Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A World of Love

A couple of weeks ago I received the following query from a dear, Christian reader:
Can you enlighten me on afterlife? Will our bodies look the same but without defects? Jesus scars were shown so am wondering. Will our relationships with the ones we knew in earthly life be as brothers and sisters in Christ or what. I know there were be no marriages, etc. but not sure about what the relationships will be like. Thanks for any info and references to back it up.

Her questions are quite common. We all wonder about existence after death, and the Bible gives us much information to contemplate.

What follows is my reply to these questions. May God add His blessing to your reading.

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Let’s begin with the “London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689.” I think you will find its teaching and multiple Bible verses quite helpful.

CHAPTER 31; OF THE STATE OF MAN AFTER DEATH, AND OF THE RESURRECTION OF THE DEAD

Paragraph 1. The bodies of men after death return to dust, and see corruption;1 but their souls, which neither die nor sleep, having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them.2 The souls of the righteous being then made perfect in holiness, are received into paradise, where they are with Christ, and behold the face of God in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies;3 and the souls of the wicked are cast into hell; where they remain in torment and utter darkness, reserved to the judgment of the great day;4 besides these two places, for souls separated from their bodies, the Scripture acknowledgeth none.
1 Gen. 3:19; Acts 13:36
2 Eccles. 12:7
3 Luke 23:43; 2 Cor. 5:1,6,8; Phil. 1:23; Heb. 12:23
4 Jude 6, 7; 1 Peter 3:19; Luke 16:23,24

Paragraph 2. At the last day, such of the saints as are found alive, shall not sleep, but be changed;5 and all the dead shall be raised up with the selfsame bodies, and none other;6 although with different qualities, which shall be united again to their souls forever.7
5 1 Cor. 15:51,52; 1 Thess. 4:17
6 Job 19:26,27
7 1 Cor. 15:42,43

Paragraph 3. The bodies of the unjust shall, by the power of Christ, be raised to dishonour; the bodies of the just, by his Spirit, unto honour, and be made conformable to his own glorious body.8
8 Acts 24:15; John 5:28,29; Phil. 3:21

Against this backdrop of scripture and the confession, let us proceed to address your specific questions. It does seem that our bodies will look the same but without the effects of sin upon them. As Paul teaches, what we sow in death we do not reap in life. That is, we sow in death the physical, natural body and we reap in resurrected life the physical, glorified body (1Cor 15:37-38).

Thus, the body of Jesus, which was placed in the tomb, is the same body which came out of the tomb—but glorified. It was the same—but different! Hence, in the resurrection of the dead we see both continuity and discontinuity (the physical natural has been transformed into the physical glorified).

Indeed, we see Jesus’ scars in His physical, glorified body. However, I would not read too much into this. His scars have an eternally unique purpose and meaning, whereas our scars do not. Suffice it to say, and I repeat, I think our bodies will look the same but without the effects of sin.

As for our relations in heaven and how they compare to our relations now: I find it helpful to think of heaven as more, not less; superior, not inferior. In heaven, our relations—like our bodies—will no longer be plagued by the effects of sin. Our best relations now will pale in comparison to our relations then. I will not be in a marital relationship with Shelly, per se; yet I will know her for who she is and she will know me for who I am.

We will not lose our personhood or individuality, only our sin. We will know better and more intimately. So, we will know our relations then, as now, but far better. Therefore, I think we will know our spouses for who they were and are; we will know our parents for who they were and are, etc.

(Think of the tragedy of Alzheimer’s disease. Those who suffer from it no longer know their relations, and consequently they no longer know themselves. To lose the knowledge or awareness of all our relations is to lose the knowledge and awareness of ourselves. Heaven is the OPPOSITE of this.)

C.S. Lewis likens the unimaginable superiority of heaven to earth to a baby who has his baby-food taken from him. The baby can’t imagine anything being better than his baby-food until he has his first bite of real food. Once he experiences the taste explosion of real food, he’ll never again be satisfied with baby-food.

That’s how I think of heaven. Though I can’t imagine anything better than loving and being loved by my family now, in heaven these relations will be elevated to such a degree that our joys on earth cannot even begin to compare. And so, we and those we love in Christ, along with the saints of all the ages, will—as human individuals—bask together in the glory of our Christ forever and ever. To God be the glory. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

American Gladiators

It was the Christian gospel that finally put an end to the horrid games in the amphitheaters. The butcheries of the arena were stopped by Christian emperors. In 326 Constantine effectively dried up the main source of supply of gladiators when he issued a decree that forbad the condemnation of criminals to the beast. By the end of the century, gladiatorial games ceased to exist in the East; and in 404 Honorius issued an edict forbidding gladiatorial combat in the West. (John McRay, Archaeology & the New Testament, 62-63).

"There is scarcely," says a liberal historian of moral progress, "any other single reform so important in the moral history of mankind as the suppression of the gladiatorial shows, and this feat must be almost exclusively ascribed to the Christian church."
Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Under: "Christian Life in Contrast with Pagan Corruption".

When I speak of “American Gladiators” I certainly do not mean to imply that the U.S. citizenry sanctions or enjoys anything even close to the gladiatorial “games” of ancient Rome. Ours is a violent culture to be sure, but the residue of the Christian faith in America, and in all of the West really, prevents such public displays of wanton cruelty.

No, American gladiators are not the gladiators of old. But is the church the church of old? It is clear that the ancient church swam against the tide of ancient culture in regards to cruelty for sport; but what of the contemporary Christian and the contemporary culture of violence?

Jesus Didn’t Tap.

That’s the name of an MMA (mixed martial arts) clothing line and if you are confused about its meaning, the clothing line’s Facebook page explains it.

“In the sport of Mixed Martial Arts, to ‘tap’ is to quit or give up. The message of the Jesus Didn’t Tap line is that Jesus didn’t quit after going through unimaginable suffering and pain when he was crucified on the cross. The group aims to represent both the competitiveness of MMA and honoring God in all of their designs and hopes it will help spread the Christian message of salvation to a whole new audience.”

A New York Times article in February about Christians who are involved in MMA, said several pastors “put the number of churches taking up mixed martial arts at roughly 700 of an estimated 115,000 white evangelical churches in America.” The article went on to say that churches are using MMA to attract men, ages 18 to 34, who are absent from churches.

Is the church in the West predominantly influencing or being influenced by society? Granted, it’s never entirely a matter of “either/or” when it comes to church and culture. The church is always and unavoidably influenced by culture [even the Amish].

Even the nascent church was culturally influenced [hence, the culturally relevant preaching, parables, and analogies and the writing of the New Testament itself in Koine or common Greek]. So I’m not trying to suggest something as wildly impossible as a church being uninfluenced by culture.

But I am asking: Is the contemporary church meaningfully influencing culture, specifically, the culture of violence? Or, are we simply floating along with cultural tides? Perhaps you have no interest whatsoever in MMA, or UFC, etc. but what about violent movies, television programs, and music? I say again, America is not where ancient Rome was, but are we drifting there? Is our appetite for violence growing?

Here’s another violent venue to consider—and it hits awfully close to home for me and a lot of other folks I know: football. With the recent suicide of the popular, Junior Seau, and the ongoing saga of the Saints putting “bounties” on their opponents, the NFL is coming under increased scrutiny.

The national question is this: What is happening to the brains of football players? These men are damaging themselves and others—and for what? Well, for loads of money for one thing.

But why is there so much money in the sport of football? Because football entertains us. We love it. I enjoy watching it. When my kids were younger I loved playing football with them. This is not a sermon on the evils of football.

I’m just asking you to contemplate with me what is the biblical response to this increasingly violent [though the equipment is better and rules are changing…the athletes are much bigger, stronger, and faster] entertainment? We’re coming to realize more and more that these gridiron gladiators who perform for our amusement are paying an awfully high price.

I, along with others, am asking: What is the Christian thing to do? [Indeed, this may be a conscience issue and thus I should ask: What is a Christian thing to do rather than the Christian thing to do.]

Football and the gladiator games are, of course different. The goal of the gladiator was often to kill or maim. And all for the entertainment of the spectator.

Football is different, of course…the goal is to score more points than the other team (as John Madden will tell you), not to literally kill them. Brain injuries, memory loss, and sometimes death are by-products. And yet, they seem not to be merely accidental, but rather inextricably tied to the sport. The growing trend of brain-damaged players experiencing serious symptoms and even early death is alarming.

To be sure, football is not played in order to inflict brain damage. And we certainly don’t watch football in order to see people get brain damaged. But does there come a point where the harm the sport inflicts, intentionally or not, outweighs the merits of watching it?

The consequences of playing football, it’s becoming increasingly clear, can be quite serious. Deadly, even.

We’d do well to at least begin to probe what the consequences of watching it might be.

So, Christian friends, Are you ready for some football?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Why, God?

I received the following correspondence from a dear brother in Christ who faced—years ago--the untimely death of his wife. His anguish then and his questions now are common to us all when tragedy strikes. We want to make sense of what seems to be senseless pain. Even those who are blessed with extraordinary faith cannot avoid the natural desire to understand. We want to know.

What’s the first question on the lips of any child: Why

Why?” is part of the human condition. I remember watching a sitcom and one of the characters bemoans to God: “You made me smart enough to have the questions but not the answers!”

But God has given us answers, hasn’t He? The answers aren’t to be found within, but without. Only when we look beyond ourselves and to the Christ of scripture can we begin make sense of our suffering. Ultimately, “why?” must be seen through the lens of scripture and with an eye to the goodness and providence of God.

My friend’s words are bold and italicized. May God add His blessing to your reading.

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When my wife died, to say it was a shock is an understatement. Like most people, we think we always have to have a reason and that just isn't so....at least I don't think so. But some of the things that were said to my kids….hurt them deeply. I finally realized that we need to be very careful of what we tell people when they lose a loved one…
If an airplane crashes and kills all 300 people aboard, is it God who gathered them all on the same flight because it was their time? What about 9/11? Did He gather over 3,000 people to the Twin Towers because it was their time? I have a tough time with that and I guess I want your thoughts…

Clichés and trite statements rarely help and frequently hurt in such situations. It's better to turn to scripture.

A couple of things come immediately to mind. 1) We should not presume to speak for God or to know His mind apart from scripture. It's not our place to say "why" God does what He does. 2) In scripture, God feels no compulsion to "answer to" or "explain Himself" to man [c.f. Job].

"The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us...It is the glory of God to conceal a matter" (Deut 29:29; Prov 25:2). God does not answer to us, we answer to Him [again, the book of Job is clear about this].

Also, we must understand that there is a difference between truth and comfort. Truth isn't always comforting! Too many times people are searching for comfort--not Truth. And, too many times we as Christians are more concerned with helping folks "feel better" than telling them Truth in love.

C.S. Lewis once remarked that if we look for Truth we will find it and maybe, in the end, we'll also find comfort. But, if we look only for comfort, in the end, we are likely to find neither comfort nor truth. I think he's right.

As for God's providence and death: Jesus is clear that God's providence [control, directing, governing] extends to the smallest of details. "Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will" (Matthew 10:29). Thus, not even a sparrow can die apart from God's will/plan/ordination.

Here are a few verses which speak of God's providence and human death:

"And you have lifted yourself up against the Lord of heaven...and the God who holds your breath in His hand and owns all your ways, you have not glorified" (Dan 5:23).

"Since his days are determined, The number of his months is with You;You have appointed his limits, so that he cannot pass" (Job 14:5).

"Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, The days fashioned for me, When as yet there were none of them" (Psalm 139:16).

"The Lord kills and makes alive; He brings down to the grave and brings up" (1Samuel 2:6).

Now, our Lord Himself was basically asked: Why did these people die? We find this exchange in Luke 13:1-5. The people mention worshipers who were murdered as they were offering sacrifices (v.1). Jesus Himself mentions 18 people who were killed when a tower fell on them (v.4).

Please notice: Jesus never once tells "why" God did this. Rather, He makes one minor and one major point. Minor point: The people who were killed were NOT worse sinners than those who were spared. Major point: "Unless you repent you will all likewise perish" (vss. 3, 5).

The point is, friend, according to Jesus, when tragedy strikes we are not to question God's will or purpose or goodness. Rather, we should take to heart that we've been spared. We should acknowledge God's mercy in preserving our lives. We should act upon God's mercy and repent of our sins.

Personal/national tragedies will harden the hearts of some, but they will soften the hearts of others. Personal/national tragedies are not times to question or doubt God--these are times to question or examine ourselves.

We can provide questioners with biblical Truth. We can show them in scripture the providence and goodness of God. But we should not go beyond the warrant of scripture in trying to give people clichés or the mind of God; because when we do this, we are guilty of presumption and we will miss--in the end--both Truth and comfort.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

You Might Be an Atheist If...


Below are epithets--hurled against yours truly--from a condescending, angry atheist. [Really now…is there any other kind?]

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Please tell me you're better than this…. You don't seem stupid …you need to check your words because you're dangerously close to becoming a typical online christian [sic] jerk….

You're salivating over ‘atheism is not based on reason’, aren't you…please take extra care in your next response. I've already given your pedantry more time than I usually do…

Why is it christians [sic] have to resort to lying to make their points…you've proven yourself to be just another Little Liar for Jesus, stooping to any tactic necessary to try and make yourself look good….

Maybe one day, when you're older, we'll be able to have a real conversation.”
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(For further evidence of abusive atheists see:
http://revtheruminator.blogspot.com/2012/02/there-is-no-god-i-hate-him.html)

At any rate, after last week’s little ray of atheist sunshine…I am inspired! And now, for your reading pleasure I present to you: “You Might Be an Atheist If…

You Might Be an Atheist If…

If all you know of the Bible you learned from Richard Dawkins…you might be an atheist.

If you despise the “god of the gaps” but have no problem with missing links…you might be an atheist.

If you deny moral absolutes and are absolutely outraged by biblical ethics…you might be an atheist.

If the statement, “Dead atheists are all dressed up with nowhere to go” offends you…you might be an atheist.

If “Hitler was a Christian! End of discussion.” is your trump card…you might be an atheist.

If you think human beings are really nothing more than big-brained predators, except for your mom…you might be an atheist. [And yes. I had a guy make this very argument.]

If your knowledge of church history begins and ends with the Spanish Inquisition…you might be an atheist.

If you can’t stand “Intelligent Design” but can’t help admiring your own intellect…you might be an atheist.

If you think Jesus Christ was a backward peasant and Stephen Hawking is God’s gift to the world…you might be an atheist.

If you love Darwin and hate racism…you might be an atheist.

If you believe religion is the opium of the masses but could drink a living Christopher Hitchens under the table…you might be an atheist.

If you can’t appreciate the irony of, “There is no God and I hate Him!”…you might be an atheist.

If you’re just a bag of chemicals living in a mindless universe and think believing in God is irrational…you might be an atheist.

If you feel religion is bad for humanity but population control is good for people…you might be an atheist.

If you know morality is only herd instinct and there’s no God because of all the evil in the world…you might be an atheist.

If you think the New Testament is myth and “'On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life,” is your Bible—and you’ve read neither…you might be an atheist.