Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Seeing Beyond the End of the World

“For now they saw something not only behind the wave but behind the sun. They could not have seen even the sun if their eyes had not been strengthened by the water of the Last Sea. But now they could look at the rising sun and see it clearly and see things beyond it. What they saw—eastward, beyond the sun—was a range of mountains. It was so high that either they never saw the top of it or they forgot it. None of them remembers seeing any sky in that direction. And the mountains must really have been outside the world. For any mountains even a quarter of a twentieth of that height ought to have had ice and snow on them. But these were warm and green and full of forests and waterfalls however high you looked. And suddenly there came a breeze from the east, tossing the top of the wave into foamy shapes and ruffling the smooth water all round them. It lasted only a second or so but what it brought them in that second none of those three children will ever forget. It brought both a smell and a sound, a musical sound. Edmund and Eustace would never talk about it afterward. Lucy could only say, It would break your heart.” “Why,” said I, was it so sad?” “Sad!! No,” said Lucy. No one in that boat doubted that they were seeing beyond the End of the World into Aslan’s country.” —C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Some years ago, Carolyn and I were flying to a pastors' conference in a mountain community in northern Idaho with that rare, old saint, Dr. Oswald Sanders. We were in a small plane and sitting knee to knee with Dr. Sanders, watching him scribble on a yellow legal pad.

"What are you doing?" I asked. "Writing about my next destination," he said. "Which is?"  I prompted. "Heaven," he replied with an impish grin. A few months later he reached his final destination and the notes he made that day found their way into a book entitled, Heaven, Better by Far (Discovery House Publishers).

Since I'm now much closer to the end of my life than it's beginning I too am beginning to wonder about my "next destination" and what awaits me there. In his dialogue Phaedo Plato gives us Socrates’ last words shortly before he drank the hemlock cup:Perhaps it most becoming for one who is about to travel there (beyond this world), to inquire and speculate about the journey thither, what kind we think it is.” What follows thus, in this E-musing and others to come, are some of the thoughts that have gone up my mind,” as Emily Dickinson would say, an inquiry and speculation about the journey thither, what kind I think it is.

I must admit it is difficult to write about Heaven.[1] The problem is twofold: (1) We have very little biblical data to draw on. The Bible tells us only a few things beyond the unambiguous assurance that Heaven exists. Other than that assertion we have only tantalizing hints and intimations. We must be content to see only a picture of it—a sort of vision of it—and only while you seem to be asleep,” George MacDonald said.

(2) Furthermore, we human beings have no categories to describe Heaven; human thought and language are inadequate to depict its majesty and joy. For that reason no Biblical writer, not even Paul who visited Heaven, supplies a literal description, for we could never grasp it. On the occasion that Paul reported his visit to Heaven words failed him. He saw things he could not describe (2 Corinthians 12:3,4).[2]

However, God, wholly aware of our limitations, has disclosed divine truth in forms we can grasp. The biblical writers use metaphors and draw analogies from things we know. Each of these symbols reveals some aspect of the greater reality to which they point. They are, however, at best, imperfect reflections. The danger lies in pressing these analogies beyond their limits and making them the reality they represent.

When we read about Heaven in scripture, therefore, we must not think that Heaven is "this"; it is rather "like this." That's the best we can do, although I do think it is entirely appropriate to use our God-given imagination to reflect on the implications of these analogies. When guided by revelation imagination can wake up thoughts and feelings within us that mere facts cannot do.  

There’s danger in using our imagination of course. We can go too far, like Charles William’s character, Lilly, who not only could tell you your future; she could make one up for you.” It is my hope, however, that these thoughts will not go beyond what is written,” but will be based on the facts of God’s word and used by His Spirit to evoke in us a longing for the magnificent future God has in store for us” (Romans 8:18, J.B. Phillips, New Testament in Modern English.)

David Roper
October 26, 2016

[1] In recent years authors have fallen into practice of writing the word Heaven” with a lower case h,” as though it’s a common noun like “sky.” But it seems to me that the word should be capitalized because it’s a proper noun and refers to a unique entity like Boston or Boise.
[2] Paul “heard things that cannot be told, which one is not able to speak.  The Greek word he uses, éxestin, means “to have the power,” and does not mean that it’s inappropriate to speak of Heaven, but rather that it’s impossible to do so.

1 comment:

Dieter Schlaepfer said...

Yes, very nicely put!

Another scripture that caught my attention is Luke 16:10-12:

"Anyone who can be trusted in little matters can also be trusted in important matters. But anyone who is dishonest in little matters will be dishonest in important matters. If you cannot be trusted with this wicked wealth, who will trust you with true wealth? And if you cannot be trusted with what belongs to someone else, who will give you something that will be your own?” (CEV)

So the wealth of this world is corrupt, but there exists true wealth, and the profound issue of whether one can be trusted. This is a clear indication from the mouth of Jesus that this world is a test, a simulation. In other words, our universe is not unlike those fantasy worlds created in popular video games!

It’s interesting to note that some theoretical physicists have concluded from the role that human observation plays in quantum mechanics, that there’s about a 60% chance that the universe is a simulation. Here are some quotes from some renowned physicists:

"As a man who has devoted his whole life to the most clear headed science, to the study of matter, I can tell you as a result of my research about atoms this much: There is no matter as such. All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particle of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together. We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of all matter." – Max Planck

"Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it." – Niels Bohr

“Reality is in the observations, not in the electron.” – Paul Davies

"It was not possible to formulate the laws of quantum mechanics in a fully consistent way without reference to consciousness." – Eugene Wigner

“We have become participators in the existence of the universe. We have no right to say that the past exists independent of the act of observation.” – John Wheeler,

“There must exist some reality outside of space-time.” – Nicolas Gisin

It would not be unreasonable by scientific standards to believe that we currently exist in a mathematical construct analogous to a multidimensional spreadsheet, that our consciousness transcends this construct, and that there’s an intelligent mind, purpose, and eternal consequences from our actions here.

That the ultimate reality—Heaven—should differ profoundly from our present reality, defying any description is not at all surprising. In the words of Helen Limmel’s famous hymn,

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

Kind regards,

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