Thinking Out Loud

April 29, 2019

Math Question: How Many Mansions = 1 House?

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 4:59 pm

Despite my continuing computer crisis, I am keeping up to date with our sister blog, Christianity 201. Unlike this one, it hasn’t passed the ten year mark, which means I haven’t granted myself permission to skip a day here and there yet; I want to be faithful to having provided a decade’s worth of devotional, if God wills. Here’s what readers there are seeing today.


2 Cor. 5:1 .NLT For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands.

The title of today’s devotional is meant to cause a double-take. More on that later.

Like many of you, there were key Bible passage I was asked to memorize as child. One of these was:

CEB John 14:1 “Don’t be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me. My Father’s house has room to spare. If that weren’t the case, would I have told you that I’m going to prepare a place for you? When I go to prepare a place for you, I will return and take you to be with me so that where I am you will be too. You know the way to the place I’m going.”

Thomas asked, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?”

Jesus answered, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

and a quick overview shows four primary statements in these verses:

  1. Don’t be afraid
  2. Trust Me
  3. God’s house contains many ‘mansions’
  4. I would have told you if anything were different

Today my plan was to explore the fourth of these, the phrase “If it were not so I would have told you.” However, as I began to study this, my thoughts were redirected. We did actually look at that phrase a few years ago here.

Instead, I found myself looking at the “many mansions.” For me this verse was always contrary to the direction my personal theology has been heading: From an “up there, somewhere” heaven to a “New Earth” view of eschatology. However, for some reason I found this verse problematic, as I kept seeing the “up there” being described therein.

In Barnes’ Notes we read:

Jesus was consoling his disciples, who were affected with grief at the idea of his separation. To comfort them he addresses them in this language: “The universe is the dwelling-place of my Father. All is his house. Whether on earth or in heaven, we are still in his habitation. In that vast abode of God there are many mansions. The earth is one of them, heaven is another. Whether here or there, we are still in the house, in one of the mansions of our Father, in one of the apartments of his vast abode. This we ought continually to feel, and to rejoice that we are permitted to occupy any part of his dwelling-place. Nor does it differ much whether we are in this mansion or another.

It should not be a matter of grief when we are called to pass from one part of this vast habitation of God to another. I am indeed about to leave you, but I am going only to another part of the vast dwelling-place of God. I shall still be in the same universal habitation with you; still in the house of the same God; and am going for an important purpose – to fit up another abode for your eternal dwelling.” If this be the meaning, then there is in the discourse true consolation. We see that the death of a Christian is not to be dreaded, nor is it an event over which we should immoderately weep. It is but removing from one apartment of God’s universal dwelling-place to another – one where we shall still be in his house, and still feel the same interest in all that pertains to his kingdom. And especially the removal of the Saviour from the earth was an event over which Christians should rejoice, for he is still in the house of God, and still preparing mansions of rest for His people.


Then we come to the meat of the today’s article, in the writing of Howard Snyder. This is somewhat abridged; click the header below to read in full.

Father’s House — Many Mansions

“Many mansions.” In King James’ day, a “mansion” was a room, not a huge, fancy house. Today most translations say “many dwelling places” (NRSV), or “plenty of room,” as the TNIV helpfully puts it. Jesus’ central meaning is this: There is plenty of room with God. (It apparently has not troubled many Christians that “In my Father’s house are many mansions” is nonsensical as “mansion” is popularly understood.)

“My father’s house.” This does not mean heaven. Heaven is not mentioned once in the whole chapter. What then is the “Father’s house”?

Jesus speaks out of the context of the whole Old Testament revelation. In the older Testament, the Lord’s “house” or “dwelling place” is an immensely rich idea. It essentially means the place or places where God’s presence is manifest. Often in the Psalms God’s “house” or “dwelling” is the temple in Jerusalem. Other times it refers to the whole creation, or even the whole universe. Some Psalms describe God himself as our “dwelling place” (Ps 90:1, 91:9).

The point is: God’s “house” or “dwelling place” is wherever God is and wherever his presence is made evident and his will is done. Jesus assumes this in many of his discourses. The meaning of John 14:2 is, “There is plenty of room with God.”

“I go to prepare a place for you.” Jesus assures his apostles that in going away (through his crucifixion and death), he is accomplishing the next step in God’s plan for his kingdom to come in fullness.

This verse echoes God’s word to Israel in Exodus 23:20, “I am going to send an angel in front of you, to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared.” Jesus very self-consciously fulfilled all the Old Testament promises concerning himself. In Exodus, the reference was to the Promised Land. In the New Testament, in fulfillment of the promises, the Promised Land becomes the whole earth, recreated as “new heavens and new earth.”  …

John 14:1–3 is not about heaven. It is about our “dwelling place” being eternally with God—beginning now on earth and in “the heavenlies” (Eph. 1:3, 2:6) as we love him and keep his commandments; for awhile in heaven before Jesus returns; and finally in the new creation—the new earth and heaven.

Jesus does not say in verse 3, “I will take you to heaven.” He says, “I will take you to myself.” And Jesus promised to return to earth, once for all.

The point in John 14:1–3: Not the place. Rather, the Person and the relationship. In the end, Jesus establishes the perfect relationship of shalom between himself, human beings, and the whole creation. For now, Jesus “must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets” (Acts 3:21).

Jesus’ words here thus mean: “I go to accomplish the next step in bringing the complete fulfillment of God’s promises of salvation and creation healed.”


Tangentially (unless you count the fact I made this today’s title): I found his parenthetic comment in the first paragraph rather interesting. We often skip over familiar passages without really considering what we are reading. Basically, in the English translations, Jesus is saying:

In my Father’s this:

There are many of these:

which of course you are free to suggest doesn’t make any sense. For this reader anyway, the problem is not the splendour of the mansions, but a misunderstanding of what is implied by the “house.” I’m deliberately leaving that open for your consideration. 

Of all the various translations out there, I most love how The Voice Bible renders John 14:2

My Father’s home is designed to accommodate all of you. If there were not room for everyone, I would have told you that. I am going to make arrangements for your arrival.


A concluding verse:

Revelation 21:3 NLT I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. 

February 25, 2018

Billy Graham in His Own Words

Filed under: Christianity, evangelism, Jesus — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:32 am

Two days ago on the devotional blog we honored Billy Graham with an excerpt from his final book. Then yesterday, we added Rev. Graham to a select group of people who have been part of a quotation series at Christianity 201. Quotation columns at C201 always run the danger of being pithy — such as the shorter ones found here — so I’ve tried to include some more substantive quotes as they were available. Preparing this was an amazing opportunity to learn more about a servant of God who was willing to be obedient to the call of God. His presence and influence will be missed.


The greatest need in our world today is the need for hope. We thrive on hope, we rejoice in hope, we witness in hope, knowing that experience works hope. ‘Happy is he . . . whose hope is in the Lord his God (Psalm 146:5).’ There is hope for the future. It is centered in the Person of Jesus Christ who died for our sins and rose from the grave and is alive now. I have staked all that I am or ever hope to be on Him.


One response was given by the innkeeper when Mary and Joseph wanted to find a room where the Child could be born. The innkeeper was not hostile; he was not opposed to them, but his inn was crowded; his hands were full; his mind was preoccupied. This is the answer that millions are giving today. Like a Bethlehem innkeeper, they cannot find room for Christ. All the accommodations in their hearts are already taken up by other crowding interests. Their response is not atheism. It is not defiance. It is preoccupation and the feeling of being able to get on reasonably well without Christianity.


God proved his love on the Cross. When Christ hung, and bled, and died, it was God saying to the world, ‘I love you.’


Jesus was not a white man; He was not a black man. He came from that part of the world that touches Africa and Asia and Europe. Christianity is not a white man’s religion and don’t let anybody ever tell you that it’s white or black. Christ belongs to all people; He belongs to the whole world.


Ruth and I don’t have a perfect marriage, but we have a great one. How can I say two things that seem so contradictory? In a perfect marriage, everything is always the finest and best imaginable; like a Greek statue, the proportions are exact and the finish is unblemished. Who knows any human beings like that? For a married couple to expect perfection in each other is unrealistic. We learned that even before we were married.


The highest form of worship is the worship of unselfish Christian service. The greatest form of praise is the sound of consecrated feet seeking out the lost and helpless.


The happiness which brings enduring worth to life is not the superficial happiness that is dependent on circumstances. It is the happiness and contentment that fills the soul even in the midst of the most distressing circumstances and the most bitter environment. It is the kind of happiness that grins when things go wrong and smiles through the tears. The happiness for which our souls ache is one undisturbed by success or failure, one which will root deeply inside us and give inward relaxation, peace, and contentment, no matter what the surface problems may be. That kind of happiness stands in need of no outward stimulus.


There is nothing wrong with men possessing riches. The wrong comes when riches possess men.”


Although I have much to be grateful for as I look back over my life, I also have many regrets…I would also spend more time in spiritual nurture, seeking to grow closer to God so I could become more like Christ. I would spend more time in prayer, not just for myself but for others. I would spend more time studying the Bible and meditating on its truth, not only for sermon preparation but to apply its message to my life. It is far too easy for someone in my position to read the Bible only with an eye on a future sermon, overlooking the message God has for me through its pages.


The cross tells us that God understands our sin and our suffering, for he took them upon himself in the Person of Jesus Christ. From the cross God declares, ‘I love you. I know the heartaches and the sorrows and the pain that you feel. But I love you.’


The men who followed Him were unique in their generation. They turned the world upside down because their hearts had been turned right side up. The world has never been the same.


The cross shows us the seriousness of our sin—but it also shows us the immeasurable love of God.


I have a certainty about eternity that is a wonderful thing, and I thank God for giving me that certainty. I do not fear death. I may fear a little bit about the process, but not death itself, because I think the moment that my spirit leaves this body, I will be in the presence of the Lord.


Like Joseph storing up grain during the years of plenty to be used during the years of famine that lay ahead, may we store up the truths of God’s Word in our hearts as much as possible, so that we are prepared for whatever suffering we are called upon to endure.


The message I preach hasn’t changed. Circumstances have changed. Problems have changed, but deep inside man has not changed, and the gospel hasn’t changed.


“What is the greatest surprise you have found about life?” a university student asked me several years ago. “The brevity of it,” I replied without hesitation. … Time moves so quickly, and no matter who we are or what we have done, the time will come when our lives will be over. As Jesus said, “As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work” (John 9:4).


When wealth is lost, nothing is lost; when health is lost, something is lost; when character is lost, all is lost.


I know that soon my life will be over. I thank God for it, and for all He has given me in this life. But I look forward to Heaven. I look forward to the reunion with friends and loved ones who have gone on before. I look forward to Heaven’s freedom from sorrow and pain. I also look forward to serving God in ways we can’t begin to imagine, for the Bible makes it clear that Heaven is not a place of idleness. And most of all, I look forward to seeing Christ and bowing before Him in praise and gratitude for all He has done for us, and for using me on this earth by His grace–just as I am.


Sources:

September 19, 2017

Sobering Stroll

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:13 am

Ruth wasn’t feeling like cooking last night so we grabbed our coupons and headed off to Subway®. We then walked to see what was being built at the other end of the retail complex, and then looking across the road I noticed a cemetery. I have bicycled through it when the kids were young, but I suggested we go for a short walk.

I think we’ve only done this on foot one other time. It’s not like a stroll in the park or a walk on the beach. I tend to talk loudly, but in this environment, I kept my voice lowered. Even carrying the beverage from the restaurant felt somewhat disrespectful. There are names on tombstones and each one is a story, some of them obviously quite tragic with the lives of both children and soldiers cut short.

I was reminded of Ecclesiastes 7:2: “Better to spend your time at funerals than at parties. After all, everyone dies–so the living should take this to heart.” (NLT) Looking it up at BibleHub.com, the site offered a cross-reference for Psalm 90:12: “Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom.” (NLT)

If you’ve been reading here this week you know we’ve found ourselves tracking with this, but my thoughts last night were broader than this one particular loss. At the same time, there was something peaceful about our walkabout; those buried there have left behind the pressures and trials of human existence, though as Christians we know that that they may be experiencing widely different afterlives.

While we stopped to read less than 2% of the grave markers there, only one that we saw hinted at a better promise, simply stating, “With Jesus.”

 

June 11, 2017

What Will We Do in Heaven (Part 3)

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:15 am

…From there, the discussion moved on to look at the question of why “do things” now?

I think the answer to that question is because we were commanded to.

Luke 19:13b:
“Engage in business until I come back.” CSB
“See what you can earn with this while I am gone.” GNT
“Occupy til I come” KJV

— the KJV, in today’s context hasn’t got the business-specific reference. We obviously use occupy differently today but in its contemporary vagueness it makes allowance for creative projects as well.

It’s odd because sometimes we talk in terms of “doing great things for God” and yet his mandate in these verses has more of a “carry on” tone to it.

The apostle Paul talks about making good use of the time: (there’s that word again!)

Eph 5-15-16
Pay careful attention, then, to how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.

It strikes here that we’ve been given a stewardship, not of the earth but of days, to use our talents; for God to see how we glorify him (this is, you’ll remember, the chief end of man) through labor and vocation with the gifts we’ve received.

A chapter later he writes:

Eph 6:7 NLT
Work with enthusiasm, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.

This is where we get the idea to “do everything as unto the Lord;” the KJV translation.

The Bible is also clear that things don’t have to continue even within the confines of a lifetime. Things can be for a season.

Eccl. 3:1
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens

I’ve found Skye Jethani’s writings and podcast episodes to be helpful here in two different ways. First, he’s written and spoken at conference on the idea of “the theology of work,” but it wasn’t in the sense here, but rather the opposite, that the Millennial generation is obsessed with it. (Search his name also with respect to vocation.)

Second, he has written on “the myth of continuance;” the idea that things will always be as they now are; and I think that mindset may be creeping into the question of wanting to see things we do on earth carry forward into eternity. Personally, I see the next life as operating on an entirely different paradigm, with an entirely different set of measurements for fulfillment, accomplishment, etc. I think heaven should come with a welcome disclaimer: ‘Any similarity between this and your past life is purely coincidental.’

So we try not to read Ecclesiastes too often or become too philosophical about our current projects vis-a-vis what comes after this life. We carry on. We work hard. We rest well. We create beauty. We pursue excellence. We seek truth. We treasure friendships. And we try to honor God in all of these things. 

At the end it’s all measured. Some of it is wood, hay and straw, but hopefully some of it is gold, silver and precious stones. While “it’s all gonna burn” may be discouraging to some, trying to hold on to a sense of what we’re doing here and now as “taking it with us” then and there I think will seem rather silly. You can’t take it with you because in a glorified body in the presence of God, you wouldn’t want to take it with you.

 

 

 

June 10, 2017

What Will We Do in Heaven? (Part Two)

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:36 am

…So the conversation continued:

I find it kinda weird to think of heaven as not having growth or progression to it, in general and in regard to the new creation having a fixed population in the end apparently. I find it difficult to get excited about a place where things don’t continue to unfold.

Of course, the first thing I thought about was the article by the late Christian musician Keith Green, “Will You Be Bored in Heaven.” You can read that online at this link. Here’s a sample:

The Lord made me realize recently that if I do not absolutely relish His company now, desiring to be with Him more than anyone in the whole world, then I would not really be comfortable in heaven at all – for it is there that we will spend all eternity in the company of the Holy One who made us…

Be honest, would you be thrilled for the Lord to come back right before you get that college degree, or if you had your choice would you prefer He wait until right after graduation day? Maybe you’re engaged to be married. How would you like to go to heaven the day before your scheduled wedding? See what I mean? Paul really desired more than anything else to go to be with the Lord. We desire long, fulfilling “Christian” lives on earth – but we’re willing to die and go to heaven … when we really have to!

As the discussion continued however it occurred to me that some of the problem is that we’re currently trapped in linear time.

Progression = distance traveled (literal or figurative or incremental) over time.  OR  d/t
where the distance could be referring to a journey including accomplishments, learning, etc.

I then continued:

But if time as we know it — linearly — has ended, then the whole notion of progress collapses. If you “find it difficult to get excited about a place where things don’t continue to unfold” then your vision of the next life is too stuck in linear time. 

C. S. Lewis’s analogy of a train is helpful here. I tried to find the exact quote, but essentially it concerns the difference between being stopped at a level crossing waiting for a very long freight train to pass. One by one, the cars click by; you’re counting them; there’s been 150 so far. But up above someone is watching the entire scene from an airplane. They have a very large picture in front of them, and they are aware that there is a train on the tracks, but from that height, it does not appear to be moving at all.  

The person on the ground experiences the train linearly, but to the person in the plane the train is perceived differently; they see the first car and the last car all at once.  

Speaking of Lewis, our oldest son got involved in the discussion by email and noted, “C.S. Lewis would not concur with the idea that there isn’t progression in Heaven (see The Last Battle).”

One website offered this:

The linear nature of time can be summarized by the concept of the “arrow of time,” a phrase coined in the 1930’s. It turns out that there are many obstacles to overcome when studying the arrow of time, the first of which is to figure out why it exists to begin with. Why do people recognize a past separated from a present time, which is, in turn, separated from the future? So far philosophers and physicists have not established a definite reason.

Why does it exist to begin with? I think the Bible addresses that:

Gen 1:4 “Then he separated the light from the darkness God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.” — this where John Walton says we can read this as “And God created time.”

I shared an email with John Walton once about this:

…When you were a guest [on the Phil Vischer show] you mentioned the distinction in Genesis 1 with the words used, “And God called the light day;” and said basically this verse could be read, “And God created time.”

And then took it one step further:

In one of the ‘heaven’ verses, there is a reference something like, “We do not need the light of the sun…” because God is that light.  (Sorry, I’m writing this in a hurry!) I’m wondering if in that verse we’re witnessing the end of time; that the sun is extinguished and things return to the original order.

This would give greater meaning to the phrase, “passing into eternity.”  That at a certain point time stops in the same kind of crisis moment in which it began.  If so, this would also give some help to the “Will I be bored in heaven?” people who are continuing to think of the ‘afterlife’ in terms of linear time, and therefore aren’t wrapping their heads fully around the new order that ‘life’ becomes.

Professor Walton wrote me back and said,

You are referring to Revelation 21:23 and yes, I believe you are on the right track

So from there, the subject drifted to, “Then why do anything now?” Why indeed? If there’s no permanence to it, if it [itself] doesn’t continue into eternity, what’s the point?

We’ll look at that tomorrow in Part 3.


Image: Last Days Ministries

 

 

June 9, 2017

What Will We Do In Heaven? (Part One)

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:43 am

If you’re a Type-A personality, you thrive on busy-ness and activity. When you think in terms of heaven — by which I mean more accurately new earth — you want to know there will be projects, and programs, and goals; oh my!

This was the topic we were wrestling with in a one hour phone conference call last night involving my wife and myself and our youngest son.

Part of it had to do with the completion of things we’ve been involved in here and now; a carry forward of the things we enjoy doing or are gifted in doing.

When it started out, we were looking at the continuation of marriage in heaven. (Though the conversation later expanded to include vocation.)

“If marriage ends in heaven, what’s the point of marriage on earth”

I did some searching online and came up with these:

Focus on the Family:

Jesus did say that life in the world to come will not include “marriage” as we know it here on earth. When questioned by the Sadducees about this, He said, “In the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven” (Matthew 22:30). Your friend may lack sensitivity, but her comment does have a strong biblical basis.What Jesus did not say was that “all earthly relationships will be nullified in heaven.” There is no good reason to put such a negative spin on His words. We will most certainly be together with those we love in the next life. We just don’t know precisely what form that “togetherness” will take.

Look at it this way. Human relationships will certainly be different in heaven. But they cannot possibly be less than what they have been on earth. They will have to be different in the sense of being something more, something better, something far more fulfilling and satisfying than we can presently imagine. That’s part of the glory of the resurrected life.

GotQuestions.org:

Most likely, there will be no marriage in heaven simply because there will be no need for it. When God established marriage, He did so to fill certain needs. First, He saw that Adam was in need of a companion. “The LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him’” (Genesis 2:18). Eve was the solution to the problem of Adam’s loneliness, as well as his need for a “helper,” someone to come alongside him as his companion and go through life by his side. In heaven, however, there will be no loneliness, nor will there be any need for helpers. We will be surrounded by multitudes of believers and angels (Revelation 7:9), and all our needs will be met, including the need for companionship.

Second, God created marriage as a means of procreation and the filling of the earth with human beings. Heaven, however, will not be populated by procreation. Those who go to heaven will get there by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; they will not be created there by means of reproduction. Therefore, there is no purpose for marriage in heaven since there is no procreation or loneliness.

I do prefer the first answer.

But then the conversation shifted to looking at things like works of art, writing, etc. Does any of that carry forward?

I thought of a couple of scriptures:

Heaven and earth will pass away but my words will not pass away.   (Matthew 24:35 NIV)

Without exception every single translation in BibleGateway.com preserved the word words. Personally, I’ve always interpreted this as having to do with God’s laws and principles; so I read this as ‘but my truth will remain.’ (Apparently I’d make a bad Bible translator.)

The other scripture was:

Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. – (1 Cor 3:12-13; KJV is how I learned this, you can substitute straw for stubble.)

The idea of this present world ending in fire is found in Revelation and has several interpretations, including a nuclear fallout resulting in a reordering of everything from plant life to continents, including even the tilt of the earth which causes the seasons. (As a Canadian, I want to be done with winter.)

Frankly, I think most of what I produce in a day falls into the wood, hay and stubble category. Especially when seen from an eternal perspective. But the original question had to do writings.

Now if we are “known as we are known” in heaven — which doesn’t actually mean what most people think it does, but let’s assume some identity carries forward — then as surely as I might walk up to David and say, ‘That was cool how you got Goliath on the first stone;’ someone might walk up to me and say, ‘I really liked that particular blog post you wrote about [subject]; it changed my life.’1

So in a sense our writings — if we are part of the one-third of the world which commits things to print — could survive in a sense.

Tomorrow we’ll get back more directly to the idea of progression in heaven; of building — I want to avoid the word working — toward a specific objective. Type A people stay tuned.


1 Maybe not this blog post.

 

 

 

June 3, 2016

Should a Christian Be Cremated?

We covered this topic about five years ago, but it came around again last week at Christianity 201. I thought we’d share the article, by regular Wednesday C201 contributor and pastor Clarke Dixon here as well. Clicking the title below will allow you to see the article at its original source.

NLT 1 Cor. 15:51 But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! 52 It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. 53 For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies.

Burial and Cremation: What Is a Christian to Do?

by Clarke Dixon

“The conclusion is simple. Cremation is devil worship and rejection of Jesus Christ and His gospel . . . the true followers of Jesus Christ will have nothing to do with it. His ministers and churches will not allow it, and they will speak boldly against it.”

So concludes an article I had reason to come across recently… People have asked me whether it is OK for them to be cremated to which my normal response is “yes, so long as you no longer have a pulse.” So why do I not speak against cremation as the writer of the article would urge that I do? What is the Christian to think and plan to do in this matter?

Cremation UrnThe first thing we should note is that nothing can trump the power of God.

What happens to the matter we are made of now, really will not matter to God. Some people have a fear, namely “what if there is nothing left of me to be raised at the resurrection?” And what if one’s family has ignored the desire for burial and gone ahead with cremation then lost the urn, or what if the circumstances of one’s death has ensured that there is no body to bury? Grim, but it happens. Let us note however, that we are not to be equated with the matter that makes us up. Most of our cells will be replaced over our lifetime, but even more importantly, the very atoms that make us up are continually being swapped out, so much so that it is suggested that the majority of atoms are replaced yearly. If our bodies are independent of the of the particular matter that makes us up, then what actually are they? They are the result of the information that guides the matter into place. We can think of creation when God spoke everything into existence. It is interesting that the language of speaking and communicating is used, for creation is not just about the creation of matter, but about the vast amounts of information that guides that matter into place. This was no cosmic tweet! And so if each atom of your body is scattered to the air, don’t worry, for as one of the youth from my last church profoundly put it, “God’s got your DNA.” He knows who you are and who you are to be, so as a matter of fact it does not matter what happens to the matter that matters so much to you right now.

Furthermore, the Bible teaches us that we “will be changed.” In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul uses the analogy of a seed to teach about the resurrection body. As with all analogies, we ought not to press the analogy too far, for example expecting that only if our corpse is “planted” will we expect to be raised. That is not what Paul is saying, but rather he is pointing out the continuity and change that we can expect. There will be a continuity that points to individuality, so if you die, you yourself can expect to be raised again as an individual. But you will be different, in fact whether alive or dead when Christ returns “we will all be changed.” (1 Corinthians 15:52 NRSV) For “this perishable body must put on imperishability and this mortal body must put on immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:53 NRSV) which does not mean to say that these particular atoms are used, but that you, who once had a body on a journey towards death, will now have a body full of life.

Finally, the Bible teaches us that God’s purposes stand. Job says “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2 NRSV). We have not learned this truth if we are worried about the future of our remains. As a Christian your resurrection is not dependent on the circumstances of your remains but on the purposes and power of God.

So it is not a matter of God’s power and ability, but is it a matter of obedience?

It is not a matter of law. Curiously, there is no law in the Old Testament stating what you must do with a corpse, though there are plenty of laws for what you must do if you come into contact with one. And there is no law given in the New Testament either. In fact it is instructive that when Jews and Gentiles join together in Christianity with all the ethical sorting out that goes on when two peoples bring their baggage along to a merger, we have no mention of burial versus cremation. Jews tended to bury their dead and Gentiles would sometimes cremate theirs, yet when they come together into Christianity this is not an issue. It is interesting that the issue doesn’t get a mention at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 which would have been an ideal time to lay such to rest.

Though it is not a matter of law, burial was the custom. As already stated it was the norm for God’s people in the Old Testament to bury their dead, and while we hear of burials happening in the New Testament, we never hear of cremation. Throughout the history of the Church, burial has been the more common custom. But does the fact that burial has been more customary make cremation a matter of disobedience? We should note that our burial customs today are not the same customs practiced in Biblical times. Embalming was not a customary practice, and in fact we know that in New Testament times the custom was often to bury twice. First the body would be laid in a tomb (and not in a casket) where it would decompose, then after a year the bones would be collected together and placed in small box (just long enough for one’s femur bone) called an ossuary leaving the former space vacant for someone else. Now consider that when a funeral home hands you an urn, it is not filled with ash, but rather the pulverized remains that do not burn away into the atmosphere, namely bone. You could therefore almost make the case that cremation is closer to the Biblical model of keeping a box of bone than our current custom of embalming.

But if we opt for cremation are we not taking on a pagan custom? We might consider the one time we do hear of embalming happening in the Old Testament, with Joseph in Genesis: “And Joseph died, being one hundred ten years old; he was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt” (Genesis 50:26). Embalming and use of a coffin was an Egyptian custom, and was related to the Egyptian theology of resurrection. That Joseph took on the pagan burial practice of the land he had made his home does not appear to have threatened his status as a godly hero of the faith. Further I have heard it said that Christians should not cremate their dead for Hindus cremate theirs. But Hindus also sing, and laugh, and breathe, and do all manner of things that we also do. Rather than ask what cultures and religions carry out the custom, we might better ask in what spirit we carry out ours. Chocolate itself is not an evil thing, but if I were to eat it in a spirit of gluttony, then I might be doing something bad. Right now I cannot think of any other spirit to eat chocolate in so perhaps that is a bad example, but if I could eat it in a spirit of celebration of God’s goodness in providing sweetness, then I would be doing something good. If I were asking for cremation in a spirit of willful rebellion towards and rejection of God, then yes, cremation would be a very bad thing to do, but if I ask for it in a spirit of trust and rejoicing in the power and grace of God, then it is not.

But if we opt for cremation are we not doing violence to a gift from God? Some will want to say “you cannot just do to a body whatever you want, it is a gift from God that is to be cherished in how it is handled.” Yes we certainly do want to cherish the gift of our body while alive, but does that carry over into death? The words of Paul are instructive here: “For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1). Here our current bodies are contrasted with those to come, they are mere tents in comparison to proper buildings, and though gifts indeed, they are not ones Paul seems too keen on cherishing as he looks forward to a better gift to come. They are tents which are prone to destruction, in fact there is no dignified process ahead for one’s corpse whether pumped up with embalming, naturally decomposing, or cremated – it is all rather undignified and a violence to the body. For many of us the concept of dignity will be a personal matter, and speaking for myself, I would find it a most undignified end for my body to be done up with make-up and dressed up with a suit and tie.

If we began noting that nothing can trump the power of God, let us finish by noting that nothing can trump the grace of God.

While the writer quoted at first would imply that one would lose their salvation by choosing cremation, a “rejection of Jesus Christ and His gospel,” we must ask if our salvation is in jeopardy. From my study of the issue of burial versus cremation for the Christian, I have not found the case convincing that to be cremated is to reject Jesus and His gospel. If in fact I turn out to be wrong (yes it happens, ask my wife!) and cremation does sadden our Lord, at worst it is a misunderstanding on my part, not a willful rejection of a clearly stated will. Is God’s grace not sufficient to cover such misunderstandings? Is the love of God so weak so as to be so easily ended through my one decision?

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38,39 NRSV)

Let’s not belittle the grace, love, and power of God by taking salvation back into our own hands. Will you be buried? Will you be cremated? God’s grace, love, and power in Christ will shine through either way.


We also covered this topic here in 2011 under the heading
Cremation and Christianity.

February 1, 2015

Weekend Link List

Lloyd the Llink Llist Llama Crashes the Party Exactly One Year After His First Visit Here

Lloyd the Llink Llist Llama makes his annual appearance

Once a year the List Lynx gets bumped. If the llama sees his shadow…

  • From Worship Leader to Lead Pastor – Of course they don’t use that terminology in the Church of England, but Tim Hughes is moving from the church that gave the world The Alpha Course to be “Priest in Charge” of a church in downtown London. “While a significant change for the worship leader, he’s keen to point out he won’t be putting his guitar down anytime soon. Inspired by a book called Chasing Francis he says he wants to become an ‘artist pastor’ who leads in creative ways. He said: ‘You lead out of who you are. I don’t want to think the leader who works in a church is someone who does x,y,z. It’s what are my gifts? What are my strengths? The big thing is leading with a team, and a community. I’m not gifted in everything so I need people who can help supplement that.'”
  • David and Goliath is Next in a line of Religious Epics – The film’s director: “‘Well first off, I’m not only a director, but also an evangelist,’ says [Tim] Chey who has spoken at some of the largest churches in the U.S. and abroad. ‘So obviously I’m not going to make a film that’s Biblically not correct or does not give honor to the Lord.’ David and Goliath is considered one of the big three Bible movies hitting theaters after Noah and Exodus: Gods and Kings. The film wrapped principal photography in North Africa and in studios in London and opens as a platform release nationwide on April 3. Chey refers to the backlash of the film ‘Noah’ which many Christian pastors and leaders shunned. The film still was a box office hit at $120 million, but Christians stayed away in droves.”
  • An Open Letter to High-Profile Pastors – “Famous pastor, your actions and words (written and preached) have ripple effects which reach into the churches whose pastors do not carry your clout. It’s not because they are less gifted or less faithful. It’s because the famous man’s words carry more weight, even in our churches. So when you mess up and preach things that fail to square with God’s Word or you appear alongside false teachers it leaves the rest of us to deal with it in our own churches. These are people we love and pray for and visit in the hospital. You don’t know them. You’ll never meet them. But they listen to your teaching and read your books. Because they never see your own faults they tend to place you on a pedestal.”
  • The Theology of Afterlife – Even within Evangelicalism, there are differences as to what happens when we die, or more particularly, what happens to the unbelieving, unregenerate upon death. Views range from annihilation of the soul to eternal conscious torment. Scot McKnight has assembled a number of texts from the period of Second Temple Judaism that show an equal diversity of teaching. He presents them raw and without comment, except to note that, “Into this kind of diversity Jesus and the apostles stepped and spoke of judgment.”
  • Ultimately, the Kids Don’t Want the Y-Min to be Cool – “I think there is a reason youth ministers on average only last 18 months before they move on to a new church. Teenagers are stress machines with enough emotional baggage to sink a ship. You can be great at playing games, planning outings, and writing jokes into lesson plans, but if at the end of the day if you don’t love your kids I don’t know how you are going to make it…In spite of what people might tell you, teenagers don’t really want a youth minister who is “cool.” …What youth really want is the freedom to be who they are, and to be loved for who they are.”
  • Church Staffing: Smaller is Better – You’d expect a pastor on the frontlines of multi-site to be all about growth and numbers, but when it comes to staff size, Craig Groeschel leans toward the idea that a few too few is better than a few too many. Sample: “In ministries, a bigger staff often means a smaller volunteer base. When you start to hire people to do what volunteers once did (or could do), you rob your church members of the blessing of using their gifts in ministry. When you stop empowering volunteer leaders, you lose a great source of future staff members and ultimately weaken the strength of your church or non-profit.”
  • NYC Too Pricey for this Non-Profit – The American Bible Society is moving to Philadelphia:  “‘New York has become so extraordinarily expensive that nonprofit staff cannot afford to live in proximity to headquarters,’ said Roy Peterson, the society’s president and CEO. ‘We don’t have a cohesive, synergistic global headquarters staff right now. And that’s why we wanted to find a city that was diverse, rich with culture and churches and language, but yet affordable.'” The new home is just a block from the Liberty Bell.
  • Preaching to the Crowd You Wish Was Present – Some fairly standard advice is that if you’re a church of 50 and you’d like to grow to 250, start preaching like there are 250 people in the room. But an expert on small(er) church ministry rejects that: “That’s some of the worst advice I’ve ever received in ministry. And I’m not the only one who’s received it. Many of you have heard it too. Some of you may have repeated it. If so, stop. It’s not a good idea. In fact, it’s a very bad idea. The only time we should preach like the room is full is when the room is actually full.”
  • Not Enough Links for Ya? – You can always check out our weekend competition at Internet Monk. If you prefer story leads more related to pastors and church leaders, check out Dash House.

We end with Mark Gungor’s 9-minute rant on the movie Exodus: Gods and Kings.

January 31, 2015

They Never Talked About It

Filed under: Faith, family, marriage — Tags: , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:59 am

They were married for 37 years.

After she passed away, he says — and friends confirm — he cried ‘buckets and buckets of tears.’

“I don’t know where she is right now;” he told friends, referring his lack of insight into her eternal destiny.

They never had that conversation.

They simply never discussed faith-related subjects.

And here’s the surprise ending: They went to church almost every Sunday.

July 9, 2014

Wednesday Link List

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I was looking around for pictures of the 2014 Wild Goose Festival, and found this one from 2013.  Anyone know the backstory on this?

Now that the eye burn-in from weekend fireworks has faded, it’s time to see what people have been reading over the past few days:

Not sure of the origin of the picture below. It was captioned, “What Happened to the Dinosaurs” and the picture file was labeled “Shoo!”

What Happened to the Dinosaurs

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