Church Write-Up: Heaven and the Resurrected; Gideons

Here are some items from last Sunday’s church service:

A. The youth pastor talked about heaven. What is heaven like? Two people were saying that heaven had rivers of chocolate milk. The youth pastor responded that there must be more to heaven than that. One of the people, playing the part of a person in heaven talking to someone else in heaven, said that God let her sit on his throne. When she asked God about her sins, God replied that he does not remember them. The best thing about heaven is being with our best friend God forever. The youth pastor referred to some passage about the saints sitting on Christ’s throne—-maybe it was Revelation 3:21—-to support the idea that Christ will let us sit on his throne in heaven. What the passage may mean, though, is not literal but rather relates to the saints reigning with Christ over the cosmos (Matthew 19:28; II Timothy 2:12; Revelation 20:6): God the Father gave Christ that dominion, and Christ shares it with believers.

B. The pastor opened his sermon with a story about his late father-in-law. The father-in-law was an evangelist. People used to joke that he could start a church in a donut shop. He had a winsome personality and helped revive a struggling church. When he was a pastor, he would put a fork in his shirt pocket and go door-to-door. He would introduce himself as the pastor of the church and ask if he could come in and visit and if they could give him a piece of pie. They usually let him in, and, in those days, people had pies in the house. I respect people with that gift, even though I lack it. As someone said in the Sunday school class, though, not all Christians are called to be evangelists, but they are called to be witnesses, testifying to their belief that they are broken in a broken world, that Christ died for their sins, and that they have the hope of eternal life.

C. The pastor talked about how heaven is a nebulous concept. A while back, he was asking teens what they looked forward to in heaven, but they were more interested in getting their driver’s license. The pastor said that our resurrection bodies will likely be physical, for Jesus’s was. The pastor also responded to the cliche that “Whoever dies with the most toys wins” by asking, “Wins what?” Throughout the sermon, I was reminded of a book that I am reading: K.J. Soze’s The Message for the Last Days. Soze is going through different Christian beliefs about the afterlife. One view is that souls go to heaven and receive spirit bodies while there. Another view sees heaven as the intermediate state between death and the resurrection: the soul goes to heaven temporarily but will be reunited with its body at the resurrection, at Christ’s second coming. I thought that the latter view was the prevalent one within Christendom, but what intrigues me is that many Christians seem to conflate Christians in heaven after death with the resurrection from the dead. When Jesus in Matthew 22:31-32 (and synoptic parallels) defends the resurrection by saying that God IS the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and God is God of the living, not the dead, many Christians say that Jesus is claiming the souls of the patriarchs are in heaven, even though Jesus explicitly relates his point to the resurrection from the dead, which is not a present but an end-time event.

D. Something else that I was thinking about was Jesus’s claim in Matthew 22:30 that the resurrected will be like angels in heaven and will not marry or be given in marriage. Does this go against them being physical beings in the resurrection? Some deny that Jesus is saying the resurrected will be exactly like angels in every detail but merely is saying they will be like angels in terms of not marrying or giving in marriage. I am not entirely convinced by this, though, because Jesus seems to be claiming that the resurrected will not marry or give in marriage because they will be like the angels in heaven: they will be like angels in heaven, and something about that (i.e., similarity in body, or similarity in function or role?) ensures that they will not marry or be given in marriage. It could be that not marrying is the only characteristic the resurrected will share with angels, but then the question would be why. Is it because humans will no longer have to reproduce since, like angels, they will live forever?

E. The Sunday school class got into a variety of issues: apostasy, apologetics, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, religious diversity in public schools, sharing one’s faith when one asks, evolution and intelligent design, and transexuality. A representative from the Gideons was sharing with us. He talked some about his own faith journey. He used to be involved in Transcendental Meditation, but he was seeking God. He had problems with the book of Acts, wondering if he could trust its historicity, and a Christian told him that he either believed or he did not, and there must be some room for faith. Another Christian challenged him to make a dare to God: “reveal yourself to me in a month, or I am not coming back.” Well, I am not entirely sure how that worked, but he did come back, and he kept coming back. He talked about distributing Bibles at public schools: he is allowed to distribute them off-campus, and some security guards try to discourage kids from taking them, but that only makes the kids want them more! Dealing with hostility is more fruitful than dealing with indifference, he related. He also shared stories about the distribution of Bibles abroad: an ugly dog snatched a Gideon’s Bible from a representative, and it found its way into the hands of a prominent medicine man, who was convicted to abandon witchcraft because he did not want to go to hell.

F. The discussion about apostasy intrigued me. The Gideon apparently knows people who left the faith even though they believed it from childhood. Some of his children are atheists or agnostics. He had an experiential and anecdotal basis for his faith, as I share in (E.), but also some apologetic basis (i.e., design, arguments for Jesus’s resurrection being historical). Still, he said that he can understand if not everyone finds Simon Greenleaf’s arguments to be convincing. I cannot say that I agreed with everything people were saying, but I did not want to argue and alienate myself from others or disturb the religious flow of the gathering. One person commented that faith and devotions are things that people have to work on daily to keep them up. I realize that much more is going on in apostasy—-intellectual doubts, feeling as if leaving religion makes one a better person, etc.—-but that that person said still resonated with me. Being a Christian is like a marriage: one needs to work on it.


About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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