Monday, September 10, 2007

Open Mic: Knock, Knock, Knockin...

There is only one thing I know am going to do in my life. I don't know if I'll be a success, a failure, married, single - but I do know that sooner or later, I'm going to die. The finality of that is kind of like God's little joke. No matter how cool you think you are, you will decompose. Most people live most of their lives ignoring death. Anything that will remind us, we remove from sight. This obsession with immortality is a bizarre thing. What that tells me, though, is we must be immortal. Rich Mullins, quoted in An Arrow Pointed To Heaven
For this edition of "answering the Open Mic questions", we talk about Heaven. (You can see all of the questions at the comments on the original post here online...)

I know that this post is going to be tough going for those of you who are skeptical about Christianity and/or the afterlife. I welcome your questions...

Are there different levels in heaven?

The idea of multiple levels of Heaven:
  • a "super-Christian" level for Billy Graham, Mother Teresa & pastors who are not addicted to board games (wink, wink)
  • a "regular Christian" level for your average, everyday follower of Jesus
  • a "skin of your teeth" level for thos who declared their faith in Christ but then lived like they'd never heard of the Bible (this is probably where board-game obsessed pastors go...)

...shows up in a lot of places. Interestingly enough, it's not Biblical.

The single passage that might be interpeted to suggest a "leveled" Heaven (why do I feel like I'm talking about D&D or World of Warcraft right now?!) is from one of Paul's letters:

I was caught up to the third heaven fourteen years ago. Whether I was in my body or out of my body, I don't know-only God knows. 2 Corinthians 12:2 (NLT)

It's important to note that Paul is probably referring to a common way of denoting "the heavens" during ancient times:

  • the first heaven (terrestrial) - the skies
  • the second heaven (telestial) - outer space
  • the third heaven (celestial) - spiritual Heaven

Please don't mistake the use of the words in parantheses for agreement with Mormon thought on these issues. (My theological disagreements with the LDS church will have to wait for another day - but suffice it to say that they use those words very differently than I do.)

Are there Hostess Twinkies and other wonderfully fattening things in Heaven?

Unless we work really hard to over-spiritualize the multiple references to feasts in heaven (Isaiah 25:6, Luke 22:18, Matthew 8:11, Revelation 19:9, Luke 14:15, etc.), we're going to be enjoying food & drink in Heaven.

Obviously, I can't answer with absolute certainty about Twinkies - but 1 Timothy 6:17 tells us that God "richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment." I'm leaning toward a pro-Twinkie (and pro-ice cream!) Heaven.

I heard this saying: all kids go to heaven. Why or why not?

In this short space, I don't think I can do a discussion of the "age of accountability" justice. Instead, let me simply state that I believe that people who are mentally unable to comprehend what it means to follow Jesus Christ with their entire lives are given the grace of God because, well, He's gracious. No act by the child or their guardians is required - if it was, that would interfere with the whole Ephesians 2:8-9 "not of works" thing, right?!

I want to recommend two excellent books to you on the subject:

  • Heaven (Randy Alcorn) - which, frankly, is the best book on Heaven I've ever read
  • safe in the arms of God (John MacArthur) - which deals specifically with children & death

What will our relationships with other be like in heaven? Will we know others as we did on earth? (i.e. husbands & wives)

This is probably one of the toughest questions to answer - for a couple of reasons:

  1. The answer is based, primarily, on one passage of Scripture... I try, as much as possible, to not base my theology off of isolated verses.
  2. I don't think the answer I have to give is completely satisfying - to me or to many other folks. I think it's true, but it doesn't answer the question exactly the way I want it to.

But let's get one thing out of the way first - despite some folks teaching otherwise, we will know each other in Heaven. I'll recognize my grandfather & my uncle who died long before I was born & all sorts of other. (Man, I can not wait to hug Arly Ruth & Bro. Beach...) You can check out Isaiah 66:22 and Matthew 26:29 to see this in action.

Of course, there's really two questions when we talk about husbands & wives, right?!:

  1. Will there be marriage in Heaven?
  2. Will there be sex in Heaven?

The answer to the first question is going to sound a little weird - I believe there will be marriage in Heaven, but it will be the marriage between Christ & his bride - the church.

For this reason a man will leave his father & mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery - but I am talking about Christ and the church. Ephesians 5:31-32 (NIV)

To quote Randy Alcorn in his excellent book, Heaven: "The one-flesh union we know on Earth is a signpost pointing to our relationship with Christ as our bridegroom. Once we reach the destination, the signpost becomes unnecessary. That one marriage - our marriage to Christ - will be so completely satisfying that even the most wonderful earthly marriage couldn't be as fulfilling."

Now, it's easy for me to type those words... but I have a pretty wonderful marriage right here & right now. I am deeply, crazily, hopelessly in love with my wife. It's difficult for me to imagine what life would be like without her as my most important relationship... and yet, if I really believe in the existence of God, it seems right that my marriage to Shari would pale in comparison with knowing Him completely.

Like I said earlier, this isn't a teaching I'm particularly fond of... but you have to deal with the what's in the Bible rather than just censor out the parts you don't like. So, whatever answer we come up with has to deal with what Jesus said in some form or fashion.

At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. Matthew 22:30 (NIV)

The second question - the "sexy" question - I'll just let my hero, C.S. Lewis, answer:

I think our present outlook might be like that of a small boy who, on being told that the sexual act was the highest bodily pleasure should immediately ask whether you ate chocolates at the same time. On receiving the answer "No," he might regard the absence of chocolates as the chief characteristic of sexuality. In vain would you tell him that the reason why lovers in their carnal raptures don't bother about chocolates is that they have something better to think of. The boy knows chocolate: he does not know the positive thing that excludes it. We are in the same position. We know the sexual life; we do not know, except in glimpses, the other thing which, in Heaven, will leave no room for it. from C.S. Lewis' book, Miracles

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