Will Fiction Last Forever? Part 4
Let’s give away the ending … I believe fiction will last forever, in the everlasting life all Christians can anticipate, for the glory of God, and the delight of His servants.
Notice I said that “I believe” this. Among Christians, this is definitely a secondary issue!
Moreover, it’s nothing we can be absolutely certain about, based on Scripture, our only testimony about the coming afterlife. Scripture doesn’t say fiction will inhabit the New Heavens and New Earth, any more than it says we’ll have certain ice-cream flavors, or ponies, or spaceships, or a highly welcome big-budget remake of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader film (my pick for executive producer: C.S. Lewis himself).
Scripture also doesn’t directly say we won’t have any of these things. That in itself gives support to speculation, if it doesn’t contradict what God has told us.
However, we have more Biblical evidence that allows highly educated guesses in favor of fiction. We don’t need direct mentions of what the New Earth will include. That would take too long, and perhaps even spoil too many surprises. We also don’t need that because what God has told us about the After-world is enough to apply to other things we might hope God would preserve.
Throughout the past parts of this series, I’ve hoped to review what we do know from Scripture about the New Earth:
- Christians have accepted many myths about the afterlife, among them that it’s a bodiless existence, or that physical things have no place there, or that we should not even bother with the issue (often citing “no eye has seen …” from 1 Cor. 2:9).
- Scripture does directly predict much about the New Earth, including that it will be physical, and that God will resurrect His creation itself, as He will resurrect us. In rightly anticipating our eternal Home, we are anticipating the Homeowner!
- The Bible itself, God’s Word, will last forever. It’s the only “story” (the true Story) that God has clearly promised to preserve. For all the eons in which God’s people work and worship Him, we’ll have His record of how He saved us from our evils.
All those lay the foundation to claim this: that many stories we love, perhaps even those we’ve written, will continue to bless others, and honor the ultimate Author, forever.
This column will begin several more reasons why. I hope to finish that list, next week.
Splendor of kings, under the King
“By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it,” says the apostle John, privileged to see the New Jerusalem city after its touchdown on New Earth. “And its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.” (Rev. 21:24-26)
Isaiah also specifically prophesied several ways in which Earth’s peoples, from many nations, will worship the Lord: with their ships, trade, national cultures, precious metals like gold and silver, incenses, trees, and animals (all throughout Isaiah 60).
If all those — either re-created, or more likely left over from what was “exposed” after God’s sin-purging fire (2 Peter 3:10) — could be used for worship, why not stories?
1. God loves stories, even speculative ones.
God’s whole Word is a “speculative” story, of which our stories can only be dim copies. (This is also true of any story with messianic elements, as Fred Warren noted Tuesday!) His Word has set that precedent. For Him, the “fantastic” and miraculous is typical.
2. We can worship Him now through stories and imagination.
Speculative Faith is based on this premise, which I need not re-present here. Becky has been exploring this more directly, most recently: the truth that while we enjoy God in many different ways, through many stories and art forms, speculative fiction is unique.
Given the multiple callings in which people can glorify God now, in much the same ways they would have if evil had never entered the world, I do take as axiomatic that we’ll be able to do many of these same tasks right on into the future ages. Only if the Bible says no, such-and-such will be fulfilled then, should we not anticipate that (and there’s at least one way we honor Him now that we can’t do then: human marriage — Matt 22:23-33).
3. Worship in many different ways is our destiny on New Earth.
Nowadays many people have rebutted the notion that all a “body” has to do all “day” in Heaven is to float on clouds (which causes severe angst among all those people who staunchly defend the Cloud Theory). But we need to replace any misconceptions with truth — not with implications that we needn’t bother about such things, or even worse, with notions that Christians must feed the poor, open our church boundaries, etc., and bring heaven to Earth as a “shalom” program of peace, sans the Prince of Peace.
What we do find in Scripture is stunning and inspiring: that our Old-Earth worship will be much like our New-Earth worship. Adding onto the above-referenced texts about kings bringing their glories into the New Jerusalem, we find Paul directly tying a God-exalting work ethic here to what we have awaiting there, our inheritance: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (Col. 3:23-24)
Theologian Anthony Hoekema comments on that relation between this world and that:
If there is continuity as well as discontinuity between this earth and the new earth, we must work hard to develop our gifts and talents, and to come as close as we can to producing, in the strength of the Spirit, a Christian culture today. Through our kingdom service, the building materials for the new earth are now being gathered. Bibles are being translated, peoples are being evangelized, believers are being renewed, and cultures are being transformed. Only eternity will reveal the full significance of what has been done for Christ here on earth.
From “Heaven: Not Just an Eternal Day Off,” Christianity Today, June 1, 2003
That definitely fits with the true Biblical “prosperity gospel” of sacrificing now to obtain Christ’s rewards later. It also fits with the belief in honoring Him in all we do, not just the “spiritual” stuff, because good work in itself exalts Him. And for the lover of stories, this means we make our stories the best, as beautiful and truthful as we can, because excellence reflects His Excellency.
Moreover, as I’m fond of remarking, of all the varying kinds of stories, it is speculative fiction that is destined to have a more-direct fulfillment in the New Earth. Every day will bring wonder, excitement, and discovery, and what had been previously described as “otherworldly” will have become contemporary. Whether that means we’ll get to have spaceships and outer-space colonies, I don’t know. But nothing opposes this. And if we suspect God may disapprove of these things, we should trim them from our stories now.
If anything, my guess is that on New Earth, it will be romance stories, based on human marriage that will then be fulfilled by the union between Christ and His Church (which marriage symbolized all along, Eph. 5:31-32), that will seem defunct and odd!
4. While we can’t bring any of our possessions beyond death, God can.
“We brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world,” the apostle Paul reminds Timothy, and us (1 Timothy 6:7). This, along with Paul’s other strong words against confusing the means of Things as an end of themselves, should head off any of our sin-sourced desires to abuse God’s good gifts, and ignore the Giver.
It should also remind us that in a way, the “there are no U-Hauls behind hearses” lines is true. We don’t even get to bring our bodies when we die. Sin will split our bodies and souls — that’s a nasty consequence of living in a presently cursed and decaying world.
But that split is temporary. God is a God of resurrection: Christ’s, ours, and creation’s.
After our resurrection, might we simply resume our God-honoring callings right where we left off? That, along with the resurrection issue, is where I’ll pick up next week.
Amen! I eagerly anticpate the new kingdom, where everything will be larger than life.
Just to pop this comment thread off in a salacious and dazzling way:
I don’t think that sex will be gone forever. I don’t know what God has planned to supercede it, but Adam and Eve were sexual creatures BEFORE the fall, and their condition then gives us a LOT of clues for our eternal future.
I cannot imagine what will be the redemption of that, and I acknowledge that scripture is clear that human marriage/sex here is ideally supposed to be a picture of Christ and His Church.
I just don’t think we can assume from the fact that that is fulfilled and Jesus’ words in the New Testament concerning not marrying nor being given in marriage are sufficient evidence that our sexual natures will not be active and/or have some kind of consummation/satisfaction.
That may make you think I’m creepy or perverted: believe me, I have refused to imagine how God has this worked out. But as a widow of 13 years, I can tell you that knowing God has not forgotten that He made us sexual creatures and that He is going to redeem everything has been a great comfort to me.
(Frowns nervously …)
Jesus’ words in Matthew 22 seem pretty clear, though. And I can’t imagine a Biblical universe in which that kind of intimacy could continue, without marriage.
However, when one does “simulate” a world under Christ’s rule, in which all that is removed, it does come across as very Gnostic, very — if readers will excuse the word — neutered. One somewhat recent example is the last Left Behind book, Kingdom Come, in which two characters remark stoically that they feel no physical passion any more. (Of course, it might have helped had this been seen more, though in a God-honoring and not prurient way, during the first books of the series!)
Of course, this aversion to that concept could be because, as Lewis said, we can’t imagine anything better than that, just as a boy couldn’t imagine intimacy being better than eating chocolate. Overall, Biblical theology does point to some kind of fulfillment, when those enjoyments are in the future, just fulfilled, “spread out.”
So would romance as a throwback genre be permitted in the New Earth? I would not say no, entirely, because I presume that the Song of Solomon won’t be sliced out of the Scripture. Otherwise, romantic fiction, Old Earth-style, just wouldn’t seem to make sense. At the same time, the most legitimate objection to speculative stories in the New Earth would seem to be why read it when you can live it?!, which is an idea I hope to address in the next column. And you can’t live romance in the same way on the New Earth — I’m still somewhat convinced of that, even while trusting that God will know better what relationships we need, with Him, and also with others.
“And I can’t imagine a Biblical universe in which …”
Stephen, this is the same thinking people like Rob Bell use in coming up with their ideas. The fact is, it doesn’t matter what we can or can’t imagine. I find this whole discussion troubling because the focus is OFF Jesus. Colossians says we are to fix our eyes on Him.
Better wording would have been, “It doesn’t seem like Scripture would allow us to imagine such a universe.” Regardless, the main objection is “Jesus’ words […] seem pretty clear,” about the possibility of marriage in Heaven.
By the way, do you recall reading Bell’s statement(s?) that he thought the New Jerusalem’s open gates meant people would still be able to get out of “hell,” somehow, and join the happy gathering inside? If he’d read all the Bible, and applied it, he would have seen that the gates are open because the New Jerusalem is just part of the New Earth, apparently its capital, and its gates remain open because kings and people will come from outside, to bring their own glories (gifts given to them by God) inside that majestic City.
So far I haven’t seen the focus leave Jesus, though. In studying all of God’s Word, His plan since the beginning of time, and more of what His Word has indeed told us about our eternal Home, we also worship the Homeowner.
Imaginations are dangerous, but I don’t see anything wrong with jumping into it from time to time. So far I’ve managed to imagine a world with no god, many gods (well, spirits), the wrong god, and a false god – and put pen to paper.
Scripture bursts at the seams with descriptions of what God has in store when the last chapters close; prophets, saints, apostles, priests, kings, paupers, and blue-collars spent an extensive amount of time meditating on the absolute pleasure awaiting them, so I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the discussion. It’s no more wrong than a child speculating on what his first vacation is going to be like. They haven’t a clue, and Mom and Dad just grin and let him guess. There’s as much pleasure in watching the recipient speculate about the gift as there is giving it. And the Master Storyteller is more than capable of exceeding our expectations, which makes dwelling on the subject all the more tantalizing.
And yeah, without having read the book or followed that subject, my limited understanding is that Bell thinks of Hell more as a Purgatory (for lack of better term) wherein people are released after serving their sentence. Not a bad plan, except for the word “eternal.”
It’s an interesting question, and it does seem very Gnostic, and arbitrary, to banish sex from the New Earth, pretty much alone among all the non-evil things we presume will be present. Of course, if we leave it in, there are all sorts of awkward and complicated questions that arise. Some folks, like Esther, can’t imagine heaven being complete without it. Others, Gnostic and otherwise, might be more inclined to cheer its passing, and “good riddance.”
There is the conversation in Matthew 22, but it’s vague enough that it may not be conclusive. The Sadducees were posing a legal question in an attempt to demonstrate that the idea of a resurrection was ridiculous. Jesus’ response refuted that argument–the law demanded the woman’s multiple serial marriages, but the resurrection would not violate the law by resulting in her being simultaneously married to seven men, since there would be no marriage in heaven. We would be “like the angels.”
So what does that mean? In what respect will we be like the angels? Are we bodiless? Genderless? Unbound by earthly marriage covenants? So focused on divine adoration that male-female relationships among us aren’t needed or desired? He doesn’t say, and we don’t get much of a picture of daily life among the angels beyond the images in Revelation. Of course, we won’t be angels, so some things are bound to be different.
Anyhow, it’ll all be good.
(After punching the thumbs-up button …)
All these are things I haven’t considered. I do know, though, that other beliefs, such as “soul sleep,” try to oppose Gnostic notions and preserve the union of soul and body, yet Scripture is even more opposed to those. Understand, of course, that of course I’d like human marriage to go on in the New Earth, and it seems that if Jesus wanted to say it would, in some way, He could have easily said it here and debunked the Sadducees’ body-and-resurrection-hope fear.
About “like the angels,” though, whatever that might mean here, “bodiless” can’t be in view. I base that on the context being specifically about relationships and marriage, and because other Scriptures clearly say that our made-new bodies will be based on Christ’s resurrected body (which we know to be physical, based on the same body He had before His death).
Which, by the way, is why we need Frank Peretti. 😀 (That was affectionate — I still love Peretti, especially his Darkness books and The Visitation.)
Me, I don’t want wings. But even “standard” messenger or warrior angels, including Michael and Gabriel, are never described with wings, only the cherubim who do nothing but stand by God’s throne praising, and they not only have wings but animal characteristics and far too many eyes … so …
Haha. I think I’m up to 12-13 types of angels mentioned in Scripture (research). There’s a few places where I can’t tell if it’s an angel, human, or something else.
I concur, for the same reasons. Likewise with genderless. Frankly, I don’t have a clue what it means, though I’m with you and Kaci in that I believe the relationships we formed in life are significant and will continue in some fashion, even better.
On a tangential note, I think John Milton, in Paradise Lost, described a kind of non-sexual intimacy among angels that was sort of like two jello molds merging. I’ll have to look that up. There’s some old-school Christian spec-fic for you. Well, maybe…his theology was all over the map.
Update: Found the Paradise Lost reference. Part of a pre-Fall conversation between Adam, Eve, and the angel Raphael, over lunch:
“Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings.” Capra 12:25.
Many hold that the Nephilim in Scripture are the offspring of fallen angels (sons of God) and the daughters of men. If so, angels would not be neuterless.
Like Stephen said Lewis said – We can’t imagine anything better than marriage intimacy. This is true day after day, year after year… eternity after eternity (OK, I’m getting carried away). Something great going to have to replace it.
Yeah, but my problem with that theory is that I don’t know of another place where demons are referred to as ‘sons of God,’ so I’m left thinking they were angels. That’s just me.
The language reads ‘neither marry nor be given in marriage.’ Since we’re relational creatures and Jesus was specifically addressing leverite sp?) marriage, it’s probably safe to assume the original relationships will remain the same. It’s not like we’re going to die, drink from the River of Forgetfulness, and take a left past the pearly gates (which likely aren’t pearl anymore than the pavement’s gold) to Cloud Mansion. Moreover, I like to think that our affections for each other will be exponentially greater in Heaven than here.
For readers’ reference, here’s the whole passage (short enough to quote in full). Note that “the same day” refers to the previous incident, in which Pharisees tried to put Jesus in a political trap. That having failed, the Sadducees gave it a go instead, here with what they must have thought was a surefire doctrine trap.
That could be true … and I still recall something my parents used to say, that in the afterlife they may not be “married,” technically, but they hoped they’d still be best friends. That is also how my wife and I consider our future relationship!
Still, Jesus questioned the entire premise of the Sadducees’ question, that any marriage relationship (multiple or otherwise) would “carry over” to the time after the Resurrection (a single event, common to Christian teaching, and also already believed by orthodox Jews and even the Pharisees). Checking into the Greek of that text might yield some further definition of the phrase “marry nor are given in marriage.” It seems He rules out both present marriages and future marriages. And that fits with the whole He-marries-the-Church concept.
Regardless, His main purpose in that exchange (Matt. 22: 23-33) was to dodge the entire marriage issue. He knew the Sadducees’ rejection of resurrection beliefs, and honed in exactly on their real problem — rejection of a key truth of God’s Word, which by accident called into question God’s very nature.
If they put half the time they spent trying to trick Jesus into paying attention to Scripture and Jesus’ words, I think they’d have gotten much further. But yeah. I haven’t actually thought much on the subject, so I haven’t anything further to add.
Please, Becky, define what it looks like when the focus is ON Jesus???
Allow me to make sure I’ve been understood…I’m not saying there is sex as we know it in the New Earth. I’m just saying that a just God Who loves his children whom He created as sexual, relational people, will not just chuck that out the window like so much garbage, saying “meh, we don’t need that anymore–you didn’t really want it anyway”, but rather will somehow FULFILL it, and provide for it or satisfy it. Certainly sex as we know it would be awkward under Heavenly circumstances…but the point is we don’t know what God could have planned! I’m excited! God is awesome and very, very smart. He’s got it all figured out…
None of us would feel awkward about hugs in Heaven would we? In fact, it will be safe to hug anybody there, won’t it!? Not like now, when we have to be careful due to people’s personal space tolerance, or modesty issues, etc.
Just my thoughts. I know my God. He is awesome. He will not leave any of us longing for anything eternally…
Wow, this side discussion has far more comments than the actual post topic.
Although most of us find the idea of a post-sex society creepy and weird, I don’t think it has to be, at all. My take: God created sex for several purposes, mainly for the strengthening of the marriage bond and the begetting of children. In eternity, with no marriage and no procreation, I feel that sex would be purposeless. I’m not saying God won’t have some amazing way of replacing intimacy that we don’t know about, but personally I don’t think it would be there, with marriage itself abrogated…
Well, Esther, I’m quoting from Colossians, and Paul didn’t specify what fixing our eyes on Jesus would mean, except he did a pretty good job modeling it in the previous chapters. From Colossians 1:
Then from chapter 2:
I don’t happen to think identifying Jesus’s statement as Gnostic or reinterpreting his meaning to say relationships in heaven will be just like on earth (which flies in the face of his answer to the Sadducees) or discussing whether there will be sex in heaven really is the same as Paul’s lines about Jesus.
To be clear, nobody was identifying Jesus’ statement as Gnostic. What a Gnostic would do is pull it out of context to support the idea of a bodiless afterlife–one that denies the resurrection of the body. The Gnostics thought all matter was inherently evil and the only way to achieve perfect holiness would be to become pure spirit and shuck the body altogether along with all the human relationships that go with it, including, and perhaps especially, sexuality. That’s what Stephen and I both meant in our references to Gnosticism–someone misinterpreting scripture to justify an unscriptural conclusion.
I also didn’t see anyone saying that relationships in heaven would be just like relationships on Earth, rather that some aspects would probably continue, but be tranformed and perfected, in a manner as yet unknown. Exactly what might or might not continue is the topic of Stephen’s discussion. He was speaking primarily of creative endeavors, so talking about sex is getting off-topic, but we get off-topic all the time here.
Yes, thank you, Fred–FYI, I am currently working on a rather long reply to Becky’s concerns, which contains a good bit of scripture on “focusing on Jesus” and what that might mean, etc. So wait patiently my dears…
See, Fred, I didn’t see anyone talking about misusing Jesus’s statements — just that to imagine the afterlife as He said, would be Gnostic.
I find it troubling that anyone would associate Jesus with heresy, if He meant what He actually said.
This discussion is also troubling to me because the focus is on ourselves, what we find pleasurable, how we’ll enjoy intimacy with one another.
We’re talking about being in the presence of God! People fell on their faces when they saw Him. They were undone.
Scripture talks about gathering around His throne and all we can say is Holy, Holy, Holy. This isn’t idle praise (if there is such a thing). God, whose thoughts and ways are as high above our thoughts and ways as heaven is above earth, deserves our devotion. Heaven is about bowing our knee to Him, confessing His name.
The Sadducees weren’t actually asking Jesus about sex. They were trying to trap Him, as I’m sure you know, Fred, with a riddle they thought would prove there was no after life. The thing I find so interesting in Mark 12:24 is that
These were theologians who spent their time studying Scripture, so the problem wasn’t neglect. It was wrong thinking. I suggest there is unhealthy speculation that can lead to error. We can spend hours on end talking about what we think Jesus meant about being like the angels, but the fact is, He was making one point.
When He said those raised from the dead neither marry or are given in marriage, did He mean it? Some people sound as if Heaven isn’t going to be so good if that’s the case.
Which brings us back to my main point — Heaven and the New Earth are going to be all about Him. Our greatest joy is going to be intimacy with Him. Our pleasure will be derived from casting our crowns at His feet.
With all this Gnosticism obsession, I fear a greater issue is loving this world more than loving God, and I think it always has been. We humans love ourselves. We don’t do “taking up our cross” so very well. We like comfort and ease and we pretty much would like to have all our favorite comforts for eternity.
And yet that seems to misunderstand the power of God — that He could provide greater comfort, more intense pleasure, deeper intimacy, and we might find that greatest fulfillment in Him, in His presence. When I think of earthly pleasures compared to the delights of Heaven, it seems like mud pies in comparison to a Thanksgiving feast.
I’m pretty familiar with Colossians, moreso with the Hebrews cross-reference, but I think I’m still not following the train of thought. Following Paul’s instructions to Timothy about not getting involved in pointless debate might help me, but even then, I’m not sure he was concerned with friendly discussion as much as divisive arguing. Are you suggesting we never consider what Heaven is going to be like?
I mean, it’s no more inappropriate than pondering the theological ramifications of the existence of aliens or whether or not I’ll see my pet dogs in Heaven. Or my great-grandparents, or my cousin. Or announce outright that I fully intend to commandeer an angel and make him fly me around. Who knows, maybe we’ll play basketball up there, and I’ll actually be good at it. 0=)
At any rate, a discussion on the possible meanings of the Matthew passage isn’t the same as reinterpreting it. It’s simple discussion on what all the phrases “be like the angels” and “neither marry nor be given in marriage” means, given I’m still convinced that the majority of Christendom doesn’t believe our arrival in Heaven erases all human relationships – rather, it should heal them completely.
I think the sex question is interesting, and I’m not touching it any further other than to say if we’re going to have food, wine, dancing, mansions, a temple, cities, nations, and some form of economic system, there’s no real harm in posing the question. Now, the answers – that’s another story.
Now, talking about Jesus kicking butt and publicly humiliating Satan – that I can talk about all day. I am really, really looking forward to watching the devil punt-kicked into the lake of fire. And I am really, really looking forward to watching Jesus do it.
I have found that God cares very little what I think about matters unless my thoughts are fully informed by scripture.
Who did this? Nobody I read in the comments said anything about Jesus’ statement being Gnostic…(someone may have suggested that an incorrect interpretation of his statement from a Gnostic viewpoint was possible—but no one said Jesus intended it as Gnostic.)
I also saw no comment that reinterpreted his meaning to say that relationships would be exactly like on earth. In fact, I saw almost every commenter say just the opposite: that they cannot possibly be exactly the same as on earth because WE won’t be the same. I know I meant what I wrote to be interpreted that way.
Yes—this is a beautiful passage! But the question is not whether our discussion is the same as Paul’s lines about Jesus. The discussion, for our purposes here, is to get to the bottom of what “focus on Jesus” means. We cannot know whether we ARE focusing on Jesus if we do not know what it looks like. And certainly, if we are to be eternally focused on Jesus, we’d better know how to do it! Once we understand what it means to “focus on Jesus”, then we can decide if a discussion of what life in the New Heaven and Earth falls within that definition. And then we might even be able to decide whether we can discuss God’s fulfillment of any desires we may currently have that are unmet.
As an aside…is it ever safe to assume that just because a subject is uncomfortable for us that it must be on the “not focused on Jesus” default list?
It is my observation that Christians have jargon. Many phrases I use are really rather unintelligible to non-Christians, and quite often I find that even I don’t really know what I mean by them, when I examine them closely.
I suspect that “focus on Jesus” may be one of those phrases.
When I come across one of these terms, my first reaction is to go to scripture and see if the phrase itself can be found there. One of the rules of hermeneutics is that scripture interprets scripture—so I figure if I can find the phrase in scripture, then it’s very likely I will be able to find where scripture defines it. Of course I often have to look for phrases that are close in meaning, or those that are used interchangeably in our Christianese. In this case, I searched for the word “focus”; I also searched for “eyes NEAR Jesus” and “look NEAR Jesus”. I encourage any reader to do the same search for themselves and let me know if I missed anything—but here is what I found:
What a great verse! In the context here, we are to look to Jesus as our example, and despise the shame and suffering of the Christian life here on earth and keep our focus on the “joy set before us”. What is the joy that was set before Jesus, which we may also enjoy? Eternal life and exaltation with each other in the redeemed New (I will leave the nouns Heaven and Earth off for now, for convenience—surely we all agree there will be both?). If I’m wrong here, someone set me straight.
This verse is somewhat helpful in defining what “focus on Jesus” means. We take Him as our example, and refuse to allow shame and suffering to distract us from our future life, exaltation, and rest with Him.
Carrying on with the study, trying to determine more of what it means to focus on Jesus, I decided that since in Jesus “dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” it was safe and logical to assume that “look to God”, “look NEAR God”, “seek God”, “seek NEAR God” and similar terms would be useful search terms.
Ah! Such jewels! Such understanding! Here is a VERY brief sample of what I found:
Apparently, seeking the Lord is “doing right” and keeping the law and the commandment.
Apparently, it is ok if we look away from God to see His works on our behalf…in fact, God is going to “let” us do this! Micah 7:7-10 is similar.
Servants don’t always concentrate directly on their masters: the master might be quite flattered to find that the servants are all ranged in front of him or following him around in adoration, having all their conversation about how wonderful he is in his presence—but that’s not the purpose for which the master bought and paid for them! Rather, they concentrate on accomplishing what the master has asked of them, and according to this scripture we are to concentrate on trusting that God will have mercy on us. In what ways can/does God have mercy on us? In what ways can/might God have mercy on us in the New? Is it ok to think about what His mercy might look like?
ITEM #4 (BEST OF ALL!)
Jesus has just finished telling the crowd that God cares about their needs, and knows what they need. He didn’t mention sex, but I doubt that he left that out because God doesn’t care or know about our needs in this area. Rather, he meant for us to understand that God cares about ALL our needs and knows about ALL our needs. How do we get those things that we need, then? Jesus is very clear: seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness—oh, and don’t worry. Those things WILL be added eventually. *hears Dory, from Finding Nemo* “Just keep seeking, just keep seeking, just keep seeking.” Keep despising the shame. Keep not being anxious. Keep obeying. Keep looking for his mercy. Keep trusting that He is going to provide.
So…would I be wrong in saying that seeking the kingdom of God is the same as “focus on Jesus”, and that continuing to do all that I listed in that last sentence is seeking the kingdom of God and therefore focusing on Jesus?
If so…then trusting that He is going to provide for all those things the Gentiles seek after is perfectly within the definition of focusing on Jesus.
Oh…and don’t forget this little gem:
What is above? What things are above? How should we focus our thoughts “above”? Correct me if I’ve got this wrong, but I think that that might include imagining how God will have mercy on us in the New—and have mercy, and provide for all our needs in everything. Which is all that I expressed in my posts—God will have mercy and He will provide in that area which I experience deprivation as well as all others.
Unless someone can biblically refute this definition of “focus on Jesus”, then Becky’s concern about how the conversation was not “focused on Jesus” is unfounded, and we can go on with it without further anxiety.
*hesitates before hitting the “submit comment” button, wishing fervently for a “preview” button. Ah, well…God’s sovereignty, and all that*CLICK!
Esther, you can “go on with it without further anxiety” whether you agree with me or not. I remain unconvinced, however, that fixing our eyes on Jesus or setting our minds on things above is the same as imaging what goodies we get to keep when we get there.
I don’t know you and of course you don’t know me, so maybe I have no business reproving you or anyone in this discussion. God knows I certainly don’t set my mind on Him the way I should. But perhaps we can all agree to at least ask the question: is what we’re talking about bringing our thoughts closer to where they should be — not on myself and what I want but on God and Who He is?
Becky; I hope this shows up correctly in the replies–for some reason I couldn’t reply to YOUR reply…there was no button for it. So I will quote you here just in case. You said:
I can tell, Becky, that you are offended at what I have said. However, you completely ignored all the scripture and the exegesis I did to define “focus on Jesus”. Not only ignored it, but failed to give any opposing biblical definition.
Allow me to be very clear: I cannot do what you are asking. I cannot cease doing what you are reproving me for. Because you have yet to tell me how to do it “right” biblically.
I am very sorry that it seems to you that my complete trust in God’s willingness and ability to restore what the locust has eaten, to satisfy me in every area in my life with Himself doesn’t seem to be the same as your idea of “focus on Jesus”. I am very sorry that my biblically informed view of Heaven and our activities there offends you.
But your shaking your finger in my face doesn’t help matters at all: I and everyone here need the Word of God to speak on this issue. The truly loving thing for you to do would be to answer my biblical points above with scripture. Those who know me here will testify to the fact that I am easily persuaded by scripture. And they know that if I can be shown to be wrong in how I have used scripture, I will humbly repent.
I would like to add ITEM #5 to the list, by the way. I won’t quote them all, nor list them, but I challenge everyone here to note how many of the Psalms recount not just Who God Is and what His attributes are, but recount what He’s done for us. So…I suppose those Psalms should have been left out, because they do not focus on Jesus? If we follow your mystical idea of “focus on Jesus”, Becky, then the canon needs to be revised, and those Psalms redacted. Oh, and take out the book of Esther, too–while you are at it.
Another point: when God made the earth and placed Adam and Eve in the garden, His own comment on the art work was that it was “good”. I also note that Adam and Eve did not simply ignore all that God had made for them, nor did they fail to enjoy what He had made. It would be base dishonor to ignore the gifts He has given us.
You are accusing me of ignoring God and focusing only on what “goodies” I will get. Yet you have failed–maybe because you choose to? This subject is quite uncomfortable to you, isn’t it? Wonder why?–to note to Whom I have given the credit for all the good He has done and will do for us: not because we are special and deserve it, but because He is good, and His mercy endures forever.
You cannot know what is in my mind, but I can answer your question for you: I AM, indeed, having my thoughts sanctified by the direction of the original post I made. It is distressing to me that you cannot tell me biblically why this is wrong–I have, instead, to assume that my praise of and trust in God to supply my every need (including my need to eternally praise Him!) simply looks different from your biblically uninformed idea. And, unfortunately, that shows you as unwilling to allow scripture to inform your thinking. This makes me seriously question your ability to “focus on Jesus” yourself. You have a picture in your mind of what that looks like, but unless you can prove otherwise, it is not biblically informed, but rather mystically informed.
Please consider researching scripture on this subject. Until someone can show me that my exegesis of scripture in my post above is in error, I’ll be forced to reject your reproof and stick with what God says is the way to “focus on Jesus”.
Forgot to subscribe to the comments…
Maybe that text, underneath the reply box, should be larger.
Nah…I’m just a doofus and don’t use this site enough.
I still don’t believe I’m going to go to Heaven and find a shelf of books there. But then, I’ve got my own ideas on Heaven, so yeah. Moreover, Revelation reads like this:
(Doctor Who reference of the day: I now think of that image where Gallifrey escapes the time lock and almost knocks the earth off its orbit when I read that.)
Balderdash. We might not have an exhaustive list, but we’ve got a fairly extensive one of what Heaven will include. I will say, I love fiction, and I still don’t think I’m going to care if my books wind up on some bookshelf in Heaven.
In all fairness, this is probably your strongest argument, at least to me. I very recently read a passage in Zechariah talking about “the prince” – a Davidic heir who also serves the high priest’s role. There’s moments where it sounds like Jesus, and then there’s moments where it sounds like it might just be a Davidic descendent.
Then there’s Ecclesiastes, which contains, and I paraphrase, a line that reads “Even if you’re a good steward and businessman who rules well, if your kid’s an idiot he’s going to lose it all the second he inherits, and all that hard work is meaningless.”
This drive-by message was brought to you by the resident church brat….
After our resurrection, might we simply resume our God-honoring callings right where we left off?
I hope not. I’m ready for something different.
Callings plural, though.
Whatever jobs and missions, all of them means of worship, God has awaiting, they will be something He’ll equip us to do, and something we will love doing.
I’d love to learn how to play and especially compose music. That’s something I simply have not had the time, or the talent, to even try to begin to develop in this age. But the desire is there, and who knows how many new gifts God will give us on New Earth?
“Given the multiple callings in which people can glorify God now, in much the same ways they would have if evil had never entered the world, I do take as axiomatic that we’ll be able to do many of these same tasks right on into the future ages.”
Totally agree with this! Except that many of our callings in this world involve directly combatting evil, disease, or disaster (for example, being a fireman or doctor), so in heaven those callings would have no place anymore. And because the Bible often refers to heaven as our “rest”, I’m inclined to think there won’t be work anymore there, either – at least not work as we know it. (Can anyone back me up on that? I feel like there’s a Scripture reference somewhere about heaven and work…maybe I’m wrong.)
“Only if the Bible says no, such-and-such will be fulfilled then, should we not anticipate that (and there’s at least one way we honor Him now that we can’t do then: human marriage).”
But human marriage WILL be fulfilled in heaven, because it is a picture of the church’s union with Christ! It will have its ultimate fulfillment there! Human marriage won’t *continue* in heaven, however…which is what you meant, Stephen, I know. 🙂
I still can’t use the blockquotes…every time I try, it makes my entire comment a quote…
Oh! I have a blog now: simmeringmind.com. 🙂 Please pop over and pay me a visit – I’d love to see any of you all! It’s a fairly new blog, so pardon its sparse state of infancy. 🙂
Good post and discussion. Some thoughts from a non-speculating Christian:
We don’t need to imagine much, because we’re actually told a lot, and we need to be careful with imagining. For one thing, though we’re in the process of being conformed to Christ’s image, our imaginations are still by nature limited, and because of what we did, broken. It’s like trying to imagine the Lord, our Jewish King–we can’t. We love Him without having seen Him and rejoice.
What’s it like on the New Earth surrounded by the New Heavens? It’s something entirely new, which we’ll experience with our new selves that will be like Him. We’ll still be limited, because we’re creatures, but we won’t be broken.
I kind of like the idea of space travel, but you know the New Earth inhabits space. We’re already traveling, moving with the swinging, singing spheres.
Our stories there? I hope so. It will be like a child’s greeting card handed to the Father. It seems best to think that His children’s loving offerings make Him happy. I know you all get that.
Good job, gang!
Just a quick comment on that part. Ultimately, the issue isn’t about “how do we think we best worship God,” but rather, what does the Scripture say about how God wants us to worship Him in the future? In the Garden, Adam and Eve worshiped Him through their work. In the present, even in a sinful world, we do very similar things (while always fighting sinful distractions and motivations!). And then, according to Scripture, we worship Him in many ways besides direct singing — by working, and by all manner of gifts (including the elements of Isaiah 60 and Rev. 21), all for Him, all for His glory.
Surely we will find many new and wonderful, unimagined ways of worship in the Kingdom, besides the ones we can imagine now. Yet regardless of exactly how it all works, it’s simply Scriptural that God is honored, and will be honored, by many different forms of worship besides direct singing around His throne.
On a personal note: Delving deeper into this, by the way, is the very reason I love visionary fiction even more today. Before, it held no purpose for me, and seemed only a distraction from the Truly Important Things. Shouldn’t we be about Jesus and not the things of the world? And yet the Things of the World only have as much power as our sinful hearts invest in them. Address the heart issue, empowered by the Spirit’s working-out of our salvation, and the worldly things grow strangely dim. His light changes our perspective. We are by no means free from the struggle to avoid worldliness — that is, becoming like this present sinful age, as the Bible means when it says avoid the world-type things. But we do see the world, not as an enemy, but a fallen staging ground with supplies, beauties, and other things, to be used for good or evil.
Well, that was supposed to be brief, especially after my wife and I stayed up too late enjoying God through a re-viewing of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (part of our now-annual The Lord of the Rings extended edition marathon every Christmas season). I hope this was helpful, and now I’m heading upstairs. Further up and further in!
Stephen, I’m not sure I see what you disagree with in the passage you quoted. I admit I don’t always catch transitions.
As I understand it, I was describing God’s power to give to us beyond anything we can possible grasp, and you were discussing “how do we think we best worship God.” It seems like we’re talking about two different things. I do think worshiping God will give us great pleasure, more than we can make sense of now, but I think that’s because when we see Jesus without the murkiness of the dark glass, we will love Him beyond any love we’ve known.
Think about pleasing your wife by giving her the perfect Christmas present (you ARE shopping for her before Christmas Eve, aren’t you? 😉 ), and then magnify that by a thousand, and I don’t think we’ll still be there in understanding what great joy we’ll have in Jesus. But, yes, that’s my speculation, though I think it’s consistent with the reaction of those recorded in Scripture who did interact with Him.
You went on to say
I think this is informative — that you previously had a division between Truly Important Things and the things of the world. Since the world is where we are, how could the Truly Important Things be uninvolved with the world? I hope you realize now that what you do here and now has ultimate significance, here and now! Yes, and in the future, but Stephen, we don’t need to wait for Heaven to make a difference. And the difference we make will absolutely be eternal, whether the means by which we did it last or not.
The blog posts you write, for example, if they cause one person to draw nearer to God, to see Him more nearly as He reveals Himself in Scripture, have significance now because of the change in that person’s life and in the future because of the glory it brings to Jesus’s name — and neither of those things is dependent upon a physical copy of your blog posts remaining with the person or following you to heaven.
In addition, you said
As I see it, addressing the heart issue happens only as we draw near to God, as we keep seeking the things above, as we fix our eyes on Jesus. I find it helpful to look at Colossians (sorry if I’m making you sick of hearing about that book 🙄 ) After Paul spends major chunks describing what Jesus is and what we have in Him, He gives that command to keep seeking things above, followed by “Set you minds on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.” But the whole rest of the chapter is ALL about the things on earth.
First are the negatives — we’re to consider our “earthly bodies as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed. Then we are to put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. We are to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts, to let the Word of Christ richly dwell within us, we are to put on love beyond all else. Then Paul gets specific — wives, husbands, children, fathers, slaves, masters. All of it is the stuff of this world, including “Whatever you do, do your work heartily as for the Lord rather than for men.”
Amazing, I think. Our focus on Christ makes all the “this world” stuff possible. As we know Him better, see Him more clearly, what we do here and now takes on a greater significance because we are offering it to Him right now, in real time.
I guess that’s why all the “what will it be like then” conversations seem like a distraction to me. I have work now, and I’ll let the then take care of itself when I get to heaven.
But for those who find it necessary to discuss the then, it seems to me, Christ should be at the center of it all. That’s Biblical, and that’s where we need to stay.
Hi! One comment, which I hope will be helpful, one defense, and then an attempt at some logic.
Perhaps we should be careful when sharing personal concerns. Esther, when one of us suffers, we all do, and it is crucial to remember this.
About Becky, who also belongs to the Lord and us: She is devoted to Jesus Christ and His Word. Let’s leave her with our warmest approval, unless we must confront her privately someday.
Intimacy means to know and be known by another.
Sexual intimacy (knowing) is one kind of intimacy (knowing).
This kind of intimacy (knowing) is forbidden outside of marriage.
Sexual intimacy isn’t the only kind of intimacy (knowing) in marriage. Another is a somewhat complete knowledge/enjoyment of our spouse as delightful, as a person, as our complement.
Marriage won’t exist after the resurrection; therefore, sexual intimacy (knowing) and its pleasure will not exist after the resurrection.
His Church, all we who trust Him, will be married to the Lamb, and enjoy a different kind of intimacy (knowing and being known) and joy, that will be perfect.
Jesus Christ never married. He suffered this kind of deprivation out of love for us, in order to accomplish what He did. Now, He isn’t deprived but glorified, exalted, perfectly joyful and happy, as He was before He became flesh. After the resurrection we will be like Him, for we will see Him as He is, we’re told. Nothing will mar our happiness (small word here).
Angels don’t marry. They are always referred to as he, therefore they have gender. The Lord explained that, after the resurrection, we will resemble the angels in this aspect of our existence, unmarried, but having gender.
Angels are called the sons of God. Some of the sons of God left their first, unmarried estate to cohabit with women, and are now bound and awaiting judgment.
Now, these aren’t things you don’t know—obviously, but sometimes when ideas fly around, their wings must be clipped, or at least they must be made to peacefully perch.
Yes, we use jargon at times. Christians aren’t alone in this failure. Usually, though, because the Lord is at work in us, we try to communicate the truth using the Truth’s own terms. We shouldn’t expect these to be intelligible to non-Christians. We’ve been warned that spiritual things will be nonsense to them.
Have a great Sunday!
I hope that this all made sense, and wish you more than a mere great Sunday.
Yes, it all made perfect sense to me, and I appreciate your comments, with one exception. I understand that Becky is a regular here and writes some articles. I also can appreciate that some here know her better than I do and can attest that she is regenerate.
However, it is a misapplication of Matthew 18 to ask us to confront her in private for words she has published publicly. And if Matthew 18 is to apply as you imply, then she should have “reproved” me (a guest to this site, I might add) privately first, and your remonstration should have been to her first.
And now, having sent this comment thread completely off course by my comments (by which I continue to stand until someone refutes them biblically) I will bow out–ahh, dear son-in-law, the painful dichotomy of lively comboxes vs. argumentative discussion–my gift to you. So sorry. Merry Christmas.
Esther, I may have to email you privately because I don’t know if you’re checking back here or not. To confront one way (privately in obedience to Matt. 18) or the other (publicly because I wrote publicly) would indicate you think I sinned against you. Is that what you believe? If so, please let me know.
If you think my rebuke was in error, then I think we must come to a point where we agree to see things differently from one another. If you think I shouldn’t rebuke another Christian, I’d disagree with that based on Scripture (see 2 Tim. 4:2, for example). If you think I did so in an unloving way, I am deeply sorry. As I said earlier, we don’t know each other so it’s easy to misread intentions and tone. I know when I write hurriedly, it can seem brusque — not what I want to communicate at all. But I am responsible for what I write, so if that’s what you believe — that I treated you in an unloving way — please forgive me.
You said that you thought I was offended. I was not offended by anything you said or by anything any of the other commenters said. (Though I admit it that I hate being misunderstood). Rather, I felt, and still do feel, that we as a group were talking in ways that were more influenced by our hedonistic culture than Scripture. Heaven will be about Jesus Christ and our exulting Him, yet our focus was on our own pleasures and hopes, as if our happiness is the central point of Heaven.
As to the scriptures you cited and the way you related them to the discussions, I wasn’t ignoring you. I simply don’t have time to take each, line by line, and give my understanding, whether in agreement or disagreement. In addition, I thought it was clear from the Colossians passages I quoted that those were illustrative of “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith” (Heb. 12:2, which you quoted). (By the way, I was in error when I credited that line to Paul in Colossians. In that book he said, “Keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” Col. 3:1, and I got the two tangled).
I have a little more to say about what Paul said in Colossians, but want to address it to Stephen in response to his comment.
God’s grace, Esther.
Esther, I hear you. Blessings of this happy time of year coming back to you!
My post was meant to tie down some of the essentials. And to show you that I empathize with you as my sister, and want to encourage Becky as my sister.
A last thought: our works will last, brothers and sisters, if they’ve been built with precious things, not trash. So we can all continue to do good building, and anticipate perfect joy.
Wow, I’m gone from Spec Faith for awhile and a regular firecracker heats up. I just have a few thoughts to contribute, though I’m not sure I’ll have time to come back and address any replies.
Point 1: Stephen, thanks for this series. I think the way you began it, in addressing the idea that if something is wrong, it’s wrong now (not just in Heaven), was a great way to start us thinking, and to focus our attention in why we place such a value on a thing (in this case, a less physical thing: fiction). For a depiction of how our works/vocations/callings might carry over into a more perfect world, I direct everyone to the excellent Lamb Among the Stars series by Chris Walley. Of all descriptions of heaven, I liked his best.
Point 2: I think it goes without saying that most of us here are concerned with honoring God. It’s true that we live in a (cue 80s music) “material world,” and that we have a proud Western heritage of indulgence. We are often too focused in church on how things look rather than how we worship. All that being said, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wondering if I’ll still get to enjoy some of my favorite comforts in Heaven. Speculating, as it were. I think it becomes a problem when people become more concerned with that than the pleasure of enjoying the company of God (ie, the “how-big-will-my-mansion-be” mentality). But amongst friends, I don’t mind admitting I’d like to have a book or two in eternity. As I said in Point 1, I think Stephen grounded the discussion nicely in his earlier posts by pointing out the problems of the materialist mindset.
Point 3: I get where everyone’s coming from in the reply Jesus gave to the Sadducees, and thanks Maria for some excellent logic, though I’d like to quibble on something: I don’t know that the use of the male pronoun necessarily tells us anything about angels (any more than assuming God is a “he”). But hey, I’ve never thought worrying too much about angels to be much good anyway, and I’m willing to accept whatever God has to say on that subject (as well as everything else) when the time comes. My limited thoughts on the whole imtimacy-in-heaven thing is just this: in the beginning, God created the world and everything in it. He called it good. It was perfect. God created male and female on purpose, and called it good. He told them (before sin and the Fall) to go forth and multiply. Sex is not and never was evil, so the idea that it’s going to go the way of the world’s impurities seems dubious to me (why create us that way in the first place?) Don’t really know the answer. Just my two cents.
Point 4: Internet conversations are hard to have, since we have to rely strictly on faceless text that may have taken us days to write or only a few seconds. I have many times read a comment and felt an emotional response, only to go back later, read the same comment, and experience a different emotional response (reminds me of Elizabeth Bennet’s differing respones to Mr. Darcy’s letter). I’ve always been a “discretion is the better part of valor” kind of person and so I usually keep my head down when things get heated, but that’s my personality, not necessarily a virtue. It’s good to have people who both feel strongly about their beliefs and are willing to stick up for them, especially when it’s something as important as our Faith. One thing I think we always have to keep in mind, though, is that we are brothers and sisters. There are some very vital points of doctrine that call us apart; beyond that, though, I think we have to accept in this imperfect world that sometimes we as fellow Christians will disagree. Like Paul and Barnabas, though, God will hopefully use any such disagreements to the advacement of His kingdom.
Michelle, what a thoughtful response! You may have opened another can of worms in it, however. Anyway, it’s nice to have you here again. God bless you!