Monday, January 7, 2013
A Foretaste of Heaven.
by Pastor Stephen Jones
This story describes a liturgical trip we took one morning across the eastern half of New York State. You might well ask how an automobile ride from Ithaca to Albany can be considered liturgical. Some say liturgy relates only to a formal Lord’s Service on Sunday morning, or at least to some sort of formal church ritual. But consider the book of Deuteronomy. It is highly structured liturgy, and at the same time it is a story with lots of life and action. It summarizes the journey through the wilderness taken by the children of Israel. Our story has similar qualities. It begins in the wilderness and goes on to replicate an ancient pattern of life. That pattern is reflected in the Lord’s Service, as first described in the book of Leviticus. A family brings their goat to the Temple for an atoning sacrifice and a meal. “Are you clean?” asks the priest. The goat is slain, skillfully divided with the priest’s knife, and burned on the altar, thus becoming a “sweet savour [ascending] unto the Lord.” The family feasts with the Lord and returns home to live more godly lives. Our story follows the pattern of the Lord’s Service. The Lord calls us, accepts our confession of sin, consecrates us with his Word, draws us to heaven and serves communion with us and, finally, commissions us to go and serve others. Our story is about a trip to the City of Alternity through the perspective of the Lord’s Service.
The call came on Thursday. “There’s a worthwhile conference at Paul’s church all day Saturday.”
It was John on the phone. “Yes, John,” I said, “I saw the notice. How about we go together?”
By Saturday, before six o’clock on a mid-August morning, John and I were traveling across Route 88 toward Albany, New York. Time and space will become important so I mention them here at the outset. Early in the trip we encountered a nasty detour just as I was about to share with John some thoughts about “Heaven.”
I think where believers will end up is not in heaven but rather a resurrected “new heaven,” “new earth,” and “New Jerusalem.” The Bible makes an important distinction between “Heaven” and the final destiny of our resurrected bodies. “Heaven” is the soul’s stopover with God while the body lies in the grave. When I speak of this interim, “stopover” phase, I will put “Heaven” in quotes and capitalize the word. Otherwise I’ll say just plain heaven. “Heaven” happens any time before the Second Coming, and it happens from the time we die a carnal death until the Second Coming of Christ on Judgment Day when, for good or ill, our bodies are resurrected. “Heaven” may be what Jesus refers to as being carried “into Abraham’s bosom,” but I’ll say more about that later. Christ’s Second Coming is also when history is slurped back into eternity, and God is “all in all.” At that twinkle of an eye, the blip from eternity into history and back again is over. “Heaven” is over, also, because God is “all in all” in eternity, which I am not calling “Heaven” but rather “Alternity.”
I need to sort some things out, and I hope to do so in this story.
History blips out of eternity and is slurped back into eternity. Please excuse my using those homey terms, but I don’t want to invent a whole new vocabulary in order to say these things….
Well, that is, except for the one new term: “Alternity.” Our final destination—the resurrection of our bodies, and our bodies’ reunion with our souls, and our body and souls’ reunion with God for the first time since Adam—I am calling Alternity. The name represents God’s eternal victory through Christ “when all things shall be subdued unto him….that God may be all in all.” Most letters of the words “All” and “eternity” are clear enough in my contraction, but the name, Alternity, is also appropriate in a story involving two men traveling to Albany, New York, early on one August morning. Albany was to become our New Jerusalem, our Celestial City, and our Alternity. Furthermore, for some readers it may be a helpful and biblical alternative to what they have considered to be their final destination as Christian believers.
Confession and Forgiveness
In the beginning was the fog. Just as a liturgical church service begins in a sort of fog as we are called in from the wicked world from which we, too, are a bit messed up, so it is that this morning’s journey began with a detour steeped in a thickening, “pea-soup” fog. Fortunately, John and I prayed together before we left on this trip, and in prayer we confessed our sins and sought God’s forgiveness.
“Are you clean?” asks the priest.
The nasty detour was a result of July’s flooding in upstate New York. A few people from a local trailer park were washed away by the Susquehanna River, and two truckers were killed when a bridge on Route 88 fell out from underneath them. Timing and placing: in this case being at the right place, given their personal plans, but at the wrong time—local waters were doing unusual things that day. The truckers were the only victims on Route 88 itself. They were not able to brake quickly enough and, consequently, they careened into the watery abyss and drowned. Now we were following foggy twists and turns over strange roads through this detour to get from the end of one section of unbroken highway to the beginning of another.
The flood was an awful time, but it was a part of God’s plan nevertheless. At the Temple in Jerusalem the family’s offering was brought to the priest, its throat cut, and the death of the goat became atonement for the sins of the family. The death of Christ is our substitute atonement. Beginning with confession and forgiveness we regularly renew the covenant promise with God. We, too—John and I—could have been washed away in such a flood. As it was we only suffered inconvenience because of this detour. It’s not that confessing and seeking God’s forgiveness prevents bad things from happening to us; rather they affirm our covenantal fellowship with God and with one another. They affirm our trust that, whatever things do happen to us, they “work together for good to them that love God [and] are the called according to his purpose.”
Consecration through the Word of God.
The detour came upon us just as the preaching and responsive dialogue between us began. Teaching and preaching the Word of God sorts us out—pierces “even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit” and discerns “the thoughts and intents of the heart”—just as the priest’s knife properly divides among the guts of a goat. This morning John and I would spend a lot of time reflecting on God’s Word and sorting out some things about heaven.
Our thoughts about heaven were related to the C. S. Lewis Narnia Story—a series of tales which are analogous to stories and teachings of the Bible. I was telling John about the last book of the series in which the protagonists, four heroic children from England, die in a horrendous railroad catastrophe. Along with many friends and family members the children are killed when a train veers off its rails at a sharp curve and ploughs through a station house and its platform. Friends, relatives, and the children are rightly placed, given everyone’s plans, but at the wrong time.
Lots of English friends die in that fictional accident of 1949, and in a recent upstate New York flood, many trailer residents plus two truckers died. Events of this sort are not usually intended by us. They are untimely from our perspective, and they are out of place and seem to arise from nowhere. They blip into time just as time blips into and then out of eternity. Also, the spacing of such events isn’t normal either. In an oddly similar way, time and location were coming together for John and me as we encountered the intrusive detour which took us miles out of the way and just as I’d finished relating some tidbits about Narnia and heaven.
“Do you think heaven is a cleansed earth?” I asked. “That seems to be what C. S. Lewis is saying.”
John is a thinker, and thinking takes time. At first I thought he hadn’t been listening. Maybe he’d drifted off somewhere into his own fertile imagination.
While John is still thinking or drifting, let me say that I also talked to him about Lewis’ metaphorical use of a strange wardrobe. Near the beginning of the first book in the Narnia series, Lewis gives us the wardrobe metaphor to help sort out time from eternity—at least it did that for me, whatever this author may have intended. The youngest of the English children, Lucy—still very much alive nine years before her death at the train station—enters the wardrobe of an old English mansion where she and her siblings escaped London during the German blitz early in World War II. She’s walking through the soft, fur coats of the wardrobe with “her arms stretched out in front of her so as not to bump her face into the back of the wardrobe.”
She never does bump a back wall. She enters Narnia instead. For Lucy there are no stumbling blocks in Narnia. Narnia is not only a different era than the 1940’s and a different land than England, but also, and more profoundly, Narnia is different TIME altogether and, ultimately, different SPACE altogether. In fact, Lucy, her sister, and two brothers, who have entered the wardrobe to avoid a wicked mistress, live and thrive in Narnia long enough for them to become kings and queens and rule for many years. When, later on, they exit the wardrobe, their wicked mistress is still talking with visitors down the hall of the English mansion. Fifteen years have gone by in Narnia, and only a few moments of time have passed since the children were avoiding the snare of the mistress.
I tell our church congregation that history and eternity may well be like that strange wardrobe experience. For all its time and space, history is a timeless blip in God’s eternal present. The historical stage may exit and enter eternity through an unimaginable, spaceless hole. God the Father speaks history, “His story,” into existence and creates a Bride—the church—for his Son. As Jonathan Edwards put it long ago, “The end, the ultimate end of the creation of God was to provide a spouse for His Son, Jesus Christ, who might enjoy Him, and on whom he might pour forth His love.” The children blipping from England for a few moments and into the relative forever of Narnia is a watered-down version of all of history blipping from eternity into “history” and then being slurped back into eternity so that “God may be all in all.” Lewis was a master of metaphors.
That’s about Lewis’ time metaphor. John still said nothing, and I enter his thinking or drifting on to remind him of Lewis’ space metaphor—a reverse onion. I knew John had once read the Narnia books so I could be brief.
“At the very end of the Narnia series Lewis has the children and all the talking animals—remember they already had died a carnal death—go ‘further up and further in’ toward what we call heaven and yet, oddly enough, they are always on earth. When they reach their destination, which is Lewis’ version of the final resurrection, Lucy’s oldest brother exclaims, ‘Why, it’s England!’ A friend of the children, who has already arrived, explains to them, ‘You are now looking at the England within England, the real England.…And in that inner England no good thing is destroyed.’”
Finally, John began speaking. “Yes,” he said, “I think that’s right. Heaven is that resurrected England—and our own resurrected worlds as well—where ‘no good thing is destroyed.’”
“When I read that, John, and finally got it, I was stunned. Maybe I finally understood because I was reading to my grandchildren, and we were exchanging ideas. In any case, it was an inspiration for me. I never thought about heaven in that way before.”
John nodded. “So when you ask me whether heaven is a cleansed earth, I think, ‘Yes, definitely, it is!’ I agree with the vision of Lewis. Heaven is sort of a cleaned up continuation of where and what we are now. And, of course, in heaven, we’re in the presence of God just like Adam and Eve were in Paradise before the Fall.”
My question to John had been a “feeler.” I didn’t expect this answer, and I was pleased . By starting on this common ground maybe we could make some progress.
“Saint Peter’s fire is a metaphor about that cleansing,” John went on. “Peter talks about the day of the Lord when the heavens shall pass away and the earth also, and all the works shall be burned. This could mean the great tribulation of 70 AD when God judged Jerusalem and Judea by the fires of war, and the new covenant emerged full blown. But I think the fires of heaven and earth also refer to a final covenant—the resurrection of our bodies and of the earth—the new heavens, the new earth, and the New Jerusalem.”
“So the fire is about cleansing and change—?”
The fog was becoming thicker and the detour more complicated.
John was warming to the conversation—our consecration. “Peter says that we look for, ‘new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwells righteousness.’ All this started with the resurrection and ascension of Christ and the subsequent judgment of ancient Israel forty years later in 70 AD, and it will be consummated with Christ’s Second Coming.”
We were now in the very deep fog of a most confusing part of the detour. I’d already gone the wrong way twice. How many times in less tragic ways are we like the engineer on that English train! How quickly and easily we follow a plan of our own devising only to find that the turn is wrong, the fog too thick, the signs too vague, or the speed around a curve is just a bit too much—all in a plan that is not really our own. Often our surprise at what happens tells us that.
The last story about Narnia goes on about the same venturesome children, even though now they are “dead”. Lewis once again takes them to Narnia but then has them take an amazing journey to be with Christ—or his Christ-figure, Aslan, a lion. This final journey that Lewis writes about is what we’re calling Alternity, our final destination.
Just as the wardrobe metaphor helped me to sort out historical time from eternity, so now Lewis presents a reverse-onion metaphor to help me sort out spatial possibilities. In his imaginative foray into new heavens and the new earth, space flip-flops. Space in eternity must be, like time’s eternal present, both an infinitely tiny dot and an infinitely extending line—shrinking or exploding dimensions of any sort. To express, space wise, what we can’t experience in our old heavens and old earth, Lewis describes a “garden that is far bigger inside than it was outside….The further up and the further in you go, the bigger everything gets—like an onion: except that as you continue to go in and in, each circle is larger than the last.” Often people have an idea of heaven as up and out into some floaty existence as some sort of spiritual vapor, but Lewis gets closer to the truth when he refers to the journey as “up and in.” All the up-ness is still earthward, but the in-ness is our disappearing in a smallness that, like his reverse-onion picture, diminishes into bigness. Another peek at eternal space is Augustine’s saying to God, “Even if the vessels [which are full of you] break, you will not be spilt.”
Phase 1 of our journey: Earth.
John and I didn’t know it at the time, but in our own morning’s journey, the detour was a metaphor representing history, earth, time—the City of Destruction in Bunyan’s famous story or the City of Rome for Augustine. The detour is the first fixed point in our story and the first phase of our morning’s journey. We are muddled in a detour on Route 88 but we are heading for Albany, Alternity—the Celestial City. The detour, now, is life here on our present earth for which the Lord Jesus asks us to pray that God’s “will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” The detour is seeing “through a glass darkly,” but seeing nevertheless. History is “the valley of the shadow of death.” Indeed, Lewis calls earth the “Shadowlands,” and history is like a dream from which we will awaken to the real thing, eternity, and exist forever in bodies strong enough to endure forever—that is, our glorified bodies. We believing Christians will exist in Aternity as glorified, “spiritual bodies,” in a sort of eternal prime of our lives.
When the children went still “further up and further in” at the very end of the last book in the Narnia series, they “gasped with amazement and shouted out and began waving: for they saw their own father and mother, waving back at them across the great, deep valley.” We learn that, in the final destination described by Lewis, parents and friends who had aged and died long ago were very young in their bodily resurrection—“young and merry as….from very early days.”
Our conversation continued.
“It fascinates me, John, that the Eternal All, Alternity—can we call it that?—will be a glorified and purified version of everything holy right here on earth and in history.”
“Yes,” John said as the car jerked slowly down a hill that seemed to have no relation to Route 88. “Yes,” he repeated, “I think the same thing. A few weeks ago, when you asked whether your dog, Scrapper, would be in heaven—in Alternity—I answered ‘Yes’ without hesitation. For me, Bach’s music will be there.”
“My friend from Alabama says a glorified version of his family garden will be there. He says that’s what Paul means when, in First Corinthians, he speaks of the ‘gold, silver, and precious stones’ that will be purified by the fire. What my friend says, though—and this is what has got me thinking—is that heaven is not referring to that end state. Heaven does not refer to our final destination. Heaven is not the end of all things, but rather the time after death when our souls go to be with the Lord and our bodies ‘sleep’ in the grave.
“Here,” I said, reaching into my shirt pocket for a piece of paper. “Read this. It’s a copy of some thoughts he sent to me. I am hoping to check it out with someone at the conference today.”
John took the paper and read it aloud.
“‘Now let me share with you an idea that is still very fuzzy for me,’” my friend had written, “‘an idea that is still very immature and in its infancy. So take what I say with a grain of salt. The idea is this: heaven is not our ultimate destination, but only a temporary destination until the resurrection. When we die, we go to heaven to be with the Lord, but only temporarily, waiting for the final Second Coming of Christ when "He shall come to judge the living and the dead." We confess every Sunday, "I believe in the resurrection of the body." But the resurrection makes no sense if our final destination is heaven. The resurrection obviously has not yet taken place since the dead bodies of all the saints are still in the ground.’”
John looked up to see if I was still engaged and then continued reading.
“‘Yet we confess their souls are in heaven with the Lord. Jesus made this clear to the thief on the cross. But, Jesus was the first fruits of the resurrection. His body saw no decay. Thomas apparently understood the difference between seeing Christ's resurrected body and simply seeing a spirit. So he said, “I won't believe unless I see the nail prints in His hands.” Thomas actually understood the resurrection better than we do today! The empty tomb, the nail prints in Christ's hands, and his asking his disciples in Luke 24:41, “Do you have anything here to eat?” are all evidences of a resurrected body, not a disembodied soul.
“‘Also, in Revelation 21, I don't see earth destroyed, but rather a transformation to the new heaven and new earth. The New Jerusalem comes down out of heaven, presumably coming down to earth. So God's created earth is not annihilated, but rather has a very different existence than how we know it today. In fact, it no longer needs the sun since God Himself is the light (verse 23 of Revelation 21).’”
Our own morning’s sun slowly was making its way out now to mark what would become an extraordinary series of events on our journey to Albany.
“‘There is a much more intimate connection between heaven and earth here in Revelation 21 than we understand today, but central to this connection is Jesus Christ.’”
I interrupted John’s reading. “He and I talked about that as what we called ‘Solomon’s dilemma.’ In the middle of his prayer of dedication of the Temple, Solomon seems almost to interrupt himself and ask, ‘But will God in very deed dwell with men on earth?’ With all his wisdom Solomon couldn’t really fathom the incarnation—God as man on earth. How could time fit with eternity? How could infinity fit with finiteness? It would take Christ to resolve Solomon’s dilemma for all of us.”
“Yes,” John waved the paper in the air. “And the letter goes on to show that ‘more intimate connection’ through Christ.”
He resumed the reading. “‘God, in Christ Jesus, has become "all in all" as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:28. So one can say they are, in fact, in heaven here, but they cannot say they are not on earth! Is this not the fulfillment of what Jesus taught us to pray in Matt 6:10, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven"—?’”
John looked up from the paper and said, “Here’s a good example of ‘Already and not yet.’ Heaven is here on earth where God’s chosen people are building the kingdom now.”
“Yes,” I said, “‘building the kingdom’ in the sense that the kingdom is in us, through the Holy Spirit, and the kingdom is expressed through us and plays itself out eternally. Presumably what we do that is God’s perfect will expressed in us becomes eternal. Our ‘gold, silver, and precious stones’ withstand the cleansing fires that Peter describes and become eternal.”
“Okay, I think that’s right. And that’s the ‘not yet’ piece of the puzzle. What we’re building now is ‘already’ but there is more to come—the consummation of God’s plan—so what we’re building now is ‘already’ but it is also ‘not yet.’
“But what I wonder,” John was saying, “is whether it’s just our ‘gold, silver, and precious stones’ that’s involved in God’s building through us. What about our ‘wood, hay, and stubble’?”
“That’s a good question. And related to that is the question, what about the ungodly who are destined for hell? Clearly, the Bible says that we are God’s ‘workmanship,’ and the ‘epistle[s] of Christ,’ but I do think that our wood, hay, and stubble as well as the lives of the ungodly are used in God’s building plan for the kingdom. Everything and everyone is a part of the plan!”
“Even Satan.” John laughed. “If God uses Satan to scrub up Job, why not use our sin as well as unregenerate sinners to create his perfect kingdom?”
“Yes, and he surely does use the unbelievers—the ‘vessels of wrath,’ even those who are ‘fitted to destruction’—in other words, those going to hell.”
“And all of that that is happening here on the present earth. That is happening before the cleansing fires which consume the wood, hay, and stubble, and before our final destiny.”
“The wheat and tares grow together in the already and not yet,” I said.
“But all are sorted out by the time of the yet,” said John still laughing and finishing my thought.
Our excitement during this conversation of consecration was growing.
“Right!” I exclaimed, “and, to go back to what you were saying, the ‘not yet’ becomes the ‘yet’ following the resurrection of our glorified bodies and the glorifying of the earth through the cleansing fires that Peter speaks of.”
“Hallelujah! Long live the eternal Yet!”
“Yessir!” We laughed together.
Even powerful events can occur long before we are conscious of them. A passionate athlete can finish the game with a freshly broken bone, and then discover his pain later on in the locker room. So it was now that we remained oblivious to subtle changes in ourselves and our surroundings. In retrospect these changes probably began with the sun filtering through the fog. Never could we have imagined that during this morning of our journey the sun would be replaced!
“You know, Pastor. Right now I’m glad for the story of talking trees in chapter nine of Judges. It gives us biblical license for speculative stories…. But let me get back to the paper.”
As I chuckled at his comment, John continued reading from my friend’s letter. “‘I think almost all preaching today is way too focused on escaping earth and going to heaven. This may be why most churches today have abandoned the Apostles’ Creed. The resurrection of the body simply doesn't make any sense to them under their Gnostic ideas of heaven and escaping this wicked earth. But God made us creatures as a part of this earth. We are tied to the land. The Old Testament patriarchs understood this; thus, land for a burial place (rather than cremation as practiced by the false religions) was very important to them.’
“Whew!” John whispered, lowering the paper to his lap. “I wish my ‘fuzzy’ ideas were as clear as this.”
“Yes. Me too.”
“I’ve often wondered if Paul has in mind such an in-between state—a state between our carnal bodies now and our resurrected bodies.” John handed the paper back to me and continued with his thought. “In Second Corinthians, chapter five, Paul uses the word ‘naked’ in verse 3 and ‘unclothed’ in verse 4, and I think he means without being dressed with any sort of body. Our souls are temporarily naked. When we die our souls are bodiless, like your friend is saying. In verse 8 Paul says he is willing to be ‘absent from the body’—any body, carnal or resurrected—‘to be present with the Lord.’”
“We become the ‘dead in Christ,’” I said.
“Yes, that’s true, and those ‘dead in Christ’ surely are in the grave because Paul also says that they ‘shall rise.’”
“His meaning is to rise from the grave.”
“Right, and if we die before Christ’s return, our bodies are in the grave, yet we are ‘absent from the body.’ We are, literally, a disembodied soul but ‘present with the Lord.’ Notice that our person, our soul—the ‘I’ for Paul and the ‘we’ for us—is now not united with the body. It’s an extraordinary, but temporary, state. That union of body and soul comes again with the resurrection in Alternity, when God is ‘all in all’ in eternity.”
“Yes,” I replied becoming drawn in by the possibility of penetrating more deeply into something that had been vague. “And remember that Paul said that such a temporary state, as we’re calling it, would be ‘swallowed up by life.’ We go from the interim place, state, condition, whatever—what the Bible refers to as ‘Heaven’—to a true life after death and that’s why we confess every Sunday that ‘We believe in the resurrection of the body.’ Carnal death becomes a doorway to eternal life that is unimaginable in its glory.”
“One. Two. Three. Earth. ‘Heaven.’ Alternity.”
Phase 2 of our journey: “Heaven.”
The fog was beginning to lift and the sunlight filtering through the separating clouds. We’re moving into the second phase of our journey, and this phase I am calling ‘Heaven.’ In our One-Two-Three scheme, the detour itself is God’s kingdom on Earth, and the coming out of the detour is “Heaven.” How clearing fog and brilliant streaks of sunlight became a metaphor for “Heaven” has no more rationale than the coincidence of these climatic changes happening at this particular point in our conversation about heaven, as well as presenting us with that kaleidoscope of rainbow colors that is often associated with heavenly themes, starting with scripture itself.
Our highway progress was well along the way by now. We’d left the detour after some uncomfortable bounces through a temporary, here-to-there entrance to the highway which was rougher than the worst of logging roads in these hills. The tragic circumstances of the flood apparently demanded such a make-shift, cob-job of highway access. Now, however, we were back on smooth pavement, and returned to the main point of our conversation.
I said, “I think Jesus’ parable of Lazarus and the rich man is about that in-between state. Our bodies are in the grave, and our souls are with the Lord—Father Abraham.”
“Bur if Lazarus were only a soul, why did he have a finger for dipping?” John asked.
“I’ve wondered about that. In fact, there are lots of bodily references in this story, but I chalk them up to the story being a parable. Remember that both men are in the grave, yet the soul of Lazarus is with the Lord and the soul of the rich man is in hell. Either they each have two bodies, or one body is metaphorical. I think it’s the latter, don’t you? It’s a metaphorical finger!”
“Well, maybe our immortal bodies have nothing to do with what’s rotting in the grave…. No, that doesn’t work.” I saw John glance at me and nod his head. “It’s that rotting body—‘the dead in Christ’—that shall rise and ‘ever be with the Lord.’”
All this time we were so engrossed in our mental efforts that we failed to notice the strange realities of the climatic changes surrounding us.
“Besides,” John continued, “the Book of Matthew says that, on the afternoon of the cross, ‘the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose.’ I doubt there was any rotting carcass remaining in those graves.”
“Yes. That’s right. Those bodies are mortal. They are resurrected but not yet eternal. Our present earth hasn’t yet become a new earth, even though the seeds of change have been planted with the death of Christ. Those bodies rising from the grave on the afternoon of the cross are a kind of preview of our three phases of the kingdom of heaven: One. Two. Three. Earth. ‘Heaven.’ Alternity.”
“Okay,” said John. “I think I’ve had a similar picture of things. Certainly in the final resurrection, our ‘spiritual bodies’ aren’t wispy and ghost-like, as in Gnostic thinking, but they are infinitely more solid than we are on this present earth. The resurrection brings about the terra firma of our bodies. After all we’re going to last forever. Come to think of it, John the Revelator first ‘saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus’ and then “saw a new heaven and a new earth.’”
“And by then,” I added, “‘the first heaven and the first earth’—the ones we live in and are struggling with now—‘were passed away.’”
“At that point Saint John is carried away to a ‘great and high mountain’ and he sees ‘the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God.’”
“Is that the second phase in our scheme?” I asked.
“I don’t think so. That’s number three. That’s Alternity, so in our scheme it’s number three. The first phase is right now, when we live in God’s kingdom on earth. The second phase—which occurs during the same earth time as the first phase—is about our bodiless souls before the ‘resurrection of the body.’ In our scheme it’s just ‘Heaven.’”
“Yes,” I said. “So what we’re saying is that the present kingdom of heaven on earth is phase one. It becomes Alternity forever—phase three with a stopover for our souls alone—phase two, which lasts until the Second Coming at the end of history.”
“And all this means that things aren’t so much destroyed and made again in a totally different form as they are restored in a cleaned up, sinless, and permanent form.”
“Yes. God’s original creation is restored, and it’s restored with all the good things which God has ‘added’ since the ‘beginning,’ though they were all a part of his eternal plan. No good thing is destroyed, as Lewis says. Every good thing is resurrected and invested with Life to the fullest, which includes permanence.”
“Sooo,” John intoned in a whistle, “where we believing Christians end up is a whole lot more continuous with where we are than we generally imagine.”
“Yes. Paradise plus the good things of history and minus sin….. And that includes the good things in our own lives.”
“That’s Alternity.” We already were getting used to this new word.
“Now we only get a glimpse of it—maybe most especially at the Lord’s Table,” I said. “At the Lord’s Supper we have ascended into the heavenlies with God.”
In my thoughts I was recalling that during my first years of going to church—which happened to me as a very lost man in his mid forties—our pastor never served the Lord’s Table because we were never ready for it. Having been an adulterer, an idolater, a drunkard, a liar, and a cheat—just for starters—and leaving both broken wives and broken children in my sinful wake, I could only agree that I wasn’t “worthy” of the Table. I did wonder, however, about the small handful of uneducated and poor black folks who made up the rest of our church. Their trust in Jesus was simple and profound. I have rarely encountered such trust and dependency since that early experience. I guess, however, that simplicity—or at least a lack of formal education—was the problem. There was some confusion about Paul’s “let a man examine himself” from first Corinthians, chapter 11. We weren’t sure what to examine or whether we were good enough examinees to get beyond “the fence”—that is, the fence that would keep us from participating in the Lord’s Supper. It’s the way many churches still view their children. Interestingly, this was a self-inflicted limitation among the congregation: We love the Lord, but don’t know enough to be sure of his Supper! Also, it turned out the pastor was spawning mulatto babies in town so he must have had his own struggles with the Table. Whatever the real reasons, we all believed you had to earn your way to the Table or get clobbered by God. It was easier just to forget the whole thing. Nobody got hurt that way. So for the first seven years of my going to church, I’d never been to the Lord’s Table. Now, many years and many changes later, we go to the Table every week—not because I want to make up for lost time! It’s simply the high point of the Lord’s Service, and we love it!
Apparently John, also, had been thinking about the Table. He said, “That ascent to the Table and eating with the Lord becomes so vivid as a heavenly picture that I think that, as we lose the practice of the sacrament, we lose also our intimacy with heaven. I’ve often wondered why it is that what we generally imagine about heaven is pretty vague for believers and pretty boring for nonbelievers.”
“You mean souls without bodies flying around in vapor somewhere, and singing—?
“Something like that.”
“And maybe our ignorance has something to do with a general fading out of practicing the Lord’s Supper in our present Christian culture—?”
If we could have seen beyond our preoccupied minds, we would have noticed a spectacular view beginning to take place outside our car windows. But, lost in our abstractions as we were, we didn’t see it, at least not yet, not quite yet….
“Do you think that people have been more attracted by the idea of not going to hell than by notions of heaven?”
“Well,” said John with a sigh. “I think it’s a sure thing that the New Testament is painting a much more glorious picture of heaven than we’ve ever been able to frame.”
I smiled at his wording and mused, “We don’t say much about it. It’s been two millennia since the New Testament was written, and not much has ever been said at all about heaven.”
“And what’s said is more out of our popular mythology than from the New Testament.”
“So, then, what’s the big deal about heaven?!” I exclaimed
“I’m not sure there is much of a big deal.”
“Yes, but also for two millennia, as you say. We’ve never really gotten hold of what we call heaven.” John took a long pause, and then said slowly, “We may have been missing some of the greatest glory of the Good News by downplaying Alternity. I wonder why….”
Some time passed.
“What will it be like?” John asked, returning to driftings that never had fully left his mind. “The in-between phase—what will ‘Heaven’ be like, when our souls are with the Lord and our bodies are in the grave? Will there be time there?” John was speaking very gently and very slowly—like John but also unlike John.
“Time, yes,….” I struggled for an answer. “But also eternity will be phasing in. Here on earth the time of our soul’s being with the Lord is the time from our carnal death until the second coming of Christ. But the ‘time’ in that ‘Heaven’ with God may be like an extended time wandering through Lucy’s wardrobe. It’s not timeless but a different kind of time. Think of it this way. It’s not time as in the seconds of a ticking clock, not normal earth-time. But rather it’s time as determined by whatever must happen during that heavenly phase. The rich man’s talk with Father Abraham may have taken all the time the rich man had between his own carnal death and Christ’s Second Coming. Does that sound weird?
“But here’s something even weirder: After his very thirsty hell in the stopover phase, the rich man would be resurrected into a new hell—‘the resurrection of damnation.’ Why not?”
“Hmmm. ‘A new hell’ like ‘a new heaven.’ We’d better leave that one alone.”
Apparently John was considering what I’d said about time in “Heaven.” He suddenly clapped his hands together and blurted out, “So in ‘Heaven’ the events determine the nature of time rather than fixed time bounding the events!”
“I guess that’s what I am saying…. I think I see it but don’t yet have the words to say it.”
Now we would shift from time to space as John asked, “What will this ‘Heaven’—this way station to Alternity—look like?”
No answer came immediately because of what was going on just outside of our inside focus. By now the climate around us was nudging with more insistence. “Hello,” it said to our preoccupied minds. “Is anybody home?”
Hey! What is going on out there?!
The darkness of the deep fog had gradually become a very faint, early-morning glimmer of light which continued to brighten as we traveled. The fog was breaking up, in patches at first, and then beginning to swirl and move in the gentle breezes from the warms and cools intermingling outside our windows, like smoke from a wizard’s pipe.
Soon this misty world began breaking into a variety of colors. The colors were faint at first, then growing brighter and deeper and sorting out like a rainbow detached from all moorings. Here a golden yellow ribbon, there string-like sea-greens and sea-blues and purples unraveling; here a lavender eel sinuous in water, there pale ruddy hues, oranges and pinks snaking, spraying up and over then downward again. The medley of colors was fluent and impressive, visually vague, and an opaque covering to the world outside.
I thought I heard John repeat his question.
“What will ‘Heaven’ look like?”
Now my answer came quickly.
“Like that!” I said, indicating with a sweep of both arms life outside the car. Like me, John seemed to notice that my hands remained off the steering wheel, but he said nothing about it. Imagine riding with somebody whose hands are off the steering wheel and saying nothing…. It was very strange…. John was going through a metamorphosis right there beside me in the car. So was I, and all of it corresponding to the puzzling changes in the consecrated universe around us.
Ascent and Communion.
I need to tell you flat-out here that most of the rest of the story may be pure fantasy. Saint Paul himself wasn’t sure if his visions of a third heaven were “in the body, or out of the body.” In a similar way, our journey becomes very strange with respect to normal “body-ness,” and you might want to be prepared for that. In reply to the question of whether his experience was “in the body” or “out of the body,” Paul says, “I cannot tell.” I’m not sure what was going on with John and me either, but as I write about it I’m well aware that it certainly was not a normal trip to Albany!
Phase 3 of our journey: Alternity.
Here we begin the third phase of our One-Two-Three Scheme and the metaphor goes far beyond the simplicity of a detour—representing the kingdom of heaven on Earth, or of the fog breaking up—representing ‘Heaven’ before our bodies and souls are reunited and the end comes. This third phase becomes a metaphor that seems to explode in all directions. For example, at right about this time we began to notice that we, too, were rising—We were rising off of the highway!!—and that the fog was doing something more than lifting and being streaked by the sun’s rays. We would have been more astonished except that we, also, were changing and seeming to fit the changing conditions around us. It’s as though we had been talking our way to Alternity, and words were now coming alive.
Our journey entered a sea of changes. Our conversation ceased, and the consecration—the teaching and learning—in this liturgical journey had come to an end. The changes in what we saw and heard around us were more than matched by the changes in ourselves. The fish doesn’t know the water until he’s outside and drying, but at least our changes were of a happy sort and not that of a drying fish.
The droning of the highway was disappearing. A little gray dog was in the back seat. It was my dead dog, Scrapper, come to life again. My wife, Mitzi, and John’s wife, Abby, were hitch-hiking in the air above the ground, and we “picked them up,” so to speak. Soon they were petting Scrapper in the back seat. Even the back seat was going through a metamorphosis. I, too, was changing, and these curious events were almost becoming a matter of course. (Mitzi calls this sort of thing “curly thinking,” and I wonder what it’s like, now, for her being alive right here in the midst of a curly thought. Abby, too; for John’s imagination stretches more than mine.)
From somewhere, a Bach concerto began to play softly. There was no other sound except the sound of the colors, soft and rhythmic and oddly in harmony with the concerto, and yet a vastly different counterpoint to the music.
“John, look!” Something was so astounding as to wake me from this reverie.
Away in the distance an object was coming down from the heavenlies. It was tiny-looking at such a great distance but growing rapidly as it descended. Our speed on earth accelerated far beyond our control.
The far away object in the sky was a Cube—a huge Cube. No, it was more than that. We soon could see that it was far beyond “huge.” As we approached from the west we saw the colors from the clearing fog move toward a high and massive wall of the Cube. We were able to see this descending Cube only because of the strange upward tilt of our car and the fact that our car was shedding its metallic skin. The colors of golden yellow and sea greens and blues and rusts and reds, carried by slow-motion brushes, now tinged the western wall of the Cube as they flowed through a special prism and onto the wall’s surface, making clear lines of demarcation. The separating rays of the sun mingling in the fog seemed to both be painting and changing, in the same motion, the walls of the Cube. All this is hard to describe. Forgive me if the approach of heaven seems more like an old-time Disney movie.
Written names appeared on the western wall which was visible to us. First, the name “Bartholomew” was written in the yellow area, then “Thomas” in the sea greens and sky blues, and finally “Matthew” in the rusty reds and oranges. As the descending Cube began to overshadow hundreds of miles of earth in all directions around us, Gates appeared among the sets of color and there were names for each Gate—“Gad,” “Asher,” and “Naphtali.” They were tribal names from the first and ancient “Israel of God.” As the Cube settled to the earth all of its boundaries were softly permeable, and we were disappearing on the inside. Rushing winds and colorful sounds gently stroked us all around as we passed through the boundaries and into a space which, like Lewis said, was bigger on the inside than it was on the outside. We continued moving east, toward Albany which became the new Albany, the true Alternity, after the Cube settled to earth.
Now, on the inside of the Cube, we were engulfed as if by invisible fur coats from a wardrobe. We were hugged and cherished. We were cuddled by every shading of sight and sound, of taste and touch. We were becoming a sweet-smelling savour unto the Lord. The scene was transformed into unspeakable radiance and glory, yet it remained very strangely similar to upstate New York. There were glistening green hills in the new morning light and dew. There were trees, like always, yet they were dancing and laughing with us. There was a wide highway becoming a golden pavement and then more like a genie’s carpet carrying us, gently undulating underneath us, heading eastward and rising slightly. The hills became far larger than usual, and we saw them at a vast distance that also seemed very close. The trees were both alive and life-giving and we could see their outsides, their insides, and all sides all at once.
These transformations involved us as well as the trees and the hills and the highway. I wasn’t the same and neither was John. Albany was far, far away, yet we saw it so close that it seemed as though we might crash into the twin towers of the government buildings at any moment. Our eyes were changing. Our minds were changing. Our wives were changing. Sixty-year-old Mitzi and thirty-year-old Abby were the same age and ageless, laughing behind us on the carpet. Scrapper had died the week before our present journey, but now he was running from side to side like a puppy. We could taste and smell and see the Bach music. The spacious carpet narrowed to a golden artery drawing us ahead and toward the Eternal City, this transformed Albany, New York.
Children began to appear in front of us. They were also moving toward Alternity. They became guides. Susannah came first. She’s the youngest member of our church, and the youngest daughter of John and Abby. Her face was the same as it had always been with her luminous sea-green eyes and brilliant strawberry-golden hair. She appeared in her same tiny 5-month body. Yet here was an ancient Susannah—walking and talking and floating near us while she pointed the way toward the City. We were following her and the many children with her guiding the way to the City.
Young Rasaiah—Sister Hattie’s great, great grandson—now sported what we once called an “Afro” hair-do, and his eyes, radiant with joy, had lost the look of mischief and wariness. He, too, was directing us toward the City. I did not recognize Martha Jones, my granddaughter, at first because the wisp of curly, yellow hair that for almost two years has been tied in a blue bow, had given way to long, wavy curls covering the back of her neck. “Who is that?” I asked and then answered my own question as Martha, also, showed the way to the City. Baptized children from our church were the first to guide us—the children I’ve mentioned plus Mercy, Millie, Anika, Isaac, Kenya, Juan and others—but then there were many other children, thousands of them and more, all urging us toward the City, now lit from within by the Light of Holiness. We never really noticed the sun’s translation into the Light, other than the light’s increasing brilliance. Later on, I would reflect upon not noticing that there was no more sun, but not now.
We were floating, and the speed was the new earth moving rapidly beneath us more than our own moving above the earth. Albany, becoming Alternity, began sweeping under us. It was recognizable as Albany and was made by men, through God, with the gold and silver and precious stones of their believing lives. We were reminded of this description from The Pilgrim’s Progress: “It was built of pearls and precious stones; also the streets thereof were paved with gold, so that by reason of the natural glory of the City, and the reflection of the sun-beams upon it, Christian [the pilgrim] fell sick with desire.” Indeed, we were mesmerized and in a reverie. We felt light-headed and our hearts burned within us as we were drawn inexorably toward a destination somewhere within the boundaries of Alternity. We, too, were sick with desire, an exquisite yearning that became unbearable as we neared and then entered the intense center of the Light.
Everything has become present now and seemingly everywhere, yet not at all muddled. Nothing is moving into memory, and we are waiting for nothing. The radiance increases as we float toward the heart of Alternity. The Light is so brilliant that without our own changes we fear that we would cease to exist in its blaze. The new earth has stopped rushing beneath us. Held by a warm and invisible hand, we are drawn by the children toward a Throne and a long Table. The Table is translucent and made of pearl. It extends from just beyond where we are hovering and on to the Throne of God.
The children glide to the ground and beckon us to follow. We wander behind them along a River of living water, clear as crystal and bordered by the Trees of Life. As we walk, we have no weight and our effortless strides carry us slightly aloft until our toes touch the ground once again for another stride. The Table is as far away as the joy we have traversing the earth and coming nearer to the Throne behind it. Our destination is pillows on which we recline to feast with the Lord. We lie down on the empty places indicated by the children, and they lie down with us. Our feelings of desire are calmed in their fulfillment.
We gaze, helpless and surrendered, at the wonders before us. We are filled with a peace beyond understanding, with a joy beyond speech, and with a love beyond knowledge. We are eating the bread and drinking the wine served by the Lord to his new Bride. A growing multitude is joining us at the Table. The Table extends to accommodate all the people finding new places. The greater numbers and greater distances function to draw us all together with an intimacy that softens distinctions among ourselves yet makes us more uniquely loved than ever before. The meaning of covenant replaces the requirements of space.
We see infants and children and many adults among the children. We see nursing mothers, and fathers who are very animated toward their children. We see young and old and people from every tribal color and nation. We see people who were once alone and now settled into families. We see cattle and sheep and other friends of God who are under man’s dominion, running with joy, like Scrapper, or grazing in fields near the River and its streams. We see familiar Christian believers whom we have known, but then we see many, many more people who appear and are familiar only because of their holiness. We see Jesus.
Nothing appears to change, yet we go “further up and further in” to a peak, as though we are “caught up into paradise.”
Jesus is at the Throne with his Father, but he is also sitting across from me, beside me, and within me, and that is true for everyone else around the unlimited Table. Jesus breaks the bread from a never ending loaf, and he serves each of us from an ever-filling Cup. Jesus shows us how they dipped the sop in the olden days, and it isn’t quite as I imagined. Jesus lays hands on us and blesses us, especially the children. Jesus comforts us all with his being and with his words. Jesus does something special with every one of us, seemingly all at once.
Now he is talking with John who holds Susannah in one arm and Mildred in the other. Jesus is expressing his enjoyment of how John holds his little daughters like he would hold two small barrels of the best wine. John whispers something to his oldest tot and nothing happens at first. Her face crushes shyly into her father’s shoulder. He whispers again, and this time he nibbles her ear and kisses her neck. She giggles and wriggles and, finally, with exquisite seriousness, she raises her head toward the Lord and says softly, “Thank you, Jesus, for supper.”
At the peak we have a foretaste of things “so great and beautiful that I can not write them” and we “heard unspeakable words which it is not lawful for a man to utter.”
Such a foretaste of Alternity, ultimately, is in time, and so we must descend again and return to the world. It’s still not yet, and we must leave the Table. Now, on the way back down, mortality returns and with our mortal lives come fresh new tears. Tears of joy, yes, and tears of relief, but tears nevertheless.
I think of John holding his little ones. Or was that me holding my own tiny children of yesteryear? Was that me holding the dear children I once neglected and failed? Was that me finally lifting up the children I never brought before Jesus?
Is that me, now, so forgiven that I am both a grandfather holding my grandchildren before Jesus and a father holding my children before Jesus?
How could he die for me and so totally forgive me?
It’s agonizing to think about and, on the way down, I weep a little at first and then am awash in my own tears. Each new time at the Table, like this, there are further cleansings and deepening desires to serve the Lord. Like any living sacrifice we have been carved up, consecrated, and changed, and we have been further prepared for God’s work. Like ancient families leaving the Tabernacle, we return home to live more godly lives.
“Thank you, Jesus, for supper.”
Sending us on a Commission.
During supper, Jesus told us to return and tell others about our journey. That is why I am writing this account.
After the journey: the not yet of going back home.
Yesterday’s journey toward Alternity was a wonderful Lord’s Service with the Table as a sublime preview of “the marriage supper of the Lamb.”
Today is Sunday, the Day of the Lord. Today at the benediction, when we asked the Lord to make us “perfect in every good work….through the blood of the everlasting covenant,” there was a vivid significance to those familiar words, “the everlasting covenant.” Through our own sweet Narnia of yesterday we had new eyes to see the meaning of the church in history. We could see how we, living in this “blip” into history which began nearly eight thousand years ago, must await and yearn for the “slurp” back into eternity at the Second Coming of Christ. Through yesterday’s journey we had new ears to hear the liturgy of the Lord’s covenant renewal worship singing the refrains of our own daily lives. We could hear with fresh sensitivities the psalms calling us to confession, consecration, communion, and commission and setting the patterns for the whole of our lives. With renewed vigor we could say “Amen!” to knowing “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.” Each new service of covenant renewal, each new struggle with his Word, and each fresh, patterned journey of going to Alternity keep before us the meaning and hope of our daily, suffering lives in Christ. In Christ, we slowly fulfill the promise toward Eternal Life.
Now, the Lord’s Service is over for this week. We leave and go forward, breaking bread from house to house and eating with gladness and singleness of heart, as the Lord adds “to the church daily such as should be saved.” New believers see Christ and rejoice to join us at the Table. A dying ember is sparked, and an old, old flame lightens our own pagan City of Ithaca. In Christ, we renew the covenant renewing us, as the earth is filling with the knowledge of the Lord. Already we look forward to next Sunday’s service but, for now, there’s much work to do.
The Church Logo
By Stephen Jones
Here’s a picture of the church logo. It is a new, young leaf representing new life in Christ. This logo is painted on the face of a podium made by the Ithaca Christian Men’s Workshop through the recent months of May, June and early July. The story of how the logo got there on the podium—it wasn’t planned—says much about how things are going in our Workshop. God is in charge.
The idea for a podium that would be shaped like an elliptical glass vase was discussed among the small number of men in our group when we considered things to make from wood. We envisioned a fairly wide base narrowing to an ankle-high stem and flaring gradually toward a wide, dark-walnut top with more than enough space for a Bible and some preaching notes. In the front-middle of the podium we wanted a Cross made of purple heart wood. Purple heart is an extremely dense hardwood from South America. It is nearly impossible to hand tool, easily dulls machine tools, and grabs and breaks drill bits until you learn to drill with short bites. Purple heart has the lasting quality and deep, plain beauty and royalty represented in the Cross of Christ.
Surrounding the Cross, which was not a veneer but a four-inch deep figure recessed into the bosom of the podium, was furniture-grade plywood. This tough plywood would carry most of the structure which is typical of our woodwork. An early problem, because we don’t have fancy equipment, was getting neat plywood cuts to surround the cross. Here, in the picture, Mark (left) and Larry (right) puzzle over the matter.
Happily, their efforts were successful. In fact, we threw away only one cut piece of wood during the entire podium project.
Last fall we tried setting up a wood shop in our church basement. The idea was that older and godly Christian men would teach profitable skills to younger men caught up in crime, addictions, and the downward spiral of life in some of our local streets. The real lesson, however, would be from the Bible: how “to become upright men upon whom God showers his blessings,” as we wrote in a website article back at that time. We retracted the article because we didn’t have the funds to pay for insurances necessary to have a shop in the church basement. We thought that was the end of a good idea but, a while later, a few of us began working at my home. We meet regularly and spend our time woodworking and Bible study. So far, there’s no financial profit because we are making only gifts.
The podium is a gift for a friend who pastors a local church. His current podium is a wooden shaft with boards at the top and bottom. Also, he has encouraged the workshop idea and likes our work so we thought he would be appreciative of this gift. Actually, we didn’t figure all this out in advance. We just wanted to make a beautiful podium and were enjoying the venture. The work itself is meditative, and we learn, while we’re doing what we’re doing, why we’re doing it. As we work, we see what God is creating. He orders our hands and, as our hands work together, we become his workmanship.
The church logo was God’s idea. From our perspective, here on earth, the logo arose from a mistake. We are not rocket scientists, quite obviously—not even engineers. There are no “specs,” no drawings to tell us how to cut each piece of wood. Most of the information about any particular shape is communicated by the piece that went before it. We pray that each piece is wondrously made and fitly joined with the others. Occasionally, during prayer, something comes up that warns us that there’s a stumbling block ahead, and we have to regroup and change course. Twice, there was prayer combined with providential oddities that saved us from having to trash this podium venture altogether.
One of these oddities involved a really big mistake. It happened just above and to the left-center of the Cross. We were creating a “V” out of cherry wood that would swoop down from either side toward the intersection on the Cross. Unfortunately, we didn’t get enough cherry wood glued up evenly on the left side so that when we shaped this area with our grinders there were large gaps and holes in the cherry wood. What were we to do with this boo-boo right in the center of a face that we hoped would be beautiful? It looked awful. You can’t unglue glued wood; this mess would require cosmetic surgery.
We patched the area with a hard spackle which only made the face of our podium look worse. We proceeded to think and talk and fret a lot. Maybe the pastor wouldn’t mind. Since the whole thing was otherwise going to be beautiful, maybe he wouldn’t even notice the blemish in spite of his artistic keenness. Maybe, since the auditorium was large, most people would never see the bright red boil on this pubescent nose. Maybe the mistake was a good thing; the Navajo Indians always included a “mistake” so as to avoid hubris. But, alas, we knew by then that God was the Creator, even of this podium. We had many reasons not to fix what, by now, was crying out for attention.
One of my daughters said, “Mistakes are opportunities.” We decided to paint wings coming up from the cross. Naah! Wings left a lot of the blemish still exposed. We decided to paint heavenly fire—“a consuming fire”—mostly on the left. Naah! Nobody knew how to paint a plain old fire, let alone a consuming fire. We decided to have a kind of Holy Ghost figure snaking from the base of the Cross and winding upwards to cover the boo-boo. Naah! It could easily be mistaken for a demon rather than a Holy Ghost figure. Besides, there was always the nagging question of graven images. Each decision took about a day’s time to make and cancel. God didn’t seem to want any of our ideas.
A few days later Mark and I went together for a meeting at the office of our pastor-friend. Outside his office is a sign with the logo of the church, like the photo above. “That’s it!” The turquoise leaf seemed perfect for our podium. Later on, however, when it came time to paint the logo over the boo-boo, we couldn’t leave well-enough alone. We thought it would be better to paint the logo gold rather than turquoise—beautiful, subtle, artistic, holy gold. Medieval, heavenly gold. Gold, nuancing the actual logo. These sophisticated church folks—our first big audience—would like that. It was their logo, yes, but not quite their logo. Cool! We painted a golden logo. We all thought it looked beautiful and were satisfied. Once again God had another idea.
A few days later, Larry carefully varnished all the wood plus the golden logo. God didn’t want a golden logo and, in fact, it disappeared with the varnishing! The varnished cherry wood was a perfect color match for the golden logo. Everywhere there was cherry wood there was no logo, and most of what was behind the logo was cherry wood. Larry looked up and smiled. “Now you see it; now you don’t.”
Obediently, we repainted the logo turquoise—like the actual church logo. Then we put on two more coats of varnish. The turquoise logo glowed all the more, never disappearing in the least. The three of us made appropriate arrangements, so as to keep a secret, and delivered the podium to the pastor’s office last week. Here’s what the final product looked like.
Mark and Larry thought the pastor was delighted, but I thought otherwise. Although he said he did, I was sure my friend did not like the podium. I was sure something was wrong. The church logo!! He doesn’t like the church logo on the podium and we will have to tell him about the boo-boo and we’ve run out of cover-up ideas and the whole thing was an ungodly-ego-trip-white-elephant in the first place! Although the podium was now hidden in his church office, I fussed and fumed a good deal more over the church logo. Maybe it was my come-uppance: Who is the Creator?
Five days later the pastor asked Mark and Larry and I to join him in a few weeks for a podium dedication ceremony. “It’s beautiful!” he exclaimed, “And, of course, I particularly like the logo.” He said it in such a way that I could only remember that God was still in charge. We made mistakes, but God meant them for good. And so it goes in the microcosm of a project as in the macrocosm of our lives. We are blessed!
by Stephen Jones
This past New Year’s Eve our daughter-in-law lost her baby of 17 weeks in the womb. The hospital treated the baby as an “it”—not a person—and wanted to toss the fetus in the garbage. Since she was not yet twenty weeks old, my son got to take her home. Twenty weeks is the cut-off point in New York State. After that you have to pay for a funeral and legal documents and so forth in order to bury a baby.
At the ceremony we read together these passages from Ruth (1:15-17): “And Naomi said, Behold, thy sister in law is gone back unto her people, and unto her gods: return thou after thy sister in law. And Ruth said, Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the LORD do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.”
After we read from the book of Ruth, I said this to the little shoebox lodged in my arm:
“I’m your grandfather and your pastor.
“From where I am now
—living on this earth—
I may not get to know you very well.
But, do you know what?
I really don’t know Ruth very well either.
I don’t know what Ruth looked like
or what she sounded like
or how well she cooked.
But I love her anyway!
I love her because God was with her
and because she will be in heaven
and because I know her story
and because of what she said to her mother-in-law, Naomi.
“Miriam, I know all these things about you, too.
I know God is with you.
I know I will see you in heaven
I know your story, too.
You were born one new year’s eve,
just like my sister.
My sister was seventy this last go-‘round—plus nine months.
You hardly made it to seventeen weeks,
and all in the minus zone.
You struggled with life,
just like my sister and everybody else.
You even ‘resisted unto blood.’
I remember what Job said
that it doesn’t take long after birth before the troubles start!
Before birth as well—?
I remember what Solomon said
about one’s death-day being better than one’s birthday.
I wonder what he’d say
about their both coming on the same day.
New years eve, 2005, must have been quite a day for you!
“My first words,
when I spoke with your father
after he brought you home from the hospital,
‘Here lies Miriam.’
Now that’s coming true so that you will rest close to your family. Most people end up in a graveyard somewhere with strangers.
“You know what, Miriam?
Like Ruth, I also know what you said to your mother….
and your father and your brother and your sisters.
Like Ruth, what you said to them was full of love.
What you said to them was full of hope.
What you said to them was full of peace.
What you said to them was full of joy.
I can tell.
I know what you said
by how they are with your life and with your death.
“I know another tiny child who said those same things.
He showed us something that even Ruth didn’t know:
Death doesn’t separate us….Not any more!
“I guess I know you better than I thought I did, Miriam.
Knowing God helps me to know Ruth,
and knowing God helps me to know you.
“I also remember that the Bible says
‘A little child shall lead them.’
Part of your story is that you are leading us.
You’re going up there first.
Thank you, Miriam.
Say ‘Hello’ to God for us!
According to Scripture, when does life begin? Some say that life begins after leaving the womb and cite Genesis 2:7 and Ezekiel 37:9 in support. In both cases it is breath—apparently, either from God or from the wind—that gives life. The logic is that breath can’t enter our nostrils until we are outside the womb and therefore life must begin on the outside.
Others argue from Scripture that life begins at conception. Here the evidence is much more conclusive. Consider some vivid examples. John the Baptist was three months shy of being born—in the minus zone—when he had enough “life” to know that Jesus was nearby (Luke 1:41a). Moreover, his liveliness may have inspired his mother’s first true Holy Ghost experience as she spoke blessings in a “loud voice” (Luke 1:41b-42). A whole lot happened to gestating Jeremiah while in the womb. “Before I formed thee in the belly, I knew thee,” says the Lord, “and before thou camest forth I sanctified thee, and ordained thee a prophet unto the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5). No ordination exam for Jeremiah!
The earliest skirmishes for the future of two nations occurred in the womb of Rebekah. She conceived, “and the children struggled together within her” (Genesis 25: 21-23). By the time Jacob and Esau were born there was even some resolution to the war. Esau came first but Jacob was holding on to his heel (Genesis 25:26) as if to exclaim, “Look at my trophy!”
The Psalmist marvels at God’s prenatal handiwork when he writes, “For the darkness is as light to you. For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:12b-16, NIV).
God isn’t tinkering with a dead object here, with something incomplete and worthy of murder. He’s creating life. My daughter-in-law spoke with many tears as she described the hands and feet and size and shape and facial features of Miriam.
How different is an unborn child when seen, as a Christian, through the eyes of God than when seen, scientifically, through the eyes of the world! God told Jeremiah “I knew thee” even before “I formed thee in the belly.” In God is life, in God is death, and in God death leads to eternal life. To be sure, Miriam could have been thrown into the garbage can, and we would still know her in heaven. But, oh, the joy and hope we would have missed! God foreknew Miriam. God foreknew Miriam, not in the sense that he knew what she would do or think or decide some day, but in the sense that God already loved her and had a plan for her. “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son” (Romans 8:29).
Walking in that faith, we can only thank God for Miriam’s being less than twenty weeks old in the womb and not requiring an expensive funeral. Walking in the faith of Miriam’s eternal salvation, we can only thank God that we could rescue Miriam from the garbage can and give her the honor due someone who will one day be glorified according to what God always knew (Romans 8:30). Life begins at least in conception and maybe in the eternal plan of God. In either case life is a complete and eternal journey in the creation of a God who will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). In either case, we have no business interfering with what belongs to God.
How blessed we are to be Christians!
“Good morning, kids!”
by Stephen Jones“Good morning, kids!”
I shouted this loud and clear to the whole, wonderfully young universe before me. It was a young creation after all. It was made in six days after all. My faith was gaining some sight, and the “scientist” in me was excited.
“Shh!!” my friend said. “They might hear you!” We live in a city of two universities, one college, and all varieties of secular schools. My friend didn’t want Common Sense, especially of the well-educated variety, to think I was crazy.
“Good morning, kids!” I bellowed even louder before closing the church-house door and returning to our studies.
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). Christians generally agree about what was created, about God, the Creator, and about His speaking the universe into existence and out of nothing. Today, however, there are numerous controversies among Christians about earth’s age and creation time and, most recently, about whether the early chapters of Genesis are history or thematic storytelling. Nudging these disagreements is the cultural influence of the natural sciences.
When Charles Darwin found a correspondence between bird beaks and plant seeds on the Galapagos Islands, he concluded that, right from the start—“In the beginning…”—Nature was doing the selecting rather than God doing the creating. Darwin’s notion of evolution generated an intellectual explosion throughout the Western Hemisphere which is still affecting innumerable relationships, including that between Christians and their Bibles. Darwin and other natural scientists’ notion of a very long evolutionary time for anthropology, geology, and astronomy has become widely accepted among many Christians, in spite of the plain language of Genesis, especially chapter 1.
From the perspective of evolution, the natural world can do anything if given enough time. Whether Nature or Chance did the selecting or changing, she or it needed millions of years for the evolution of man, billions of years for the geology of the earth, and zillions of light-years for the astronomy of the heavens. That mind-boggling time for the heavens is true with or without the “big-bang” jump-start. This “eons” notion of time is the “gospel” of the “selection/change” stories of the natural sciences just as some seemingly quaint and archaic “creation” stories of early Genesis are the long-held view of Christian believers. Up until the mid-nineteenth century, the Bible was thought to be saying that God worked rapidly. “Creation” took six days and took place about six to eight thousand years ago. Nowadays, however, people with any Common Sense—even Christian believers, it would seem—are supposed to know otherwise. “Creation” thinking has become a “holy” rowboat swamped in a sea of whatever time “selection/change” requires for plausibility as to their accomplishments. Full of holes the rowboat is, and leaking like a sieve.
There’s a lone fellow in this particular rowboat shouting something across the sea.
“But death didn’t come till Adam the Bible says, so all those dead fossils came with the Flood!!” he shouts.
“Shh! They’ll hear you!”
A personal note.
When I first started reading the Bible twenty-five years ago, I believed, by faith, that the early chapters of Genesis must be right. Although my whole academic bent, from grade school on, was to think otherwise, it seemed pretty clear that what Moses was saying must be true if only because God, as the only One present back then, would send down an accurate report. Since the Genesis account was very embarrassing to my own mind, I decided not to think about these matters very deeply. Somehow I was afraid that if I started basing my faith in scripture on extra-biblical evidence such as the geological record or the distance of stars, I would eventually stop believing scripture per se. What was embarrassing to my own mind got put in the background unless and until God wanted to bring it all forward.
Well, that’s just what He did. Years later, and a half-decade ago, God brought me a top-notch biochemist friend whose instruction relieved my intellectual embarrassment. I confess that what he taught me supplanted some faith with some sight. I repent of my doubt and acknowledge that, in a time so saturated with cultural “facts” about man, the earth, and the universe, I welcomed some “evidence of things” seen to assist my struggles with “the evidence of things not seen.”
My friend said he couldn’t trust his own walk with God if he didn’t believe the early chapters of the Bible and thus override the millions, billions, and zillions of years dyed like wool in his own scientific spirit. He introduced me to “Answers in Genesis” and other such ministries willing to look at the suspect underbelly of stories our culture has thrived on over the last many decades. Within a few weeks of our reading and study, I was opening the back door of our church house and shouting to the young universe before me, “Good morning, kids!” It was like an epiphany. What a relief to drop the cobwebs of a scientific culture’s eons of time and experience the newness and freshness of God’s creation! Pretty soon, eight thousand years would seem to be a pretty long time after all.
The next year I added a piece on “evolution and God’s creation” to my college lecture on the “Sociology of Thought.” The lecture is a dialogue between Charles Darwin types and Cornelius Van Til types. I discuss making something out of nothing and the probabilities involved in the “random evolution” of one living cell, which requires at least 100 functional proteins. “That probability is one over ten followed by two thousand zeroes—at least!” I exclaim. “The blackboard would never hold them all.” I discuss the missing “missing link.” I then proceed with the story of Procrustes and how people either pound or hack away at frightening new ideas until those ideas lie easily, though already murdered, in the mental Bed of what folks already believe. “So God is often dead by the time we think about Him.” I quote from a famous Darwin-type who wrote, “We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs….and [we presuppose that] materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Devine Foot in the door.” (Emphasis added.)
The class lecture jumps from evolution as a fact, to evolution as a hypothesis, to evolution as in, “how the camel got his hump.” I tell them, “Evolution is a fairy-tale for grown-ups.” One student cried after the first such lecture, and not a few students have left the classroom with heads bowed or nodding in dismay and disbelief. For some students an idol was shaken; for others Dagon had fallen and broken. Times have changed. Even an atheist of yesteryear, Walt Whitman, could write, “When I heard the learn'd astronomer [the title of his poem],….How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick.” Yesterday’s poison has become meat for the unbeliever’s of today. Whitman’s nausea over “pro” lectures contrasts with my students’ tears over “anti” lectures. Their ironic similarity is that Whitman’s atheism comports with most of my students who couldn’t care less about the God of the Bible and become upset when I bring Him up.
But what about Christian believers of today? I often think that many Reformed and other Christian theologians are trying to put Dagon back together. In this essay my intent is not to refute either the natural sciences or even the anthropomorphic sciences, including my own old field of psychology—a sort of second-cousin of anthropology, physiology, and sociology. I could not begin to do all of that. Rather, my concern here is with other Christian believers and to wonder at recent attempts to fit the Bible story of creation to the stories of the sciences. Beginning with the day-age theory, I will briefly consider three views of the biblical story and place particular emphasis on what appears to be the leading contender, the “framework hypothesis.”
The Day-Age Theory.
Developed in the late nineteenth century, the day-age theory is now considered passé, but it is still around in one form or another. A PCA report from the year 2000 summarizes the theory as saying, 1) that “the ‘six days’ are [to be seen] as periods of indefinite length and not necessarily of 24 hours duration”; 2) that the sun was actually around since day 1 and “only became visible [on day 4] as atmospheric conditions” cleared up or at least got themselves arranged properly; so that 3) “this viewpoint readily accommodates the preponderance of inference from present day scientific interpretation from general revelation.”
As Kenneth Gentry notes in a rebuttal of #1 above, (1) each of the six days is qualified by “evening and morning”; (2) the Hebrew word for day (yom), when qualified by “evening and morning,…in the writings of Moses…never means anything other than a literal day” (i.e., this is the common usage of “yom” in the Bible, and not “age” or “eon” or other such constructions); and (3) in the fourth commandment God describes His work-week just like ours (Exodus 20:9-11).
As to #2 in two paragraphs above, am I missing something here or is the day-age theory really saying that the sun probably was created on day 1 but was lost in the clouds or an oddly ordered stratosphere until day 4? We know that Moses wasn’t actually there, so either God was confused about where He’d placed the sun on day 1 or Moses was confused about his message from the “inspiration of God” (2 Timothy 3:16). Obviously, God doesn’t get confused, nor is it likely to be true of His scribes, but somebody is confused!
Whatever the case, this explanation does open the possibility that trees really were created after the sun (cf. Genesis 1:11 and 1:16), and that possibility is a relief not only to those familiar with the latest discoveries of science but also to those tending a garden on a summer’s day. Knowing this “day-age” theory might also have helped my initial embarrassment about these things.
I will have comments on #3 above—that the “viewpoint readily accommodates” to modern scientific thinking—in my discussion of the framework hypothesis below.
“Intelligent Design” is really about “Intelligent Deism.” Hugh Ross and his colleagues are excellent examples of believing in the existence of God while denying the Word of God. They follow the wisdom of nature and reason, quite literally in this case, as they take the many evidences of contemporary natural sciences, insert the word “God,” “He” or “Him” at the appropriate places and call it the real meaning of early Genesis. Jonathan Sarfati, from the Answers-in-Genesis ministry, has written an excellent critique of the Intelligent Design movement. A brilliant scientist himself, in Refuting Compromise (see footnote #2) Sarfati works his way carefully through major theories on the design and development of the universe. His refutations of dug up fossil findings and conjured up Neanderthals, of the time, space, and measurement claims of natural scientists, as well as his presentations of mostly new evidence supporting the literal, 6-day viewpoint were both surprising and refreshing.
A very recent critique of measurement claims takes to task, among other things, conclusions from carbon-14 dating. Physicist Don DeYoung writes the following about carbon-14 measurements which so often have led to conclusions in the millions and billions of years: “Whatever the source of the carbon-14, its presence in nearly every sample tested worldwide is a strong challenge to an ancient age. Carbon-14 data is now firmly on the side of the young-earth view of history.” Helping us believers who can’t easily peek into anthropology, geology, or astronomy for ourselves, DeYoung concludes his work with an atypical scientific view. He writes, “Evolutionary models for life, earth, and space are questioned today by a significant group of scientists worldwide. They are convinced that the earth and the entire universe are the result of supernatural creation events which occurred just thousands of years ago, not billions of years.”
I once thought science had their bag so well sewed up that, upon my conversion to Christianity, I was faithful to the Bible but was afraid to open the doors, especially, of the “hard sciences.” My fears were fed, perhaps, by the fact that I once got a “C minus” in college physics—in a course for beginners, no less! Why investigate, if I didn’t have the “brains” to understand anyway? Besides, ideas so central to the very foundation of our material culture just couldn’t be questionable, let alone wrong. But now I wonder: scientific “fact” is returning to “theory,” and “theory”….well, is it turning out to be another “just so” story?
The Framework Hypothesis.
Do you like poetry in motion? Do you like the wispy clouds of philosophy on a blue-sky-day as compared to the plodding of everyday history on the ground? If so, the Framework Hypothesis will be a literary symphony for you, especially as orchestrated by Meredith G. Kline. In his brilliant, complex and whimsical view, the Genesis account of creation is a literary piece that presents the main topics—God and His creation—in such a way that Moses’ story can be filled in by latter-day scientists.
Trees, man, stars, seas, the firmament, cows, fish, birds, poets, grass, and the rest of creation are all present in the mesmerizing flow of Kline’s speculations, but they are not well accounted for. Such details as to how, when and in what order the creation took place, and how long the creative process lasted, though included in the story, are not considered relevant to what Moses really was saying in his literary metaphor. Fortunately, his ancient and contemporary audience was able to understand what Moses was really doing. The Framework thinkers presume that Moses was talking to folks who would know that he wasn’t describing literal history but was alluding to themes and ideas that they ought to know about God’s creation.
Things must have gone something like this: Although Moses actually told them about day 3—quoting God, “Let the earth bring forth….the fruit tree yielding fruit” (Genesis 1:11)—before he told them about day 4—“Let there be lights in the firmament” (Genesis 1:14)—his audience would naturally know that it was the other way around. Naturally, trees don’t grow without the sun so the sun really came first. The story Moses told is sort of like the white buffalo saga in Indian lore or Kipling’s “Just So Stories” in English lore. The local folks would know what Moses really meant, and he really didn’t mean what he seemed to be saying.
So what did Moses really mean? The Framework Hypothesis calls into question the supposed duration and sequencing of events in Genesis 1, and manages to more or less turn Moses around while still keeping him honest. To accomplish this, Kline takes a new and very different look at Genesis 1 with an eye gleaned from Genesis 2:5-6.
Since the first verse of Genesis 2 says “the heavens and the earth were finished,” many students of the Bible have suggested that Moses is talking here about the earliest time of man’s life on earth beginning with man’s creation at the end of the first week. Genesis 1 is about what God does by Himself during creation week. Genesis 2 is about the earth, man and their happenings as man first enters the stage prepared for him in Genesis 1. Genesis 2 gives us a glimpse of man’s life before the catastrophe we will read about in Genesis 3. In this view, Genesis 2 follows Genesis 1 in the order of time. Another view, closer to that of the Framework Hypothesis, is that, as to the creation story, “Chapter 1 gives the statement of fact; Chapter 2 clarifies the details.”
The Framework people do two important things to tell a very different story than what they call the “literalist tradition.” First, they place the events of Genesis 2:5-6 (“plant,” “herb,” “not a man to till,” no “rain upon the earth” but “a mist from the earth”) at the time of day 3 of Genesis 1 and, second, they also assume that God’s work on day 3 was not miraculous but generated by “second causes” (watering, tilling, etcetera). Since the earth is essentially in the water on day 2 and is dried out by the evening of day 3, and since that happens without the sun which doesn’t appear and take charge until day 4, the length of days and the order of days in Genesis 1 must not be taken literally and as history but rather as topics or themes about God’s creation. Clearly day 3 must be longer than 24 hours for all that drying and planting, naturally, to occur. So Genesis 1 must involve more time than the 6 x 24 = 144 hours that is generally assumed, and thus the 6-day week is a metaphor for another dating scheme. Furthermore, since “second causes” means utilizing the sun, day 3 (with the trees’ beginning) must somehow be rearranged relative to day 4 (with the sun’s beginning) in order to get the ground dry enough for proper planting and for the sun to “grow” the trees. Notice that both duration and sequence are up for grabs now and only the themes (like “God created” and “trees”) are left standing.
Kline’s thesis is described in Space and Time in the Genesis Cosmogony. He makes a number of distinctions in order to establish the framework within which Genesis 1 could take “literary shape” with its appropriate themes. These distinctions are orthogonal to one another. They are “the two-register character of biblical cosmology” (heaven and earth but also archetype [origin] and replica [likeness]); space and time coordinates; the first three days of the creation-kingdom versus the last three days of creature-kings; and each of these sets of days containing three realms (in the creation-kingdom) and three sets of sun/moon/stars, fish/fowl, and man, respectively, of the creature-kings. In social science terms, such a model or framework would be considered a highly complex 2 x 2 x 2 x 3 factorial design generating 24 cells for comparison. The necessary statistic would be an analysis of variance, once developed for analyzing milk production in cows.
My statistical model is a spoof, of course, but no more, it would seem, than is Kline’s framework leading to why a story should be interpreted as having a different order of events and a different appraisal of time than the way it is, in fact, written. What Kline is getting at is that what God decrees from the upper-register (especially, the “heaven of heavens”) becomes a metaphor and literary masterpiece by the time it is spoken by Moses in the lower register (here on earth).
Some of the key turning points of Kline’s argument are surprisingly simple, uncomfortably rhetorical, and not convincing. For example, a major reason for space and time coordinates being correlated is the temporal names of “day” and “night” and the spatial names of “light” and “dark.” This argument of parallel naming carries the weight of it being “inevitable” that the two-register spatial structuring will be found in the time dimension as well.
Another example, and one furthering his argument, is that “we readily recognize” that what God decrees from the upper register—the reality—reduces to a “literary figure, an earthly, lower register time metaphor” in order for Moses to tell the story. This literary and literal reduction, however, isn’t what’s really true. What’s true is the magnum opus that’s going on in the “heaven of heavens” where length of time is a different matter and so is the ordering of events. Who/what are you going to believe? Do you believe what Moses says or what God does? It’s a no-win situation for believers who don’t like the Framework Hypothesis.
This description is far from the entire Framework story but rather is an example of the sort of method of reconstruction the Framework advocates use. Criticizing on the basis of these few brushstrokes I’ve made here is a questionable endeavor. Indeed, I may well be guilty, as was one critic according to a framework advocate, of simply “missing the point.” Nevertheless, at the risk of further misses, let me raise three further questions about the picture I’ve sketched.
First, if ideas from the natural sciences were not so deeply a part of the mind of our culture today, would anyone consider reconstructing Genesis 1 in a way that so completely tells another story? Suppose the Framework people were to reconstruct the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. First, order is changed and Goldilocks goes to the porridge, chair, and bed of Baby bear first and then those of Momma and then Poppa bear, except for their beds which, of course, she never gets to. That’s quite another story, isn’t it? Yet only the order of events has changed. Second, length of time is also changed and Goldilocks falls asleep, wakes up, feeds on the now cooled-off porridge of Poppa and Momma bear, and finally leaves the house before the bear family returns. How can this be? Well, that’s easy if we move from this lower register to an upper register. Upper register tells us that twenty-four hours becomes thousands or millions or billions of years…. Not really, of course, at least not in the story of Goldilocks, because not so much time was needed to show time’s effect. It turns out, however, that the Goldilocks story was reconstructed after the discovery that the bear family had left home for a week’s vacation at the seashore. Again, it’s quite another story. Goldilocks gets in, does the household damage, gets some sleep and gets out many days before the bears return from vacation. Even the moral theme has changed. Hmmm…. People of my generation, at least, would be very unhappy about such a version of a favorite tale. I am unhappy because I think some of our finest thinkers are doing just that to the creation story of the Bible.
Second, why did the Framework people rule out miracles on day 3 of Genesis 1? To say “Because second causes were obvious in Genesis 2:5” won’t do as an answer since it is based on the truth of the Framework claim that the day of Genesis 2:5 is day 3 of Genesis 1. The reasoning becomes circular with regard to the authors’ own assumptions.
Furthermore, Genesis 1 is a kickoff to the Bible that tempts our faith as much or more than any other story in the Bible. The “Let there be…” and “there was” of Genesis 1:3, for example, has got to be near the top as a faith-stretcher, not to mention that these creations were ex nihilo—out of nothing! The Framework thinkers have placed a second-causes verse from Genesis 2 into the heart of Genesis 1 and eliminated miracles. For some readers, zillions of light years may still be miraculous, but it certainly doesn’t have the ZING! of a “God said….” Miracles giving way to, for example, “a perfectly natural explanation for the absence of vegetation somewhere within the creation week,” shows the logical circle of Framework, and especially Kline’s, thinking. “Naturalistic” explanations of the Genesis story itself (e.g., sun and water “grow” trees) open doors to the very realms of scientific discovery that Kline wants to let in. His foundation seems to be more from natural science than the Bible, and the tail wags the dog.
Near the end of his article Kline is concerned that explanations based on a literal chronology of the Genesis story “must posit….something extraordinary or even supernatural.” Yesss!! While I’m shouting “Hallelujah to that!” Kline might wonder whether even God isn’t, after all, more natural than some of us tend to think!
Third, forget Goldilocks! Would Kline and others subject John 20 to their Framework analysis? As in Genesis 1, there are both events and theology in John 20. Two angels are seated at either end of a stone slab—the mercy seat. A distraught Mary Magdeline looks for Jesus—the new Eve. She wanders to a garden—the new covenant. She thinks Jesus is a gardener—the new or second Adam. James Jordan writes that “Frameworkers want to have both the events of John 20 as well as the theology. In fact, most of them would see that the theology of John 20 depends on whether the events really happened: If Christ did not really rise from the tomb, then His death cannot be our mercy seat, and He cannot offer Himself as our new Grand-Husband. When it comes to Genesis 1, however, they want the ideas without the events.” Jordan concludes, “Genesis 1 makes claims about historical events just as surely as does John 20. If the claims of Genesis 1 are in error, then there is no reason to think the claims of John 20 are true. If the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, then what it claims happened really happened, and is just as true for the creation as for the resurrection.”
Making the Bible user-friendly for natural scientists is not an unfair criticism of those advocating the Framework Hypothesis and other similar theories. Indeed, the 1996 article I’ve discussed above was published in The American Scientific Affiliation. In the preface to that article, Kline writes, “The conclusion is that as far as the time frame is concerned, with respect to both the duration and sequence of events, the scientist is left free of biblical constraints in hypothesizing about cosmic origins.” ¡Viva las ciencias!
Returning to point number 3 under the heading of Day-Age Theory above, I raised the question of accommodation between the Bible’s creation story and the evolutionary story of modern science. In the Framework Hypothesis we see that the findings of natural science can not only be accommodated to the biblical account but, indeed, can actually tell the true, “upper register” biblical understanding of that account and at the same time can actually complete the “lower register” story that Moses tells. This prospect takes us far, far beyond science and history being used to support Scripture; nowadays, science and history can be used to tell stories that Scripture seems to have trouble with, like Genesis 1. That takes us 180 degrees from the warnings of Calvin who wrote, “Those whom the Holy Spirit has inwardly taught truly rest upon Scripture, and Scripture indeed is self-authenticated; hence it is not right to subject it to proof and reasoning….We seek no proofs, no marks of genuineness upon which our judgment may lean; but we subject our judgment and wit to Scripture as a thing far beyond any guesswork.” Calvin’s advice notwithstanding, we are moving from the Bible helping us to see the world to the world helping us to see the Bible.
Scripture doesn’t need my defense, or anyone else’s. Where science draws different pictures from those painted in the Bible, the scientific artists have gone far beyond Van Til’s admonition to “think God’s thoughts after him.” I tell my grandchildren about science. I even teach my secular college classes about science. But my alpha and omega, in home, school, or church, is always, “Look at it this way.” “This way” is to look at it God’s way. Such an irony in this postmodern era is to know that the truth will follow, whatever the discipline, whatever the society, whatever the issue. The truth is God’s Word moving along through every evening and morning and evening and morning of every day, as promised from the beginning. It’s no fun being here inside the nether land between science and Scripture.
Following his nausea from hearing the “learn’d astronomer,” Walt Whitman wrote,
“Till rising and gliding out I wander'd off by myself,
In the mystical moist night air, and from time to time,
Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars.”
And so I go back outside into a cool evening….
“Good night, kids. See you in the morning.”