people laugh and an awful lot of people happy,” Lewis proclaimed. “I always say that any time a man provides laughter to the masses, he should get eternal life.”
Comedian Don Rickles seemed to spend 30 hours straight on the tube, jumping from Dateline NBC to Larry King Live to The Tonight Show. At every stop he declared that Carson is now enjoying himself in heaven because, after all, he had been a decent guy from the Midwest.
Editorial pages from around the country gushed profusely. “He has now taken his act on the road — the ultimate road,” opined the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “One can only imagine the excitement in heaven as the word quickly spreads: Heeeeere’s Johnny!”
In an almost comical fashion the nation’s editorial cartoonists fell over themselves to assure Americans that Carson had made it to the top in the afterlife. Mike Luckovich drew a cartoon in which one angel says to another, “Forget eternal rest. I’m staying up late,” now that Carson has arrived to humor them in heaven. David Catrow had an angel lifting the flag marker on the 18th tee, with a hole in one and the tagline, “Here’s Johnny.” Mike Graston, Robert Ariail, Gary Markstein, Gary Brookins, Vic Harville and John Branch all had “Heeeerrre’s Johnny!” variations of either God bellowing the phrase from the clouds or St. Peter announcing it at the pearly gates.
Many Americans found solace in the belief that Carson is now hanging out with God having a good time. The tributes built upon the misconceptions of what so many in America believe: God is a benign benefactor who allows nice people, especially Americans, to go to heaven.
But comedians, editorial writers and cartoonists don’t set the standard for who makes it into heaven. The Bible is the authority on eternal life: A person must be a follower of Jesus Christ to live in the hereafter.
It was Jesus Christ, not Johnny Carson, about whom God said, “This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17, NIV).
It’s a bit ironic that the mainstream media, which spend a great deal of time and effort ridiculing the faith of Christians, somehow find it comforting that Carson is in heaven.
The retrospectives indicated that Carson somehow deserved heaven because of his kindnesses on earth. Those in the media did their best to put a humorous spin on a comic’s demise, and unleashed a torrent of misapplied religious symbolism in the process.
In reality, all of us deserve eternal death; only the sacrificial and atoning Jesus spares any of us eternal punishment. But we must acknowledge and accept Jesus as Savior. To presume otherwise is dangerous and has everlasting consequences.
John W. Kennedy is news editor of Today’s Pentecostal Evangel.
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