Book Plunge: Heaven and Hell

What do I think of Bart Ehrman’s latest published by Simon and Schuster? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Generally, I have enjoyed reading through Bart Ehrman books. I thoroughly disagree, but I like the books. However, when I read the one before this, The Triumph of Christianity, I found myself walking away disappointed. There just didn’t seem to be anything there like the last ones. I started reading Heaven and Hell when it came out, got caught up in other books, and it was just awhile before I came back. Perhaps it seems more like Ehrman is moving away from Jesus to an extent and going to other areas in history and philosophy and there just doesn’t seem to be as much there. I can’t say entirely.

This book is a look at the formation of the doctrine of the after-death, as I prefer to call it, in Christian thought. Ehrman starts with the way the pagans in the world viewed death. From there, he goes to the Old Testament and then to Jesus and on to Paul and looks as well at Revelation. From then on, he looks at the church throughout history and then gives some concluding remarks on how he views heaven and hell.

This also leads to questions of the nature of heaven and hell. Again, these are more theological and philosophical questions so it could be that this just isn’t Ehrman’s area and so it seems more like just personal opinion at that point. However, there are some interesting points worth noting in the book.

Ehrman does show that in the pagan world, generally speaking, resurrection was not a good thing. The body was a prison to be escaped. Thus, resurrection in the Jewish or Christian sense also did not fit in.

For many skeptics who think that resurrection was the Jews copying from Zoroastrianism, which shows up on the net at times, Ehrman cannot agree, which is refreshing. As he says:

More recently scholars have questioned a Persian derivation for the Jewish doctrine because of certain problems of dating.1 Some experts have undercut the entire thesis by pointing out that we actually do not have any Zoroastrian texts that support the idea of resurrection prior to its appearance in early Jewish writings. It is not clear who influenced whom. Even more significant, the timing does not make sense: Judah emerged from Persian rule in the fourth century BCE, when Alexander the Great (356–323 BCE) swept through the eastern Mediterranean and defeated the Persian Empire. But the idea of bodily resurrection does not appear in Jewish texts for well over a century after that.

Ehrman, Bart D.. Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife (pp. 104-105). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

Also, on a humorous note, he gives the story of how in an account Jesus said people would hang by their teeth in Hell over fires. Some disciples asked “What if someone has no teeth?” Jesus would then reply, “The teeth will be provided!” This was a joke done by a professor not to be taken seriously.

Also, for those discounting the Gospels as sources for Jesus, Ehrman has the following:

Even the most critical scholars of the New Testament agree that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are by far our best sources of information for knowing about the historical Jesus.

Ehrman, Bart D.. Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife (p. 150). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

Unfortunately though, at times he lapses back into his more fundamentalist days of reading the text. As commenting about Mark 9:1 where Jesus says some standing here would not taste death before they saw the Kingdom of God come in power:

Jesus is not saying that people will go to heaven. He is saying that some of his disciples will still be alive when the end comes and God’s utopian kingdom arrives on earth. Or, as he says elsewhere, when his disciples asked when the end of the world would come: “Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away before all these things take place” (Mark 13:30, emphasis added).

Ehrman, Bart D.. Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife (p. 154). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

As I have argued, Jesus nowhere says when the Kingdom comes, it will be a utopia immediately. Jesus does not speak of the end of the world either, but of the end of the age. As an Orthodox Preterist, I’m convinced Jesus’s prediction was stunningly accurate.

Interesting also is what Ehrman says about 1 Cor. 15.

And so, for Paul, there will indeed be a resurrection. It will be bodily. But the human body will be transformed into an immortal, incorruptible, perfect, glorious entity no longer made of coarse stuff that can become sick, get injured, suffer in any way, or die. It will be a spiritual body, a perfect dwelling for life everlasting. It is in that context that one of the most misunderstood verses of Paul’s entire corpus occurs, a verse completely bungled not just by many modern readers but throughout the history of Christianity. That is when Paul insists: “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 15:50). These words are often taken—precisely against Paul’s meaning—to suggest that eternal life will not be lived in the body. Wrong, wrong, wrong. For Paul it will be lived in a body—but in a body that has been glorified.

Ehrman, Bart D.. Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife (p. 182). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

Ehrman also thinks the beast in Revelation 17 is the same as the beast that came out of the sea in Revelation 13. I disagree with this. Looking at the passage, it talks about a great harlot and the beast himself actually attacks this harlot after a time. Who is the harlot? Look at your Old Testament. One nation is repeatedly referred to as a harlot and that’s Israel. Israel would work with the Beast for a time, (Being Nero) in killing Christians, but in turn, the Roman Empire would eventually turn on the harlot, as Israel was destroyed in 70 A.D.

Yet at the end of this look on Revelation, Ehrman gives a paragraph that aside from the opening remark could easily be said in any evangelical church. As many preachers I know would say, “That’ll preach!”

Even if parts of the vision are difficult to unpack and explain and others simply do not cohere, the author’s main points are clear. His overarching message is that God is ultimately sovereign over this world, even if it doesn’t seem like it. We may live in a cesspool of misery and suffering, and things may be getting progressively worse. But God is in charge, and it is all going according to plan. Before the end, all hell will indeed break loose, but then God will intervene to restore all that has become corrupt, to make right all that is wrong. Good will ultimately prevail.

Ehrman, Bart D.. Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife (p. 230). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

In the end, where does Ehrman fall? While he rightly tells us to try to avoid emotional reasoning, it’s hard to not see this in his response.

Even though I have an instinctual fear of torment after death—as the view drilled into me from the time I could think about such things—I simply don’t believe it. Is it truly rational to think, as in the age-old Christian doctrine, that there is a divine being who created this world, loves all who are in it, and wants the very best for them, yet who has designed reality in such a way that if people make mistakes in life or do not believe the right things, they will die and be subjected to indescribable torments, not for the length of the time they committed their “offenses,” but for trillions of years—and that only as the beginning? Are we really to think that God is some kind of transcendent sadist intent on torturing people (or at least willing to allow them to be tortured) for all eternity, a divine being infinitely more vengeful than the worst monster who has ever existed? I just don’t believe it. Even if I instinctually fear it, I don’t believe it.

Ehrman, Bart D.. Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife (pp. 293-294). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

Of course, this would all depend on how you view heaven and hell. I have written about my views elsewhere. Ehrman does say he doesn’t think this is what God is like. While I don’t think it’s accurate to say God is actively torturing people or even allowing it, seeing as I think torture and torment are two different things, I have to wonder that it’s incredible that Ehrman is willing to take the risk. Seriously, if Heaven is possibly there to gain and Hell is possibly there to avoid, I think it behooves anyone to seriously consider the question and when you decide, it needs to be more than “I just believe it” or “I just don’t believe it.” Some might think Christians should then read other religions as well. I have personally read the Mormon Scriptures and other of their books, the Koran, the Tao Te Ching, and the Analects of Confucius.

Overall, there is some good stuff in the book, but there seems to be something missing. I can’t help but see an Ehrman who I think after all these years is still searching. Perhaps a book on the afterdeath is coming as Ehrman is seeing himself getting older and thinking about these questions a lot more. I still hold out hope that one day he will return to the Christ he has since rejected. I am pleased when in the end he says three of his great heroes are Dickens, Shakespeare, and Jesus. He would love to get to meet them in an afterdeath.

I am sure Jesus would love to meet Ehrman also.

Hopefully, it will happen, and on good terms.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

A Tribute To Smokey

Do we treasure the life that we have with those we love? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It happened Saturday and came out of the blue. None of us were expecting it. My wife got a call from my mother, probably because I hadn’t been feeling well and my Mom didn’t want to tax my voice. Anyway, I heard my wife asking about “her” over and over and knew something was wrong. At the start, I thought it was my aunt Ruth back home. It wasn’t, but it still wasn’t good news. I had an idea what was going on when it came to talk about “putting her down.” You don’t say that about your aunt.

You say that about pets.

Growing up, cats have always been a part of my life. The first one was a cat named Subway, so called because we lived in a mobile home and she ran under it first when we got her. I remember when we had to put her down, though I didn’t understand why. I did know we wouldn’t be waiting long to get another cat. The house was too empty. I was already looking in the classifieds in the newspaper.

That weekend, Stormy came into our lives.

When I left home, Stormy was still there. Then, one day later on, sometime after I had married, my Mom called to tell me she had lost Stormy. I had no idea he was in bad health. Stormy had been her favorite and losing him was a major hurt to her.

Along the way also, Allie and I rescued a cat. That was interesting since she’s always been a dog person, but a cat was our first pet. Apparently, cats are with me wherever I go.

Shortly after Stormy’s passing, my sister worked and got my mother a new cat that she wasn’t expecting. This one is named Reagan. Then my Dad was out doing his work and found a place with a cat that was super affectionate, but they had to get a new home for. I don’t remember the reason, but my parents talked it over and before too long, Smokey came to live with my parents.

Smokey had been playing all the week earlier last week, but then Friday things changed. She didn’t want to move and she actually screamed when my Dad tried to pick her up, which is unusual since I have been around her several times and never heard her make a sound. They knew something was wrong. They took her to the vet and found out it was kidney failure. Medicine could help some, but it would only be a couple of weeks of pain. They were all together when they decided to put her down.

After being with my in-laws when their dog Nessie was put down, I have asked a couple of vets. They have all told me the same thing. Putting an animal down never gets easy.

When things like this happen, we always say we’re going to learn to treasure more the time that we have with the ones we love. We don’t. It is our human condition I think. We so hunger for eternity that we think every moment is like it. When things are good, we take them for granted and say “It will always be like this.” When things are bad, we lose hope and say “Things will never change.” We always want to take the present moment to be eternal.

Eternity is not with us yet. We should not treat the moment like it is. When good times come, celebrate them and be thankful, but do not take them for granted. When hard times come, mourn them and seek to change them, but do not act like the story is done at this point.

Either way, cherish the people that you love. Celebrate them. My parents, I am sure, thought there were several years to be had with Smokey. They were wrong. I know when Nessie died, my wife was saying she wished she’d spent more time walking the dog instead of doing other things. That time can never be reclaimed. Don’t waste what you have.

For those wondering, I do think a strong case can be made for animals being in the afterdeath. I recommend listening to my podcast with Dan Story on his book Will Dogs Chase Cats In Heaven?  Please in your prayers be remembering my parents in the loss of Smokey.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Why Christianity Is Not True Chapter 3

Do we have a problem with evangelism? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We’re going through David Pye’s book again and looking at chapter 3 on evangelism and eternity. I consider this chapter to be a weak argument for what it sets out to prove, but hard-hitting for the content. I am still really considering sharing this in some Christian groups to get us all to remember why we do what we do.

At the start, Pye says that Christians believe someone is either a Christian or lost by default. I think it is more likely they are, but there is the question of those who never heard and Christians have different answers to that. My answer is that God will judge us based on the light that we have. The judge of all the Earth will do right.

Pye goes on to say about evangelism that

Both the evangelistic crusades of the past and the Alpha course of today are, I believe, significant evidence against Christianity being true. If Christianity were true we would expect to see Christians integrating into their lives what they say they believe – sharing the Gospel with their relatives, friends, neighbours and work colleagues. In which case neither the Evangelistic crusades of the past nor the Alpha course of today would have been necessary.

This is a giant non sequitur. Let’s consider how we could put this in a logical form.

Christians are supposed to evangelize.
Christians do not evangelize like they should.
Therefore, Jesus did not rise from the dead.

There are any number of reasons why Christians do not do this, many of them bad. Also, keep in mind that knowing what it is we should do doesn’t seem to lead to us doing it many times. Many of us know about diet and exercise from our doctors, but we don’t do it. Many of us know that we are to treat our neighbor better, but we don’t do it.

If you want to show Christianity is not true, you have to show that Jesus did not rise. You can show Christians aren’t following their marching orders, but that only says something about Christians. It doesn’t say anything about Christianity. Keep in mind that Pye bases this on what he sees in the U.K. There is nothing about data in third world countries, especially those where doing evangelism can lead to execution.

From here, Pye goes through a list of reasons why people don’t evangelize. One of the first ones is that they want their lives to be the witness. I agree that this is a flimsy excuse. Some people do that and no one ever asks them anything. You have to lead a radically, radically different life for this to work.

Generally, in face to face relationships, I try to get to know the person first and then try to weave my way into any openings. I’m not as good at face to face which is why most of my work is done on the internet. There is a fine line. You don’t want to be obnoxious where people think you shove Christianity down their throats, but you don’t want to be totally silent so people have no clue you’re a Christian.

The second reason is that some people say God hasn’t called them to evangelize. I think this is weak as well. Do you have the Great Commission in your Bible? That’s part of your marching orders. I agree with Pye that it is tiresome to hear people talking about doing what they feel called to do or led to do, this without any Scriptural warrant.

I used to attend a church and when the offering would go around, the pastor would say “Give as you feel led.” Part of me wanted to be sarcastic and put a penny in and say “That’s what I felt God was leading me to give.” I suspect I would have been told I wasn’t listening. Just because we have the Holy Spirit doesn’t change that we are to follow wisdom, such as in Proverbs. If you want to know about giving, read a passage like 2 Cor. 8-9.

It’s also amazing how often these “signs” that people follow coincide with what they already want to do. This is not to say God cannot do something like this, but we should not expect it to be normative. I agree with Pye. This is often an excuse and giving divine authority to our feelings is dangerous.

A third reason is that God is in control. After all, if God wants them saved, He’ll do it. Even many of the staunchest Calvinists today would say God will do it, but He’ll do it through evangelism. I also wonder if Christians will do this in other areas. Need food? Don’t go to the grocery store. God will give you food if He wants you to eat. Don’t put on your seat belt when you drive. God will keep you safe if He wants you to live.

Pye shares a verse from a poem about this.

Christ has no hands but our hands to do His work today
He has no feet but our feet to lead men in the way
He has no tongue but our tongue to tell men how He died
He has no help but our help to bring them to His side

There is also the adage that goes back to Augustine of to pray as if everything depended on God and work as if it all depended on you. It would be wonderful for an Arminian to have the confidence in the sovereignty of God that many Calvinists do. It would be wonderful if many Calvinists thought they absolutely had to do evangelism like Arminians do.

The fourth is about the leading of the Holy Spirit and identical enough to the second that we need say nothing more.

The fifth is that people already know the Gospel. Many of them do, but many who think they do also misrepresent it and not necessarily intentionally. We should not presume that someone does.  Many Christians I think don’t even really know the Gospel.

A final reason is that it’s better not to have heard than to hear and reject and be lost. I consider this quite flimsy. I don’t think it even deserves a response if a Christian treats this seriously.

There are other reasons though. Sometimes people don’t know what to say. Sometimes they don’t know what could turn a person off. For this, I honestly think the church needs some classes on evangelism.

Finally, we end with some questions on Hell. Now my perspective on Hell is different from many others. I also think there are degrees of suffering in Hell and degrees of reward in Heaven. This is a complex question and simple answers won’t do.

I also agree with Pye that we should take no delight in people being in Hell. If it weren’t for the grace of God, it would be us. Moody is once said to have said that if you speak on Hell, you’d better have tears in your eyes. I sometimes see Christians say eternity is a long time to be wrong. If someone says that, they’d better think about what that means.

Pye presents two scenarios then:

(i) A 65 year old Christian, Clive, is retiring from the job he has been in for the last 30 years. On his final day there is a presentation to him and he is shown a great deal of warmth and affection. Likewise Clive feels a deep love for his colleagues who he’s spent so much time with and with whom he’s been through many good times and bad times – challenges, disappointments, joys, successes. None of these colleagues are Christians.

A few days later, alone at home, Clive reflects about the eternal destiny of these people who he worked with and loves. Can it really be that they are condemned? he wonders. Can it really be that they’re destined for hell? Surely not? He imagines himself in heaven with the knowledge that these dear people are suffering in hell.“Would I be able to enjoy heaven in those circumstances?” he asks himself. He vaguely wonders whether he should at some point have tried sharing the Gospel with any of them.

Then he reflects further: “‘For your thoughts are not my thoughts’ saith the Lord.” With a deep sigh Clive reflects “Who am I to argue against the Word of God? Who am I to think that I can judge better than God what the consequences of unforgiven sin should be?”

And with this he makes himself a cup of coffee and switches on the TV.

Clive is pathetic and might I add misusing a text of Scripture. No Christian should applaud what Clive is doing. Many of us wouldn’t, but in many cases we do act like Clive.

He then gives a second story

(ii) A man, Donald, goes through his working life employed in a factory. He is a decent man, hard-working and honest. At 20 he marries his childhood sweetheart and they go on to have 3 children. Life is hard. Donald’s health is poor but he rarely misses a day’s work. He and his family constantly struggle to make ends meet. People who know Donald see him as a devoted husband and father, a man who is kind, reliable and trustworthy. Family life is happy and joyful despite the lack of money.

Donald retires aged 65 but within a year he has a heart attack and dies. In his life Donald never became a Christian.

Pye asks how we feel about this, but really, does that matter? I don’t feel good about many things in the world, but that doesn’t mean anything about them. Reality doesn’t change depending on my feelings.

On the other hand, would Pye prefer the more Islamic system of angels recording good deeds and bad deeds and you’d better hope the good outweighs the bad? How is this system not arbitrary? Who decides how many points X is worth for good and how many points are deducted for Y? How do we know the point system?

The reality is God gave a non-arbitrary system. Perfection is the requirement. He also offers to pay it for us. Donald did do good things, but how did He treat the greatest good out there and if Christianity is true, God is the greatest good. Does one spurn God and say they will go their own way? The thing about Pye’s system is really God is irrelevant to it. That’s not a Christian system at all. Of course, Pye is not a Christian, but how could this system be compatible with Christianity?

The next chapter will be about faith. I have my concerns about how that will go, but we will see.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Our Dangerous Familiarity With Scripture

Is there a danger in our society where Christianity is normative? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

If your household is like mine, my wife and I do frequently discuss the Bible and what it means for us, particularly when we are going through a difficult time, which we all go through. We also contrast it with others we see who fail along the journey and ask what they did wrong and how we can avoid it. One thought that comes to my mind is that too many people who call themselves Christians just aren’t taking Scripture seriously enough. The sad thought is that every one of us to some extent falls into that category.

You see, we will share with our neighbors and on Facebook and on our blogs and web sites about the glorious truths of Christ. We will talk about how His power is in us to work and to bring about the Kingdom. We will even listen to Christian songs that sing that message and sing those same songs in our church service. We will stand up and we will cite the creeds in our church services as if to say that we give full support to them and back them entirely. Many of us will stand up for the Inerrancy of Scripture and say that we fully believe that which is written in the Bible.

We’re good at talking.

We’re not so good at walking.

You see, we’ve become in some ways so familiar with the text that it no longer strikes us as radical in any way. Our Biblical morality has become normative for many cultures in many ways. We don’t realize how much of a change it is to dare suggest that a person should not be a slave, that a woman has value in herself, that sex is something sacred for marriage, that we should want to give to the poor, etc. Even many atheists today will agree to some of the claims before. (Probably you’d only find the most resistance on the third one) These have seeped into our background knowledge so much that we don’t realize it. Many people do not realize they are living with a Christian morality and frankly, we don’t even realize it.

When it comes to the story of the Bible, we’ve grown up with so many cute Vacation Bible School and Sunday School lessons on this that we have not got to have the shock value. We grew up thinking this is the way not only that the world is but that it has always been. The surprise of it has never been taught. Unfortunately also, we’ve made God detached in this one. We don’t really talk about who God is at all or what He intends to do in us. We talk about what He will do for us and very rarely does that seem to include personal holiness. Instead, it most often means things like providing comfort and peace when we need it and He’ll come when we pray because we’re in a bind. We don’t see Him as a day to day reality in our lives. It’s almost like we look and say “Well yeah, I know God is there and He loves me, but so what? Look at what’s going on in my life.”

We must really ask ourselves if we’re saying “So what?” to our worldview.

What does it mean when we talk about God? The great work of Jesus was that He gave us access to God, and yet we don’t really bother to learn anything about this God He gave us access to. How many of you men would like it if your wife treated you like just a paycheck so she could get the things she wants at the store and did not come to really know and appreciate you as a person? (And how many of you wives are doing just that?) How many of you women would like it if your husband only came to you when he wanted sex but just showed no interest in you otherwise? (And how many of you husbands are doing just that?) Yet too often, this is how we have treated God, you know, the being we say is the most awesome and wonderful and majestic one of all. The one who has all the power to do what He wants, all the knowledge to know what the right thing to do is, and is all present meaning He sees everything. Oh yes, we also believe He’s going to judge us at the end of our lives and everything we have done, thought, or said, will be called to account.

Tell you what. Let that last part sink in for awhile before moving on.

Everything. There are no exceptions.

Every. Single. Thing.

As I thought about this, I remembered a meme my wife put up that is a sentiment I have shared many times that a marriage cannot be 50-50 but 100-100 and I thought “Could it be that we do not seek to give all we can in our marriages when we don’t even do that with God?” In fact, it looks like we more often than not seek to give the bare minimum. Let’s consider a line like “You should not have sex before marriage.” We can look at that and say “Okay. I get it. No sex before marriage.” But then the rationalizations come in. “Yes, but what constitutes sex? Does this mean I can do absolutely nothing truly intimate before marriage?” It’s like we want to get as close to that line before we cross it. It’s practically thinking that we suspect God is holding out on some joy and keeping it from us.

Why on Earth would you give God the bare minimum? Do you think He’s going to waste what you give to Him? Do you think that if you give money or time or service to Him that He will waste that? Do you not realize that your actions in this life really show the world what you think of God? If your actions do not match up with your words, you can be sure that the people will go with your actions instead of your words.

Now some of you can say “God is going to judge me, but I’m saved so I get to spend eternity with Him.” Well to begin with, that’s just taking advantage of the grace of God. It’s saying “I’m already covered so this sin is no big deal.” That despite the fact that any one sin is enough to require the death of the Son of God so you can be forgiven. Sorry, but to Him, it’s all a big deal and if you do not see sin in your life as a big deal, then frankly you are not taking God seriously. You must also realize on the bright side that if you do take it seriously and come to Him and ask Him seriously for help as you repent, that He will help you.

Still, let’s suppose as we have good reason to that it is true that you will make it into His Kingdom. How you spend your life here will determine how much you will enjoy eternity the next life. So let’s look at you men again who might say “Look. I mainly value my wife for sex, but I love her still and our marriage is fine. What’s the big deal?” To begin with, I’m not sure why you would want your marriage to be described as “fine” when it should be described as awesome, but if you treat your wife as a sex object, you can certainly get a lot of jollies down here, but if you’re married to a Christian, that Christian is the temple of God and you will get called to account for how you treated that temple.

Your capacity to enjoy God in the next life could be greatly lessened by your failing to appreciate Him in this life.

Let’s also add in the case of Jerry Walls. Walls is a Protestant who believes that we shouldn’t have jettisoned the idea of purgatory. God has to make us holy somehow and he doesn’t see a guarantee of a sudden zap when we die. There will be a time of waiting according to Walls where God will purge our unholiness out of us.

Let’s suppose that that is true.

If so, do you not realize that living a life of sin means you will be further and further from experiencing the joy of the Kingdom because you lived so long in contradiction to it? I’m not sold on Walls’s idea yet, but it does make me look at myself and say “Am I taking sanctification seriously? Am I taking holiness seriously?” We can often act like our wrong doesn’t really matter to God and on what basis do we normally do it?

Feelings and experience.

“Sure. I did this thing I normally shouldn’t have, but I didn’t feel awful and the sky didn’t come crashing down around me so it must not be any big deal to God.” If personal experience and feelings were a guide to holiness that was surefire, I suspect many of us would be living better. Unfortunately, how we feel in a situation is often a result of not just that situation but a lifetime of training our emotions and feelings a certain way. They become repetitive. We can numb ourselves to any idea that we are doing something wrong by just ignoring it. That’s one reason so many guys can get caught in internet pornography. They ignore the one feeling and they emphasize that other feeling that certainly feels oh so good to them.

But for that, judgment is still coming. You will stand before God.

Again, let that sink in for a bit before moving on.

And what are the consequences of not taking Scripture seriously and thus not taking holiness seriously? Look around you.

How many of you live lives that the rest of the world will look at you and say “Wow. That’s what I want my life to be like.” How many of you husbands would have your wives be able to wake up and say “My husband is just so much like Jesus it’s a joy to be married to him.” (And wives, if you are saying that, are you indeed giving him your very best like you should give your best to Jesus?) How many husbands get up and say “I love my wife so much that I am willing to die for her at this moment.” (And if you say that, dying is no doubt difficult to do for someone, but are you willing to also live for them?) Again, many of us seek to give the bare minimum in our marriages. That could be why the divorce rate is so high.

Okay. I know there are times that a divorce is Biblically allowable. I also don’t think the claim is true that it’s just as high for Christians as it is for non-Christians since it’s my understanding that Christians who regularly worship and pray and read the Bible together and thus seek to live out a Biblical worldview have a much lower divorce rate. Despite that, divorce is a tragedy. Even if it is Biblically allowable, divorce is a tragedy. Our hearts should weep when we hear about it taking place in the church again even when we think it needs to be done. In fact, at our house, unless we’re discussing it in a context like this, we never use the word. It is simply “The d-word.”

This also includes our sex lives. Isn’t it a shame that we look at sex in our culture and the Christians are seen as the prudes who don’t really enjoy sex? We Christians should be the ones who are enjoying it the most. (Adding in if we are married of course.) If you want the world to look at your marriage and see it as something that they should desire, that will include your sex life in it. Sex is a covenant making activity and it serves the role in marriage of renewing the covenant as it were with your spouse. You come in and give everything you have to your spouse and leave yourself totally vulnerable to them. Yet in that vulnerability, there is to be the greatest of joy for you come knowing you are fully accepted and loved. Christians should in fact corner the market on having great sex and too often, we don’t.

What do you take the time to enjoy the most? Peter Kreeft spoke about one of his sports teams in baseball he likes once and said sometimes he worries he’s more of a fan of them than he is a fan of Jesus. How many of us could say likewise? How many of us follow our favorite sports team with more devotion and excitement than Jesus. Now some of you might call foul (pun intended) on me in this saying that you know I’m not a sports fan. Fair enough. Could I be more interested in a game I am playing at the time? Could I be more interested in a TV series I am watching at the time? Unfortunately, looking at the state of my prayer life, I think I could often say that yes, some things are more appealing. Could it in fact sometimes be that the ministry of Jesus is more appealing than Jesus Himself?

To get back to judgment, some of us will read and say, “Yes. I know I need to get things right, but judgment is off in the distance.”

For some people in Chattanooga, judgment came suddenly yesterday. I am not saying that their deaths was God’s judgment on them. Not at all. I am saying that they woke up yesterday morning I’m sure thinking they had the rest of their lives ahead of them. They had time to do things they meant to do. They had time to tell their loved ones that they loved them. They had time to play with the kids later on. They had time to show their spouse how much they appreciated them.

But they didn’t.

Before the day was over, they unexpectedly stepped into eternity.

And what guarantee do you have that the same won’t happen to you today?

We often look at our world and wonder how it got the way that it did. The idea of redefining marriage would have been unthinkable decades ago. Now it’s normative to most people. We can actually rip apart a baby in the womb and have people that will defend and celebrate it. Many of the things we were sure would never happen have in fact happened and as I tell people as an apologist, it really blows my mind the things that I have to defend today because I never would have dreamed someone could think otherwise.

This did not happen because the world did what the world does.

This happened because the church did not do what the church is supposed to do.

Do we really think this would have happened if we were taking the claims of Christ seriously? Do we really think this would have happened if we had properly informed ourselves on our worldview? Do we really think this would have happened if the church had more consistently lived what it believed? No. The blame falls on our heads for not doing the job of standing up and contending for the faith and we will be called to judgment for that.

In fact, we often talk about caring for the poor in Christianity. You know who’s job that is in Christianity? Yours. It is not the job of the government to take care of the poor. It is the job of the church to do that and the reason the church is having such a hard time is we decided to ask Caesar for his help. Do we really think that Christ is so weak and incapable that His church would need the help of Caesar to do what He had told them to do? The sad reality is yes, yes we do in fact think that. We can know we think that because that is in fact what we did.

Please also understand I am not going hard on everyone else and ignoring myself in all of this. I do take a serious look at myself and ask if I’m doing all that I could be. Of course, we can all always do more. None of us will live perfectly, but if I really do think God can help me in my struggle with sin, that He can empower me to live a holy life, that eternity of bliss with Him is the best thing that can possibly be, and that He will be my judge one day, I should take it seriously. If I believe the Bible is from Him and the commands in there are true, I should take that seriously.

Am I? Good question.

Are you? Also a good question.

Think about it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Apostles’ Creed: And The Life Everlasting

What awaits those who trust in Christ? Let’s dive into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Death is something we often don’t really care for. It’s such a finality to matters. I have been to two funerals this year for instance. One was for an aunt who died. The other was for a neighbor who lived just down the street from us and whose death we were not at all expecting. My wife has lost her grandfather this year as well.

When someone dies, we are suddenly filled with grief if we knew the person well and cared for them. When I walk past my neighbor’s house for instance, I can know that in this lifetime, I will never see him out there tending to his garden and have him wave at me and have my wife and I talk to him about the plants in our garden.

Scripture gives us the promise of life everlasting as does the Apostles’ Creed, but here is another area where we have misunderstandings. This is often done at funerals. As I mentioned in an earlier post, too often, we have made it seem like the goal of Christianity is simply to get to Heaven. That’s a goal very much about us.

Yet the Bible is about what God is doing with His creation for His glory and part of it is redeeming the creation. It is not as if he says “Dang it. Looks like the devil screwed up that Garden of Eden plan. So much for that planet.” Too many Christians have this idea. This world is not our home supposedly. God did not make it to be our eternal dwelling.

Wherever that idea comes from, it is not Scripture. It is more a Platonic sort of idea of an otherworldly experience apart from this world. In fact, Scripture says the opposite. Heaven comes down to Earth in the book of Revelation. It is not the case that people go to Heaven. God comes to dwell with His people. His people do not go to a far off place where He is. In fact, if we are true believers of Scripture, we should realize God is here right now. We are just waiting for His presence to be more manifest and I would suggest the problem is not with Him, but it is with us. After all, it can never be with Him.

Part of that promise is not just going back to Eden, but going beyond Eden. This will be a place that is far better than Eden. This will be life everlasting and of a kind that will eternally satisfy us. Thankfully, it will not be like what we often see in the cartoons. For most of us, if Heaven was simply sitting on clouds and playing harps, most of us would wonder if we had instead gone to Hell. It is why some youth growing up have asked the question of if Heaven would be boring. With our descriptions of it, we have not given them much to be excited about.

Of course, the biggest excitement is that God is there and we interact with Jesus. Now if some of you don’t get excited as you should at that, could it be because we have not made the topic that exciting? We have turned God into some detached far off being that is not really interacting with our world, aside from as a friend of mine said yesterday, to perhaps send a hurricane to judge homosexuals and people attending casinos and I could add perhaps answering that prayer for a miracle and finding that parking space every now and then.

And as for Jesus, well we’ve made Jesus this nice approachable figure from our Sunday School lessons that doesn’t really challenge us which leads to an obvious question. Why would someone crucify this Jesus? For instance, as I read through Five Views on the Historical Jesus, I found Crossan’s essay quite interesting with the ending that Jesus would be seen like someone providing social renewal with a message of love. Okay. Perhaps He did. Here’s my problem. A Jesus like that is not a threat. At the worst, He’s an annoyance. There’s no reason to crucify Him.

Do we really think about Jesus? Do we think about who He is and why He came? For instance, last night I read Psalm 86 with the prayer in there of thanking God for saving them. Now isn’t this interesting? The knowledge of salvation and forgiveness before the cross? But on what basis? Because people were keeping the Law to show their faithfulness to God in response of His faithfulness to them.

Did Jesus really come into a world where the Jews were looking for a way of salvation? It doesn’t look like it. Most of them had a way that seemed to work quite well for them. Yet still He came to show them a new way. What a strange message this must have been. Instead of righteousness with God being found on the basis of the Law which came from Moses, it was found on the basis of this man who just showed up and did some miracles and spoke in these strange parables? Look at it this way, and you can understand why Jesus was not received as well by the leaders of His day. We must all honestly ask ourselves before we condemn them if we would do any better.

Then you can ask also how John the Baptist fit into this. Why did John the Baptist speak out against the actions of Herod? Was he just a political agitator? Or was he concerned about the righteousness of the people and people getting their hearts right in preparation? If he said nothing about the leader of the people openly disobeying what was righteous, then how could He be taken seriously?

These are the kinds of questions we need to be asking. Who was Jesus? What kind of world did He come into? What difference did He make in it? What difference does He make in it? What does He tell us about God? Remember, Jesus is the revelation of God. He is the one through whom we are to see and interpret the Father. To know Jesus is to know God.

If the prospect of eternity with the Trinity does not excite us, it is because we have not come to fully know them as they are, and indeed this certainly applies to my own self who often does not get excited enough. None of us will have that kind of excitement until we pass over into eternity as we are all still bound by our sinful natures.

The good part is that we will have all of eternity to discover the wonder that we have missed and the wonder that we were meant for. It will never be interrupted. It will never be painful. It will never be sorrowful. It will never be boring. This does not mean we will be passive. We will be incredibly active. We will be working in Heaven, but it will be worthwhile and enjoyable, unlike most of our work today where most of us can’t wait to get home from the evening shift.

To see the analogy, go back to the Garden of Eden. As David Lamb says in his book “God Behaving Badly”, man is placed in the garden and given a job and he is given what many men have called the greatest commandment God ever gave man. “Go forth and multiply.” As Lamb says, he is told to eat a lot of food and have a lot of sex. Now men, imagine going through CareerBuilder or a and seeing a job description like this.

“I have a garden that I want a husband and wife to attend to for me. I will cover all of their expenses. I will handle their dental, health, and any other insurance coverage. Aside from one tree I choose, they may eat anything they grow in the garden that they want. I will make sure their clothing and living arrangements are provided for. I will make sure their children are provided for. Oh. One more thing. I also expect the husband and wife to have a lot of sex with each other in the garden. No credentials or skills in gardening needed. I will teach you all you need to know.”

Personally, if I saw a job application like that, I would be applying immediately. In fact, I would probably be reapplying to it every day.

It’s my suspicion that our work in Heaven will be jobs tailor made for us. I suspect someone like myself could be assigned to do research and teaching and I will have the best library of all with all the books ever written and I will get to do that research alongside people like the Apostle Paul and Thomas Aquinas and just think of the conversations we can have.

Also, I do fully believe that this will take place on this Earth. What all that entails for us I cannot say. I get suspicious of people who claim to give detailed accounts of what Heaven is like when Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12 that he could not speak of what He saw. Whatever it is, it is made for us to enjoy and it will be enjoyable because it is our place in God that we find. We find our total completion in Him when we get there.

As I write this, I can confess I do get a hint of that joy and that desire. To use the parallel given earlier, and every man can understand this, imagine being at work one day and it being tedious and boring and you find out on your break you have a voicemail from your wife. You turn it on to listen still kind of in a moping mood and hear something like this.

“Hey honey. I just wanted to let you know it’s been really lonely here and I’ve been thinking about you a lot and how much I appreciate what you do. I sent the children over to grandma and grandpa’s to spend the night with them. I am as we speak fixing your favorite dinner right now and we’ll share it together when we get home and then, we can go to the bedroom together. I went out and got a new outfit today and I think you’ll really enjoy it. I can’t wait to see you when you get home and I hope you can’t wait to really see me.”

I can assure you if I was that husband, my mood would have gone straight up for the rest of the day and I could not wait to get home in the evening. Some of you women might be thinking “Won’t my husband be worried about how much the outfit cost?” I can assure you that will be one of the last things on his mind. In fact, the desire that he has is in fact enjoyable in itself. Anything he goes through for the rest of the day will be worth it in comparison to the joy that he knows awaits him when he gets home.

This is why the Bible compares things so often to a marriage. We are awaiting the full consummation of what is to come. Remember also we are the bride. We are the ones that will have the life of God given to us. What you see happening in a marriage is meant to be a picture of what happens between Christ and the church. This is in fact why we must take marriage seriously as Christians and must take sex sacredly as Christians. To do anything less is to dishonor God.

Keep the faith Christian, and someday, you will be in the manifest presence of God celebrating His great love and never again to be absent or apart from it.

In Christ,

Nick Peters