Thanks much for the chance to ponder what my three would be. For the first time in this column, my answers are to be questions. I love it! But because I am the hopeless..and often helpless..apologist, I couldn't help fumbling towards the potential answers. Forgive me. I also learned something afresh about myself, thanks to this column: I have never been much hung up on explaining the classical apologetical "problems" like creation or end-times issues. Either I just have ridiculously trusting faith, or I need to study more to "always be ready to give an answer for the hope within" (1 Peter 3:15), so that "I will know how to answer every outsider" (Colossians 4:6). Must be some of both. Here goes:
1.) First question:
"Why, assuming You desire to make Your will, purpose and plan for us clear, so we can obey it; would You allow certain passages of Holy Scripture to be so puzzling, controversial, and downright hard to figure out?" For example, there are several possible interpretations of a verse from this week's sermon chapter, namely:1 Tim 2:15: "Women will be saved through childbirth".
I mean, what's up with that, Lord? Why is it in the Book? It drives me crazy to go to evangelical commentaries by Jesus-loving scholars, prime examples of what you call "prominent smart folks," who are the cream 0f the apologetic crop, and they either list several possible interpretations of a text, and then conclude that no one can know for sure what it's supposed to mean (Why put it in the Bible, God, if no one can figure it out? I thought "all Scripture is profitable"?) ; or they pick what they consider the most likely option, but can't offer any measure of certainty. So in essence, my first question would borrow your words: Why do we seem destined...doomed.. to have "differing opinions" on issues like this " among prominent smart folks." I'm sure part of the answer has something to do with (How presumptuous, you only asked me my three questions for God; now I'm already going to be crazy enough to venture three guesses at the first question's answer!!) is some things are just not as central; or essential, or the Lord would have made them clearer.
2.) My second question: is probably:
"Why can't we humans just accept God's paradoxical, incomprehensible, perfect, mysterious ways? Practically speaking, the question here becomes , though: " How, Lord, do you explain, for example, the apparent (though not actual) contradiction between the two streams of Scripture regarding death and the second coming?..When are we in heaven, or "with the Lord". In fact, one of our readers send me this question, phrasing it this way:
Question: Lately, I have learned more about what the Bible says about when we die, and I was surprised. If it is just a sleep we go into I was not very happy about that at first. I thought we would be with Jesus and maybe others we knew right off the bat. Then I figured it's all about trusting God yet one more time, and knowing He's got it figured out for the best of us and much better than I could come up with. Can you give me some clarity on this, or tell me what to check out? Don't I sound like a little kid? Guess that's a good thing though...
I hate to quote myself again. but In fact, my own feeble and longwinded attempt at solving this apparent dilemma is found in yet another column of mine (reprinted at the bottom of this page, see asterisked footnote*).But, Lord (since I'm sure my answer below didn't solve it all), how does this all work out "metaphysically", time-wise? I know this may be a question that can't be answered unless I could think completely like God
(Hey, there's a question: In heaven, will we finally be able to "think like God" and understand these divine mysteries, or will we be so lost in worship that none of it matters anymore except Jesus?").
Part of the problem is we, particularly
in this Western culture, have a hard time with paradox, synthesis
and holistic answers. We tend to get boxed in with "either-or" ("Is
it predestination or free-will?)" answers, when often the proper
response is a "both-and" ("Is it predestination or fee-will?" The
answer? "Yes!")... We are limited by dualistic, Hellenistic , Enlightenment
and Western mindsets, when God, and the writers and culture of the
Bible, are far out of that box! And the fact that we can't figure
out profound theological paradoxes and puzzles? To me, instead of
frustrating me into un-faith, paradoxes actually can build and boost
my faith; because I realize His ways are higher than mine (Isaiah
55:9), and He's got it all figured out. That may be faith, or it
may be unnecessarily blind, unscholarly, unthinking and simplistic.
Either way, I do seem to trust God with these areas, though the
"How in heaven do You do that?" would indeed be something of my
question #2. Even if the only answer I'd get would be "I'm God,
dude!" Maybe the question is again, back where I started: "Why can't
we humans just deal with paradox?" Maybe the answer is "Because
you're NOT God, dude!"
would have to do with what some theologians call "Spirit Christology" or "kenosis", and whether this proposed theology is consistently true. If it is, it would almost move this question into the realm of "essential" doctrines, because it then provides the very key to how we are to live in relation to daily Christian life, walking in the power and possibilities of the Spirit; doing the "greater works than Jesus" that Jesus flatly and unapologetically predicted we would do. Now, not every proponent of "Spirit Christology" or "kenosis theology" is biblical or orthodox, so hear me when I say that I know I don't agree with everyone using these categories. The basic argument would be this; to put it bluntly, as one preacher did for shock value: "Jesus did nothing on earth as God! " Wow, better unpack that! Now, that statement doesn't have to imply He was not God.. He was, is and always will be fully God in my Book! It's just that He didn't. during His earthly ministry, anyway..do anything out of His innate, inherent and intrinsic Godhood. He voluntarily surrendered the rights to use and access His God hood's attributes... such as omniscience, or power to do mighty miracles. Several
Scriptures come into play: John 5:19 and 30 offer that Jesus did nothing in and of Himself, but only did what the Father and Spirit told/led/empowered Him to do. Philippians 2:6-11 asserts that Jesus didn't take advantage of, or even access of the rights and power of His Godhood, which would be "robbery," and a violation of the whole point of His incarnation; His coming to earth. Instead of functioning out of His eternal power and prerogative as Almighty God, He "emptied Himself". A by-product of this, is as Hebrews affirms "Jesus know every temptation we have endured by His own experience" (2:18 and 4:15). I also love to shock congregations by asking "When Jesus did miracles on earth, how was He able to do those miracles?" Well-trained evangelicals of course automatically answer, "Because He was God!" When actually, that may be the wrong answer all together. Of course He was God, no debate. But the only Scriptural answer to "How did He do those miracles?" is "in the power of the Spirit". And witness Matt. 12:28: He cast out demons; not because He was God and could do so, but as a human "by the power of the Spirit." Thus, that is the "key" key, crucial catch, and ancient but overlooked secret as to how we, mere humans, are to do the same works He did, even greater. (Jesus said that, not me. Blame Him: John 14:12)
We do them through "checking in" with the same Father Jesus checked
in with while on earth; and trusting,...radically; to the point
where the supernatural almost becomes natural and norm... the same
Spirit Jesus trusted. (Note Jesus, a few sentences later, suggests
that is His secret, and ours. He simply passes the torch to us,
but not without the sharing the same equipping Holy Spirit: verses
16-17).Such deep trust and dependency doesn't make us Jesus, of
course, but they do position us to trust the timing and voice of
the Father, and prompting and power of the Spirit, as radically
as Jesus did...with similar and "even greater" results! If JESUS
never did anything in and of Himself (John 5:19 and 30), who do
we think WE are?
*Appendix ( Here's the other column I promised in the footnote):
Question: Lately, I have learned more about what the Bible says about when we die, and I was surprised. If it is just a sleep we go into I was not very happy about that at first. I thought we would be with Jesus and maybe others we knew right off the bat. Then I figured it's all about trusting God yet one more time, and knowing He's got it figured out for the best of us and much better than I could come up with. Can you give me some clarity on this, or tell me what to check out? Don't I sound like a little kid? Guess that's a good thing though. Anyway I think you are the greatest pastor I have ever met and I continue to pray for you every day.
Answer: Thanks so much for your support and prayers. I am not the greatest pastor that I have ever met! But hey, you are right: it is ALWAYS "about trusting God, and knowing He's got it figured out." And of course, childlike faith is Jesus' own definition of faith. But we do have some help in reconciling what at first would seem to be contradictory views of what happens when we die. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 sounds like we have to wait until our resurrection to be with Christ, yet Philippians 1:21-23 suggests that to die is be with Him. It doesn't say "To be resurrected is to be with Christ." The first-mentioned Scripture should be seen in light of the first.
The Greek grammatical construction of Philippians 1:23, as well as the overall context of the New Testament does to me promise that the moment we die we are with the Lord. But the Thessalonians passage suggests that at that point our body is not yet "there" yet, in a certain way; even if "we" (our spirit or awareness ) are!.. The ultimate answer may have something to with the timelines. we can surely be fully present with Jesus, before we obtain our new resurrection bodies. But mostly I think we need to remember how beyond time God is. Even if there is a waiting period after death (which could not be a "purgatory" as commonly defined), we wouldn't be aware of it; time would pass in what the Bible calls "the twinkling of an eye" and "a thousand years like a day". So far all practical purposes, we are absolutely with Jesus upon "waking" (notice Paul and Jesus refer to death as "sleep") from death. However God works it out metaphysically, that's His business. (I know two things: There is a God, and I'm not Him.) Our business is to heed the claimant call that "it is appointed to us once to die, and then immediately the judgment" (Hebrews 9:27)and be ready to "pass the test" by having accepted Christ in this life, so that we might be accepted by Him in the next.
We should also remember that Thessalonians was written, in part, to answer some questions those in Thessalonica apparently had about the Second Coming: Had it already come? If not, how should we live in the interim? What about those who have died before it has come?"
This framing of the questions behind the book helps in at least a couple of ways. One, their questions were not our modern Western questions about how God sorts out the time and space matters (they trusted in that department). And secondly, it is this last question which obviously relates to our generation in a profound way: we all have loved ones who have died "in the Lord" before the Second Coming. I have heard too many funerals which focused on the promise of bodily resurrection at some future date, to the exclusion of the other promise: that to die is to be ushered into being "with Him." How we needed to be pastorally comforted by the Spirit of God, who promises us BOTH. But we need not fear a long and lonely waiting room, or that our departed believing friends are lost in some limbo or holding tank. We are told, and should therefore believe and be comforted by the fact that they are in a most enviable position: They, even more than we who walk with Christ "here", are with Christ "there." Wow, what a great hope; which we can't even stretch our imaginations and prayers around. Whether or not the departed Christians are now experiencing the fullness of all that heaven will eventually be (post-Second Coming) is a "dead issue" (pardon the pun) for them. They are with Christ, and feeling no pain, or troubling theological questions and doubts about the metaphysics and schedule of it all. If they don't yet "have" their fully glorified and resurrected body (But who is to say God can't work time "backwards" for those in eternity?), I don' think they are feeling left out. They are with the King! No wonder Paul was torn!
Having said all that, some closing related challenges that are not meant to shake your faith, but to stir it up to examine what the Bible really says: Does it appear that anyone is in hell RIGHT NOW (Sure, some will be there LATER, but how about now, before the events of the Second Coming?)? What do the Scriptures teach (Or not teach) about marriage in heaven, relationships, and the "seeing" of departed loved ones in heaven? Have fun with these, but remember the bottom lines of 1 Thess. 4 and Philippians 1. No wonder we do not grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thess 4:13). Jesus is Hope!
You may have heard the joke about the pastor who had left the office to pray, and when someone called for him, his secretary said, without thinking of how we usually interpret the phrase, "Oh, he's gone to be with the Lord." Enjoy being with Jesus in this life, as well as in the next... Here, there, or in the air!