Something about Heaven (a world of love)

Something about Heaven (a world of love)

“Heaven, fellowship with the Trinity is…the end for which all human beings were created” so says Jerry Walls in The Logic of Eternal Joy.

He’s right.

Today I attended the funeral of a couple who lost their beloved daughter to a premature birth.  I have rarely witnessed such Godly grief, such dignity in mourning.  In fact, I never have.  They were quite remarkable.  Why?  Because they know who they are in Christ.

All pettiness of daily living was exposed for the sham it is.  Reinhold Niebuhr expressed it well when he wrote that we were not to be preoccupied with  “the furniture of heaven or the temperature of hell.”  Such is much of our lives.  We are so preoccupied, that when tragedy strikes, we’re surprised!  It is a perverse irony that doesn’t see the pathetic blasphemy of such a state!

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Deserving Death and Hell

Thoughts of unworthiness can come and go.  Sometimes they stay and hover in our mind as though they are the things that matter most, that they are the truth to us being us, or me being me.  We lie to ourselves, thinking that this must be what God really thinks about us!  

Well, I for one am not immune to such thoughts.  I know, as a Christian that I deserve death and hell.  I know I do.  My own sinful nature tells me, my sins acted out tell me, my sins in thought, word and deed.

But.

I am a Christian.  I follow a saving and risen Jesus.  He has defeated sin and death and He is Lord.  I walk by faith and I live in grace.  Not arrogantly, but utterly dependently.  Not slothfully, but watchfully.  Not as if I have achieved anything for myself, but because Jesus has achieved everything for me that I could never achieve.

It’s all grace.  It’s all Christ Jesus.

The following was said by that tortured soul, the Reformer Martin Luther.  He had depressive tendencies, he had dark thoughts, and he knew he was a sinner, yet he said this…..

“So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, then tell him this: I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know one who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf, his name is Jesus, the Son of God, and where he is, there I shall also be!”

So of course you deserve death and hell.  That’s why Jesus came to rescue the world, to save it.  Full of sinners as it is, people like you and me.  Jesus ensures we always get what we don’t deserve.  This is the bold confidence we have.

Because of Jesus.  Where He is, there I shall also be!

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Death: You Will Die

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Death is really important to think about, affecting approximately 100% of humanity.  In the Western world especially, it remains a stunning source of perplexity why so many people in their old age, 70’s+ often seem less to contemplate the inevitability of death.  Just recently whilst visiting an elderly sick man in the church, it seemed a thought unthought that he should be preparing himself to die, something I stuttered to his wife even as they used language of ‘healing’ and ‘planning for a great future of good health’.  It struck me as very unreasonable to think of both life and death in this way!

The wonderful Jurgen Moltmann tackles this head-on.  He says that many people live as though death didn’t exist, adding that this is not the way to live a life ‘to the full’.  He continues, “To push away every thought of death, and to live as if we had an infinite amount of time ahead of us, makes us superficial and indifferent…To live as if there were no death is to live an illusion” (The Coming of God, p.50.)

The fact is, we need a ready if not brutal honesty about death, which in itself can be liberating and even life enhancing.  Surviving a serious illness or accident or whatever can actually serve to give our lives more depth.   Surely it is those who repress the thought of death who turn life into an idol – maybe these people are the ones who have deep repression anxieties about death!

Our Western culture doesn’t really help.  Observe a cultural trend.  People used to die at home and be laid out at home for all to see, to mourn, to say “Goodbye.”  Children were present, death was seen in all its glory.  Church graveyards were the centre of village or town life, people went to mourn in the centre of their everyday lives with everyone else.  But now, hospitals have taken the place of the home and the graveyard at the centre is now the crematorium on the margins of our towns.  As a result, death is privatised, even children are sometimes (often?) kept away (as I was at my own grandfather’s funeral in 1985, which left deep scars and a trashed bedroom)!

It is quite likely that that one event, coupled with Christian conversion to Christ as a young man, has made me determined to face death and “be real” about it, and being a Christian means many things, but here, it means facing death with courage knowing what God says about it and what Jesus has done to it.  No wonder the Apostle Paul can burst into song in one of his letters in the New Testament, “Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:55).

This is not to say death is easy.  It isn’t!  Mourning is costly and painful.  Moltmann is right to say that the greater the love, the deeper the grief, “the person who cannot mourn has never loved.”  Christian mourning is not the denial that something has happened, a loss unimaginable; rather, it is the acceptance of that painful loss, and further, a trust into the merciful hands of a loving God, the One who’s promises supply the faith to believe what He has promised – in Christ, a new Resurrection future with Him.  This is not soppy wishful thinking or earth-denying escapism.  In fact it is as real as reality gets, it forces us to face death as creatures made in the image of God, creatures who will one day die, and be accountable to Him.  For many, the ignoring of death and the triumph of the idolatry of life is more absurd than anything even in Alice in Wonderland!

There is a wonderful native American proverb that I’ve used in funeral sermons, “When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced.  Live your life so that when you die the world cries and you rejoice.”

That is why on my gravestone I want the words, “To live is Christ; to die is gain!”  Because in death I will die, but in Christ, I will live!