Tuesday, December 17, 2013
The History of Heaven and Earth 01: The Quest-ion at Hand
“Where have you come from?” I have asked myself this question many times. My asking has led me to seek an answer. I have not sought the answer as thoroughly as many others, but I have done so as thoroughly as I do most other things. Many who know me would categorize that as very thorough, haha. I think it’s an important question that goes unasked the vast majority of the time.
God’s presentation of the question to Satan, while in the courts of heaven, leads one of my very good friends, named Gustave Eiffel, to think that the question asked implies that Satan traveled from here to there to meet with God. The idea is that heaven is somewhere else, somewhere “up there.” Of course earth is “here”, so the travelling of a distance from here to a there is implied in coming to heaven from earth. I would venture to guess that Gustave Eiffel is not the only person I know who would come to such a conclusion when presented with the first verses of the book of Job. In fact, I happen to know, for sure, that I am right (one of the few times that ever happens!), because another good friend of mine, named Moses, interprets the scripture similarly.
Other scriptures that lend themselves to similar interpretation are as follows: Daniel 10: 12-14 “Then he said to me, ‘Don’t be afraid, Daniel, for from the very first day you applied your mind to understand and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard. I have come in response to your words. 13 However, the prince of the kingdom of Persia was opposing me for twenty-one days. But Michael, one of the leading princes, came to help me, because I was left there with the kings of Persia. 14 Now I have come to help you understand what will happen to your people in the latter days, for the vision pertains to future days.’”
Again, the idea is that the angel having come to Daniel implies that he came from somewhere else, as does Michael’s coming to help him. Part of what supports this interpretation, as well, is that this scripture also seems to imply that angels either can or do travel from one specific geographically locatable place to another. This would obviously mean that heavenly beings cross distances (apparently in time) in the way that we think of distance (and time). I’m sure there are other scriptures that paint a similar picture, but the basic idea is that they lead my very good friend Gustave Eiffel to think of heaven as “there”, as “somewhere else”; heaven is in some location at some distance away, at which one might arrive after traveling said distance (and time, presumably, in a sense). Again, my good friend Moses also holds a similar idea of the location of heaven (I think, at least to a degree).
Another piece of scripture that supports my friends’ interpretation of the location of heaven is the ascension. Obviously, if Jesus ascended, and if Jesus is now in heaven, then heaven is “up there,” right?
Moses’ ideas of the location of heaven are taken from language like that found in Luke 16: 25-26. “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’” Similar language is found in other places, but one example is Revelation 22: 14-15. The language of these verses leads my very good friend Moses to think of heaven as not only “there” in the now, but in the End, as well. My friend Gustave Eiffel, on the other hand, takes Revelation 21: 10, which describes a holy city descending out of heaven from God”, to mean that, in the end, heaven will be “here.”
To sum up the ideas of my two very good friends, then, Gustave Eiffel says heaven is there and will be here, whereas Moses says heaven is there and will be there. I, on the other hand, tend to think that these ideas of heaven being “somewhere else” are heavily shaped and influenced by where we come from. Considering the history of heaven and earth, so to speak, which is the history of man, I tend to think of heaven as here, now and forever. I also believe that the overall picture and purpose of the scriptures points to the idea of heaven being HERE, both now and forever.
This, then, is the first of a series of blog posts, the introduction. This is a presentation of the quest-ion at hand. If we are running with endurance the race God set before us (Hebrews 12: 1), then where is the finish line?
I should note that my very good friends Gustave Eiffel and Moses are my primary audience members in writing this. I am putting it here on my blog, however, for others to see, if they so wish. If you happen to find yourself reading this, and you are neither Moses nor Gustave Eiffel, then know that this series of blog posts came about as a result of some conversations between friends. Feel free to join in the fellowship by participating in the conversation.
I should also note that further reason for writing this, for me, is found in what I believe to be its value, beyond simply being part of a conversation between friends in fellowship. Gustave Eiffel, who is an engineer, in borrowing from Alistair Begg, says we should spend more time focusing on “the main things that are the plain things and the plain things that are the main things.” Historically, such concern has pointed toward a desire to not foster division in the church and, instead, to focus on the primary teachings of Christ on which we all tend to agree. I don’t know if that was Gustave Eiffel’s concern in bringing that up or not, but I don’t think that this series of blog posts threatens the unity of this fellowship between very good friends.
My original interest in the topic was expressed in an essay by an architect named W.G. Clark that talks about the death of architecture in a world primarily influenced by a religion that thinks of humans as living in a world that will eventually go up in flames, a religion in which humans will eventually find themselves in a whole other world altogether. I happen to be Christian, and I happened to be an architect at the time when I became interested in the ideas expressed in that essay. I, therefore, came to pay close attention to how the scriptures that support that idea frowned upon by W.G. Clark’s essay are interpreted by other humans who proclaim my religion. I am no longer an architect now, though, but my interest in the topic obviously remains. My interest now is more in the truth than in the value and quality of architecture.
Our idea of the finish line of the race we are running, when taken in the context of the rest of scripture, also effects the question, “where have you come from?” If the firstborn is at the right hand of the throne of the Father interceding for us, who are also sons of God, then our idea of heaven effects our very idea of who we are! Becoming fully sons of God is the quest; where is God is the quest-ion. In light of our baptism in the Spirit, what does it actually mean for us when Paul, in the opening verses of Colossians 3, tells us to set our minds on things above, “For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God”? I will address these and other scriptural and theological questions, as they pertain to our idea of heaven, toward the end of this series of blog posts.
We have a lens for how we view and interpret scripture. But scriptures themselves are a script for the becoming of humans, as well as being a script that sets the scene in which humans are contained. This lens of ours is taught. In fact, I would say that the way we are taught to interpret sensible reality, which is originally scripted by scripture, influences our interpretation of scripture at least as much as our interpretation of scripture influences our lens through which we interact with the sensible world.
As Moses has noted, Christians already have a significantly different lens from others through which we view the world. This is obviously true. But the influence occurs in both directions. And, the teaching we receive from our environment on how to interpret scripture, mostly without realizing it, is not in accordance with the script that scripts us and that environment in the first place. In other words, from our position at the top of the Tower of Babel, we tend to write over scripture (without realizing it).
I hope, through the course of this series of blog posts, to make clear not only that the idea that we don’t have a lens is simply impossible, but that the lens for our eyes and mind which has been handed down to us makes it more than easy for our mouths to say that heaven is “somewhere else” (in the way that we now think of “somewhere else”). The very fact that I need to qualify the difference between how we now think of “somewhere else” as compared to some other (previous) way(s) should start to reveal the presence of such lenses. The very metaphor of a “lens for viewing scripture” is itself shaped by the lens we’ve been taught.
Throughout the rest of this blog series, I will also address how that procession of history that has formed what I am referring to as our lens actually influences our idea of the relationship of heaven and earth. It may become clear that part of the value of this blog series is found in the scriptures themselves. In Romans 12: 1-2, Paul says, I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, through the mercy of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God: this is your true and appropriate worship. Do not be conformed to the present age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, so that you may approve the will of God, that which is good, acceptable, and complete. About not being conformed but being transformed, N.T. Wright says, on page 143 of What St. Paul Really Said, “…in other words, don’t let the pagan world shape your worldview, your praxis, your symbolic universe, your thinking, your narrative world.”
I think that all of those things are shaped heavily for us by pagans. I also think that this influence from the pagans, at the very least, can dictate that heaven is “there”, or “somewhere else.” That is part of our symbolic universe, our thinking, our narrative world, and our praxis, really. If we call out and recognize the pagan influences, if we see beyond the lens that has been handed down to us, then we will find that heaven comes much closer. We may also find ourselves detached from our lenses.
“It is not an exaggeration to say that the future of modern society and the stability of its inner life depend in large part on the maintenance of an equilibrium between the strength of the techniques of communication and the capacity of the individual’s own reaction.” – p. 20, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, by Marshall McLuhan.
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