I have two items in my write-up about church this morning.
A. We sang a song that we sang last week, “Heart Won’t Stop.” The song appears to be based on Romans 8:38-39: “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (KJV).
The part of the song that stood out to me said:
“There is not an angel of the stars.
“There is not a devil in the dark,
“Oh, nothing that could change the way You are,
“The love You have for me.”
But why would an angel of the stars want to change the way that God is, the love that God has for me? Angels are the good guys, right? Hebrews 1:14 calls them “ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation” (KJV).
Of course, one can ask about other things on Paul’s list. Paul says that no other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ. The song states that “There is not a man or a beast, nothing on the land or underneath, oh, nothing that could ever come between the love You have for me.” But why would a beast want to come in between the love that God has for me? A beast wouldn’t care one way or the other, right?
One could say that Paul, and the song, are expressing a merism: their point is that nobody or nothing, ever, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord. One could say that I am being too literal.
Perhaps. But maybe Paul was mentioning what he was mentioning for a reason. Why would one conclude that a beast would be able to separate one from the love of God? Christians had to fight wild beasts in the arena. Paul himself says in I Corinthians 15:32 that he fought beasts at Ephesus. Paul’s point in mentioning beasts in Romans 8:39 could be that, even if a Christian has to fight with wild animals and ends up scarred or dead, that person has not been separated from the love of God in Christ. Death, and not even the perils of life, can separate us from the love of God.
Why would Paul mention angels or principalities? I have been continuing my reading of Charleworth’s Pseudepigrapha. I recently finished the Apocalypse of Adam, which has Gnostic elements. I then started the Apocalypse of Elijah, which is not Gnostic and which actually honors the creator God rather than portraying him as a sub-deity trying to hold people back. Both books are rather critical of heavenly powers. Such a theme does seem to go back to the Bible. Isaiah 24:21 affirms that God will punish the high ones on high. Ephesians 6:12 states that our battle is against wickedness in the heavenlies.
One could be tempted to conclude that these heavenly beings are demons. Not necessarily, or at least not according to one ancient source. Testament of Solomon 20:11-17 seems to distinguish the principalities and authorities, who are worthy to enter heaven, from the demons, who are not. Still, the demons appear to fall from heaven, so maybe they at one time were principalities and powers. There are spirit beings in the underworld, according to Revelation 9:11. Maybe that is why Paul said that no depth will be able to separate us from the love of God. But Paul also says that no height will separate us. Are there heavenly powers that are adverse to God?
Maybe they are not particularly adverse to God, but they have their own agenda. I think of the sons of God in Genesis 6, who slept with the daughters of men. According to I Enoch, these sons of God were consigned to the underworld, and II Peter 2:4 and Jude 6 appear to affirm this tradition. Yet, Paul may acknowledge that there is still a possibility that heavenly angels could sin: I Corinthians 11:10 states that women are to wear authority on their head on account of the angels, and some suggest that Paul is exhorting women not to tempt angels to want to sleep with them. I find this a bit unbelievable, though. I should also note Paul’s warning in Galatians 1:8 that, even if an angel of heaven preaches a different Gospel, the Galatian Christians are not to accept it. Could that be exaggeration, not to be taken literally? Maybe. Still, there are things in the Scriptures that seem to suggest that some heavenly powers act contrary to God.
B. The pastor this morning preached about the resurrection. I liked the entire sermon, but I would like to highlight a couple of things that he said. First of all, he referred to the women who followed Jesus to the end, and he said that they came to conclude that they needed to keep following Jesus after learning that he was still alive. They were continuing Jesus’ mission of bringing good to the world. Second, the pastor said that Jesus’ resurrection was God saying that you can’t get rid of him that easy—-that he loves us that much. We threw the worse that we could at Jesus, and that did not keep God down.