Tag Archives: Heaven

Heaven, Hell, and who goes where

A friend suggested this morning that perhaps we Christians have our view of heaven and hell all wrong.  He said that most Christians confidently assert that they are going to heaven and the rest of the world (sadly) are on their way to hell.  We’re not talking about the lunatic fringe here; this is good biblical theology (as far as it goes).  After all, Jesus died to reconcile us with God; if we receive that gift, heaven awaits; if we reject it, hell it is.

But, said my friend, Jesus seems to have modelled something different.  Jesus seems rather to have said, “I’m going to hell so that you can go to heaven.”

Consider the well-known passage from Philippians chapter 2:

4 And look out for one another’s interests, not just for your own.5 The attitude you should have is the one that Christ Jesus had:
6 He always had the nature of God,
but he did not think that by force he should try to remain equal with God.
7 Instead of this, of his own free will he gave up all he had,
and took the nature of a servant.
He became like a human being
and appeared in human likeness.
8 He was humble and walked the path of obedience all the way to death—
his death on the cross.
9 For this reason God raised him to the highest place above
and gave him the name that is greater than any other name.

Two thoughts, new to me, come to mind.  The first is that Paul tells us to look out for one another’s interests.  How far should I go to look after my neighbours interests?  To death?  To hell?  I’m just asking questions here.  I’m as frightened as you are of the answer!

The second is in verses 7 – 9:

“He gave up all he had, and took the nature of a servant.
He became like a human being….  He was humble and walked the path of obedience all the way to death….
For this reason God raised him to the highest place above
and gave him the name that is greater than any other name.”
(my emphasis)

It appears that Jesus being raised “to the highest place” was not guaranteed.  He took the risk of human mediocrity and the greater risk of separation from God.  Because he took the role of a servant; Because he was humble in his obedience; Because he took the road of death, he was raised “to the highest place.”  Had he not done those things, it appears, such a raising up would not have happened.

We often underestimate the reality of Christ’s humanity.  Because Jesus knew that he would “be raised [to life] again on the third day” (Matthew 17:23) we assume that it was easy for him, guaranteed.  The very real death and the hell that our sins caused is beyond our comprehension.  Was the resurrection promised only on condition that he remained obedient?  Was there a “what if…” in Jesus’ mind during that weekend of hell?

Jesus went to hell so that I could go to heaven.  How does that inform my worship, and how does it affect my life in the world?


Filed under Bible, Community

Stephen Hawking: A Question of Faith

This article was published in The Witness on Friday, 20 May 2011.  I offered them the poem, but they chose the prose.

STEPHEN Hawking has declared that “there is no heaven or afterlife … that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.” (The Witness, May 17.)

In his earlier book, A Brief History of Time, he accepted that a divine being was not incompatible with a scientific understanding of the universe — a sound agnostic stance. Now, however, he believes that developments in physics allow no place for a deity in theories of the origins of the universe.

Sadly, the church has too often in its history encouraged just such a fear of the dark in order to frighten men and women into its ranks. But such theology reflects a poverty of faith, rather than a search for the truth.

Hawking has lived most of his life in the shadow of death. He has endured motor neuron disease for 49 years — about 40 years longer than most who encounter the disease. He has probably given more thought to death and what comes next than most of us and I respect him for that. But Hawking goes beyond science in this new declaration.

I am intrigued by the discoveries of physics and the theories of the origins of the universe and human kind, but I’m a babe in arms. I can claim no knowledge of the arguments — I can hardly understand most of them. Some parts of A Brief History of Time were beyond me. More recent offerings are a foreign language.

Hawking, and others with his incredible grasp of such a wide range of subjects, can prove a great deal about our origins, some beyond reasonable doubt. He can describe how it all came together, but he can’t tell us why. Of course, if there is no divine being behind it all, there is no “why?” We just have a series of causes and effects. (That, mind you, might be a bit embarrassing if it took us back to the theory of first cause — just as the big-bang theory comes embarrassingly close to a creation moment.)

I, on the other hand, am not even an authority in matters of faith. I am only a witness. I can’t package my faith into proofs for the existence of God, as Thomas Aquinas did, but I’m not sure it would make any difference if I could. I can only speak of what has happened to me — much as Hawking is doing in his latest declaration. I can tell you a story of failure and forgiveness, of brokenness and healing. I can only make sense of that story in the context of a divine being whose creativity did not end on day six.

I have no proof, just an absolute (call it naive if you like) conviction. It’s a conviction based on my experience and the experience of countless others who are just as flawed and broken as I, that the inexplicable “why?” behind the universe is love.

Hawking may have begun to pierce the veil covering the origins of the universe, but (notwithstanding the experience of those who have returned from its outer chambers) the veil of death remains as tightly sealed as ever. That veil can only be pierced by faith or by death itself. Hawking’s own assertion about the nothingness beyond is itself a statement of faith, not an objective scientific discovery.

It is not fear of the dark that feeds my faith, but an awareness of the light. I have no more certainty than Hawking of what lies beyond the grave, but as long as light remains (here or beyond), I shall continue to revel in it and tell my story.


Filed under Articles, Science & Religion

Heavenly property vs. Consumer Protection Act

South Africa has entered the Consumer Protection age with the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) due for implementation on 1 April 2011. Whether one provides a service, sells goods, or buys what is on offer, every South African should become familiar with his or her rights and obligations under the Act.

All parties in the supply chain are brought into the equation, which means that the consumer can ‘follow the money’ as they say. If the immediate supplier is a small, one-person operation, unable to recompense one for ‘pain and suffering’ endured, one can go after the wholesaler or the manufacturer.

Among the requirements of the Act is that consumers be given full and unambiguous information about products and services they are to receive, and that they should have access to redress. Estate Agents and the Holiday Club industry, for example, may have to re-word their more cryptic descriptions.

We are looking at it for our business of course, but during a recent seminar on the CPA my mind began to wonder to the Church whose task is to encourage the purchase of property in heaven (“setting up treasure in heaven” is how the guide-book puts it).

The problem is that the property is not clearly defined. The book of Revelation describes a city whereas in John 14:2 we read, “In My Father’s house are many mansions…. I go to prepare a place for you.” But there is ambiguity about what the consumer is actually getting. Some translate the word as “mansions”, others as “rooms” while others just call them “dwelling places”. Eugene Peterson (The Message) throws it wide open in his translation: “There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home.” I mean, what sort of room? Standing room? A place to sit?

It’s important to know these things because, being part of the supply chain, we are the ones who are likely to be targeted. The Owner of the property is beyond the reach of the courts.

The CPA also requires us to be clear about whether we are offering a product or a service. Some churches are clearly into products, with promises of wealth, new cars, and happiness here on earth but I haven’t heard of these offers being made in the poverty-stricken townships around South Africa. Perhaps that’s just the type of sales pitch from which the CPA is trying to protect us. Others focus very heavily on the riches and property in heaven part. But, as already stated, we simply don’t have the brochures or detailed descriptions.

I would suggest that our real offering is neither a product nor a service; it’s a relationship. A service is something one provides to a customer and, when that customer has what he or she paid for, one moves on to the next. A service in other words, like a product, has its limits. We can always explain those limits to the Ombudsman or the Commissioner and point out the relevant paragraph (fine print is no longer allowed) in our brochures. If we stick to the Ten Commandments we can clearly and unambiguously say, “I did not murder him, your Honour, or steal or covet his new Lamborghini.” But a relationship, unconditional love? There are no protective limits there. What if our neighbour wants more than we are ready or willing to give? What if the poor and the sick and the needy come knocking on our door because we advertised love and care and compassion? “Well, you see, that’s not quite what I meant” doesn’t work under the CPA.

The Ten Commandments and other such lists give us security. We know what is expected of us and, when we’re done, we can go home. But Jesus said, “Love your neighbour as you love yourself” and, “Love one another as I have loved you.” What? Without limits?


Filed under Community, Odds & Ends, The News