[The email below is part of a series of emails between me and my friend Jenny about some of the biggest questions people have ever asked about God, faith and the Bible. Click HERE if you haven’t read Jenny’s first email and then come back and read my response.]
Subject: Re: I have a few questions
Date: Thu, Mar 6, 2008 at 7:19 PM
Great questions, all of them. I’m so glad you sent them to me. I’m filling time at a Panera right now before meeting some of my family for dinner, but I’ll try giving an initial response and hopefully will find/make time soon to get to anything I miss. For starters, I’d like to just say that the questions you ask are incredibly complex and theological…which means, not everyone will agree about the responses to the issues you’ve raised. If you picked five pastors from anywhere in the world and asked them these questions you’d get at least 3 or 4 (if not 5) different responses. You’ll notice that I haven’t used the word “answer” yet, and that’s intentional. One of the things I’ve learned from nearly two years of seminary (yes, this is my last semester) is that there is really no such thing as answers when it comes to “God questions,” but the best we can do is give a response based on how we understand things (keeping the important things in mind; “important things” = the Bible, Jesus, God, the Holy Spirit, history and human experience…with our limited understanding of each of these things). I realize this is a very long introductory paragraph to an email that I’ve already said isn’t even going to “answer” any of your questions, but consider it a disclaimer that, at best, I’m only responding with my best understandings of these things in hopes that they might help you make better sense of things. Fair enough?
By the way, I know very little about the Jehovah’s Witnesses, except that all their churches are called “Kingdom Hall” and they dress nice and knock on people’s doors. Anything more I would claim to know about them would be purely speculation. Alright then, here goes…
1. They say that when we die, we return to our beginning-the dust until God comes again and makes his heavenly kingdom on earth. That his original plan was for us to live harmoniously here and in the end he will return the earth to his original intention for it. Only Jesus, God and the apostles are in heaven–we will not go. He as promised us an earthly paradise.
The creation story in Genesis tells us that we (humans) were created by God out of dust (Gen. 2:7) and that one day our earthly bodies will be no more; that we will die. Or, as we read in the next chapter of Genesis, “from dust you are [made], and to dust you will return” (Gen. 3:19). So yes, they’re right in a biblical sense on the first part, but the second part of that question is something all together different. I’ll treat the second part in two separate sections, 1) God’s plan to return the earth to his original intention for it, and 2) only Jesus, God and the apostles get to go to heaven (that we’re not invited to the main party, but to some “lesser” fiesta in the sky).
In response to part 1), I agree. God does have a plan for this world, and it’s not simply to destroy it like he did with the flood, but reading throughout the Bible we read images of, as the book of Revelation calls it “a new heaven and a new earth.” As Jesus taught the disciples to pray in the Lord’s prayer (found in both Matthew 6 and Luke 11), we are to pray for God’s kingdom to come and God’s will to be done “on earth as it is in heaven,” which to me means that God does not just have a paradise planned for us in heaven, but also here on earth. The problem of course, is that our earthly eyes are not capable of seeing God’s kingdom here in this world, although it is already here. God is active in this world right now, but as sinful people we are pretty sucky at figuring this out. Many theologians have explained this as a…get ready for a big word…paradox of God’s kingdom…saying that it is here now, but not yet. This points out the confusion involved and how it’s not something for us to fully understand in this life, but just because we don’t see God’s kingdom here on earth doesn’t mean it’s not here (kinda like how we know the sun is still in the sky even when there are clouds getting in the way of us seeing it. We would never be stupid enough to say the sun disappeared, but that’s because we have the experience of seeing the sun’s light and feelings it’s warmth. Might we also realize that we have experienced God’s presence, power, love and protection at different times in our life, but in much more confusing ways?).
As for part 2), I think it’s crap. I don’t think God would throw a VIP only heavenly party. That just doesn’t make sense to me. Without getting too confusing, the Trinity (God, Jesus, Holy Spirit) has always existed as the three-in-one, so God has never been “alone” in heaven. Even during the creation story he wasn’t acting solo. Read John 1:1 and you read that “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” This might sound like weird poetry, but if you understand that “the Word” is Jesus, then all of a sudden you realize that it’s saying that Jesus has existed with/as God from the very beginning, even though we often think Jesus “started” when he was born as a baby in a manger (that was just the earthly/human beginning of Jesus Christ). Sorry if this is getting confusing. As for the “who gets to go to heaven” discussion, I’d strongly suggest you read the story Jesus tells about the wedding banquet in Matthew 22:1-14 and make sure you read it with the understanding that the wedding dinner Jesus is talking about is a metaphor for heaven. If it’s confusing to you, I wrote a paper about it for a class on the Gospel of Matthew last year and I’d be happy to send it to you (although it might not be very exciting for you because I think it was something like 12 pages long).
Oh no, I just realized how much I wrote and I only covered your first question. It’s almost time for me to get over to TGI Friday’s for my sister’s birthday dinner, so I’m going to send what I’ve written so far and try to write more about the other stuff later. (Plus I’m getting super distracted because attractive girls keep walking into Panera and I’m sitting right next to the door…haha). If you read this and it’s not working for you, let me know so I don’t send you even more thoughts like this that are just as unhelpful.
Have a good night.
P.S. Haven’t you heard? The Hills is coming back starting March 24!
[Click HERE to read part 2 of my response.]