Monday, July 6, 2009

Titanic's view of heaven hits an iceberg

"It was reassuring to know the person who had fixed it was still on the aeroplane. What are the odds of something like that happening?"

I read an interesting story that reminded me of a theme that plays out in the Bible from beginning to end. A plane heading back to Manchester, England was going to be stranded in Menorca because of a lack of a mechanic to fix a problem, when it was found a mechanic was a passenger on board returning from his holiday. He came forward, fixed the plane and all was well. There was an extra measure of trust because he was with them on the plane!

Ever wonder what is up with all the intricate laws in the Old Testament? In the midst of the very specific instructions on what the furniture should be like (dimensions of the altar, what basin should be used for washing, what proportions of different incense to be burned, etc.) in the place where Israel worshipped the LORD, there is an explanation of what all the fuss is about. The purpose of the Law is to show how an unholy people can dwell with a holy God, and so in the middle of the instructions, the LORD says, "I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the LORD their God." (Exodus 29. 45,46).

Every human being's experience bears out the effect of the Law, which is to turn up the volume on our awareness of our inability to keep it. But if the Law is so rough on us (it condemns us because we don't keep it), why does the Old Testament constantly describe love for the Law? Because they know that God gave it so that He might dwell with his people. Good news!

The prologue to John's Gospel shows that the great cosmic solution for the breach between the Creator and the creature would come from God himself. "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth." (John 1. 14). When Jesus later explains what his death will accomplish, he speaks in terms of his people dwelling with him: "In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also." (John 14.2,3).

The final scene of the Bible has this in place, as everything reaches its culmination in the new heaven and new earth: "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." (Revelation 21.3,4).

So that puts God firmly at the center of reality, not you and me and what we want heaven to be like. It's not like the Titanic ending, where everything is about Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio's characters having their best day -- the Authoress helpfully pointed out to me -- what about the guy who is a busboy forever -- what if that is not his best day? -- then the center of the universe really is about Kate and Leo's kiss, or it's an illusion). No, heaven is not about you and me and our wants, but about dwelling with God. And at his right hand, as Psalm 16 puts it, there are pleasures evermore.

That concludes our theologically deep post for the week...

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