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Monday, November 30, 2015

What Will We Do In Heaven?

“Surely both intellect and love are waiting for us there” —From "The Wow O'Riven" —George MacDonald.

What do people do in hell? Nothing. It’s the most boring place in the universe. Imagine, if you can, a world without God—without beauty, without love, without laughter. Nothing to live for, or die for… forever.

What do people do in Heaven? Everything! Our loftiest hopes and dreams will be realized! “In heaven, whatever delights you now is there in superabundance,” Aquinas said.

Personally, I’ve never taken much to the idea that we’ll float about on gossamer clouds and strum our harps all day. Those activities don’t interest me now; why would I find pleasure in them in Heaven? No, I think we’ll have more significant and satisfying things to do.

Carolyn thinks we’ll spend endless days in conversation with others about things that really matter and everyone will be taken seriously. Heart will meet heart and space and time will be forgotten, “and,” she adds with a sly grin, “men will have as many words as women do.” 
C.S. Lewis thought we might be given a portion of the universe to rule, but frankly, I’m tired of running things. I’d rather spend my time exploring—moving through tine and space with the speed of thought, mapping the outer regions of the cosmos. Most stars these days are given only numbers; someday I may give them names. G.K. Chesterton thought that God is still in the business of creation. Perhaps He, “moved by tenderness sublime, will unfold new worlds, that I, his child, might see.”
I’ve been an outdoorsman all my life, but no longer. I can’t climb and trek and do the things I used to do. But this is not forever: A few more years of frailty and then strength and endless days to explore the universe that God is making! Our stories do not end in this world: One day we shall “change the feet that have grown weary for the wings that never will.” 
And we will love. Love is our business now; why not in heaven? It’s the very best thing we can do in this life and the one thing that will fascinate us forever. We shall love beyond earthly existence, beyond death, for love is eternal. Faith will become sight and hope will become realization, but love will never end! (1 Corinthians 13:8). We shall love and be loved forever
Who could ask for anything more?

David Roper
11/30/15
Forgiven

“My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. But if [1] anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” —1 John 2:2

Carolyn reminded me this morning of a mutual friend who used to come home from work, walk through the front door and shout, “You’re forgiven!”

It wasn’t that family members had wronged him and needed his forgiveness. He was reminding them that though they had doubtless sinned throughout the day, they were, by God’s grace, fully forgiven.

Psalm 119 comes to mind, a poem in which the psalmist insists that he loves God and loves His word. Then I read the very last verse of the psalm, a text reminiscent of Jesus’ parable about a lost sheep:

I have gone astray like a lost sheep;
Seek Your servant... (119:176)

A man of God who has gone astray?

Then I thought of the tax collector in the temple who also characterized himself as a “lost sheep” and cried out for mercy, in contrast to the Pharisee who had it all together. Jesus said this man (the tax collector, not the self—righteous Pharisee) went home justified (Luke 18:9-14). 

John supplies this grace note: ”If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son continually cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin (no inclination to sin), we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:7-9).

"Walking in the light" is a metaphor for our efforts to follow Jesus in the path of obedience. Obedience, John insists, is the sign that we have joined with the Apostles in the fellowship of faith. We are authentic Christians.

But, he continues, let’s not kid ourselves: We will go astray. Nevertheless, grace is given in full measure: We can take what forgiveness we need.

Not perfect; just forgiven! That’s my mantra for today.

David Roper
11/30/15




[1] The Greek conditional clause suggests inevitability

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Bro Job

Beginning in January of this year, trouble began falling on me like bricks tumbling out of a dump truck one after another.  I won't bore you with the details except to say that I've had nine months of pain and aggravation and now enjoy a certain kinship with Brother Job.

Job is one of my patron saints. I see him—a man bereaved, humiliated and stripped of all this life has to offer; his skin is blistered and festering and his nerves are on fire. I ask, "How will this best of all men respond?" "What great truth can I learn from him?"

"After this Job opened his mouth and cursed..." (Job 3:3)

Job is my kind of man.

I haven't always thought that way. I stand in a long tradition that confused the Christian virtue of endurance with the pagan ethic of stoicism. I was taught to curb my emotions, or at least the outward expression of them, and to never complain. Ours was the virtue of the stiff upper lip. It's little wonder that I never took well to Job, his overmastering sorrow, his angry outbursts of frustration. Job was a whiner.

I've been told that stoicism found it's way into Western thought via the Renaissance and the notion that reason must override passion, but the Renaissance is not our mother. We go back to an older, richer, inspired tradition: The lament psalms in which Israel's poets pour out their emotions with groans and loud complaints.

Biblical endurance, the chief virtue in times of testing, is something quite different from stoicism. It has to do with steadfast trust in God's goodness and love despite all counter-indications, but it says nothing about our emotional state while doing so.

Job is no Stoic, striving to be pure mind with no passion. Job's was not the strength of stones or of bronze (6:14). The man is an emotional wreck. The Lord’s testing is not to find out if Job can sit unmoved like a block of wood, but will he continue to hope in God despite his suffering and the emotional turmoil that surrounded it.

The example of Jesus should forever silence those who criticize emotional outbursts and consider them to be sinful or signs of immaturity: ”In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears..." (Hebrews 5:7)

Jesus experienced the whole range of human emotions, yet he did not sin. His strongest desire, even in agony, was to surrender himself wholly to his Father.

We are drawn by our suffering to that same point of giving in to our Lord. Going through a wrestling match with God is not an indication of spiritual weakness, but of the intensity of our desire for wholeness. We have a God who lets us be angry at him and accepts our emotional pain as his own. It's okay to fume and fret o'er our troubles; okay to wish they were gone.

What I long for, pray for, therefore, is not bland, vapid, phlegmatic calm, but absolute and undoubting confidence in the love of God in the face of all my troubles—and someday to say with Job, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust him."

David Roper
11/22/15


Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Where is Heaven?

Now suppose youre Paul, good at mixing your metaphors, and you try to say all those things at once within the biblical cosmology, which uses upstairs/downstairs language for heaven and earth, even though the writers know perfectly well that heaven is not a location in our space-time universe but rather a different kind of space that intersects with ours in complex and interesting ways.” —N.T. Wright

Recently Carolyn and I watched a movie in which two men were arguing about Timbuktu. One thought it was a “made up place”; the other insisted it was a real city, but neither man knew where it was.

So it is with Heaven. It resides in our thoughts like Timbuktu, Kuala Lumpur or Katmandu—far-away places with strange sounding names —a real place

But, where is it?

In ancient times when people spoke of Heaven they pointed up at the sky. Heaven was “up there,” way beyond the blue. But what if Heaven is not up there somewhere, but everywhere?

Studies in quantum mechanics support that thesis: Physicists argue that there must be an unobservable, parallel universe lying in and around our own. The theory is so weird and counter-intuitive that nobody understands it, but it’s the only hypothesis that fully accounts for physical phenomena, as we know it.[1] Could it be that this “unobservable, parallel universe lying in and around our own” is Heaven?

Consider the varied “appearances” of Jesus after His resurrection: In every instance he did not descend from Heaven but simply “appeared”…and then “disappeared,” or to quote Luke exactly, “became invisible” (Luke 24:31; 24:36). On the Mount of Transfiguration, while Jesus was talking to the Apostles, Moses and Elijah, long-time citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, suddenly “appeared” (Matthew 17:1-9). As Stephan was dying he saw Heaven “standing open” (Acts 7:56). In each case Heaven and all its citizens, though invisible, seems to be, well…next door.[2]

But, you ask, is there a point to this wondering? Indeed. Faith tells me that I’m not alone in the little study in which I write. The room is crammed with Heaven—Jesus, reaching out to me in lovingkindness and compassion; legions of angels watching over me;[3] and perhaps my family and friends that have gone on before me,[4] cheering me on, watching in anticipation when I’m tempted, bursting into applause on those occasions when the world, the flesh and the devil go down in defeat. I cannot see these heavenly helpers but surely they are there.

Faith is the means by which we gain access to this invisible world. It “gives substance to things that are not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). It is, to the spiritual realm, what the five senses are to the natural: the means by which we grasp spiritual reality and bring it into the realm of our experience.

G. K. Chesterton was once asked by a reporter what he would say if Jesus were standing beside him. He is,” Chesterton replied with calm assurance.

David Roper
November 4, 2015


[1] See Brian Greene’s The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos.
[2] Additionally, there is the story of Elisha and his servant in the city of Dothan (2 Kings 6). Surrounded by a massive Assyrian army, Elisha insists that there was a greater force on their side. Elisha’s servant eyes were opened and he “saw that the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around”—an angelic army of inestimable size, present, but invisible to human eyes.
[3] Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation” (Hebrews 1:13)
[4]Can our loved ones in heaven see us? I answer, “Why not?” Angels are watching the story of redemption unfold (1Peter 1:12). Why not the saints? Is there any compelling reason why they shouldn’t, or wouldn’t want to see how their loved ones are faring?