It’s not often I come home from Sunday church unsettled by the main talk, “the sermon”.
Last Sunday we had a guest preacher at our church and he spoke well: with obvious preparation, reflection, depth, clarity and authority. Everybody with whom I interacted afterwards seemed most impressed. I’m grateful that after 42 years of preaching I have a similar good reputation; did this add to why I felt troubled?
What did our visiting preacher say to disturb me?
He spoke about eternal life… a subject many Christians love to hear about and which some readers may dismiss out of hand. But as none of us has anything like the total picture of what happens after we die, this will I trust be a topic that will get you to read on!
In my 40 or more years as a Christian pastor, one of the questions people often ask me after a bereavement is this: Will I recognise Bill (or Barb) if and when we both get to heaven?
I have always responded by reminding these folk that –
- the Bible teaches that God is perfectly good and powerful, and that he has a wonderful future for us,
- everything in that future will be so new and different that we should not be too definite about most of the details, and that
- God understands our loss and hopes in the face of death, but we’d better trust God more than our reasoning about what our new self, accommodation and country will be like.
Seems fair enough?
Our guest preacher however took quite a different line, one I’d not heard before but one that might seem reasonable if (as I do) we take the Bible seriously. However, his line left some very ragged ends for me and others I can think of. And he should have dealt with these, however briefly.
His argument seemed reasonable given that he believes God is speaking when we read our Bible.
“The Bible teaches that eternal life involves continuity as well as change from the here and now.” Agreed.
“How can we know this?
- “After Jesus’ resurrection from his grave on the first Easter day those closest to him recognised him (after getting over their shock and disbelief).
- “After Jesus’ rose from death, he still carried the wounds inflicted at his execution. Seeing these scars helped convince his followers that their Teacher had defeated death.
- “The Bible tells us that our new body will be like Jesus’ risen body.”
- Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church, chapter 15, as well as the book of Revelation, chapter 21:1–5 are the Bible’s key passages about this subject.
I had never heard this actual argument before and it upset me. Why?
- Putting Bible references together like a jigsaw puzzle to demonstrate something is only valid if it uses all the pieces that belong to that puzzle.
- Asserting that we will recognize each other in a resurrected body because after Easter morning Jesus was recognisable by his crucifixion scars doesn’t take into account that in heaven “everything will be made new” (or “different”) and “there will be no more crying or pain”. (Rev. 21)
Why this reasoning affected me so deeply will be clear to regular readers of this blog.
Like many people I became “damaged goods” soon after my birth: I had a stomach that didn’t function properly, so 10 days after my birthday I was operated on to remedy pyloric stenosis. This is a relatively routine procedure now but very traumatic mid-20th century for my parents and me, and it left me with many symptoms of post-traumatic stress for much of my life.
This has made me sensitive to people with a physical, mental or emotional burden, and especially those who have carried this from infancy, robbing them of a sense of ownership. Typically these people will present with a brave exterior, but their disability and inner struggles would in many cases be more severe than anything I as a PS baby have ever known. I felt outrage at a gifted preacher not even considering these people as he presented what he believed was God’s “good news” about recognizing each other in glory-land.
It simply does not square with the picture of God that Jesus has given us to preach that in our life-after-this (if it’s as we believe or would hope for) we will continue to carry our disabilities and scars – and may even be recognized by them.
In recent years I have made great progress in moving from negative to positive feelings about my stomach scar and what came with it. Rather than cover it away and deny the questions of the curious, I now my surgery and scar as part of my life story and can talk about it.
This preacher’s sermon, although I disagreed with his construct, still made me shudder at the thought of having to live eternally marked as “damaged goods”. However, now that I’ve written about last Sunday, I think I’ve digested and expelled most of it.
Your comments are most welcome.