A friend of mine was talking to me last night and asking me for my thoughts on the nature of the After-Death. (Note that I’m sure he said After-life, but I prefer to call it the After-Death. There is a continuing process with my life in between my being here now and my being in a state of separation of soul and body to finally the unification of the two barring Christ does not come back prior to my death.
What a fascinating question! The question specifically was on Hell and I thought about that and thought “It would not be proper to do Hell without doing basic ground work.” My first goal then is to give some precursory thoughts I have on thinking about the afterlife and ruminating over what I know from Scripture.
One idea I had immediately was thinking of how many times when Heaven is described, we have the word “like” showing up. One word translated as like is Homoios. It shows up from time to time in books leading up to Revelation. The number of times it shows up in Revelation is not huge, but it is definitely greater.
It seems as if when John is describing his revelation, he cannot think of the words to say. No picture seems adequate. All he can say is “Well, it was like this.” He can’t fully give a description and I figure it is because our language is just inadequate to express it. The greatness of the ideas cannot fit themselves into the words that we use.
This certainly isn’t different from what we see in Paul. In 2 Cor. 12, he describes his own experience where he was taken to Heaven temporarily and saw things that cannot be expressed. In a way, this bolsters my belief in Scripture.
Why is that? In other beliefs, you do find ideas being told of what it is like, such as 72 virgins being there. If the Christians were making this up, you think they’d give some concrete realities and tie that to the Earthly experience. The Muslim Paradise is simply taking what is seen as a great good here and extrapolating it to great prpoportions into the after-death.
Not so with Scripture. Scripture leaves the wonder of what is there and indicates that it is too awesome to be conveyed. The writers could have easily given a description were they making it up. I believe though that they saw something and that something was something they knew they couldn’t really convey.
This is the same kind of thing that happens with some Near-Death experiences, and there is some conjecture that Paul’s event could have been a near-death experience that he had after being stoned at Lystra. (I think we can all safely agree that if you weren’t dead after such an event, you would certainly be near dead.)
It’s my understanding that when people who have had these experiences are interviewed, they often will tell that the language they use just doesn’t describe it. If they say anything, we’ll start comparing it to something Earthly and that just won’t get the idea. Now I do believe there is some connection as we are told of a New Heavens and a New Earth so there is some Earth there, but I think the emphasis would definitely be on the “New” aspect of it.
My contention is based on Romans 8 and it is that God is going to redeem creation, but it is not going to be beyond the creation from the beginning. I believe God created this world knowing it would be the battleground between good and evil. It was not made to be eternal as it is. Like the kids in Narnia, it won’t be that the next world will remind us of some of the things in this world, but rather when we get there, we will realize we loved some of the things in the world as it is now, because they pointed us to that world.
If you are looking for the furniture of Heaven, as it were, I do not believe I can give it, nor can I give such for Hell. We are given ideas about these, but not descriptions, for I believe the real ideas of these places is not focused on physical realities, but on relational realities.
We shall continue looking at that tomorrow.