Pearly Gates & Streets of Gold (conclusion)

If you didn’t read last Sunday’s “Part One” post, you might want to do so before you continue.

Otherwise, let me simply point out that my character, Pastor Gus Gospello (The Devil and Pastor Gus) was skeptical about whether Heaven really has pearly gates and streets of gold. While I’m not necessarily “skeptical,” I am of the opinion that those descriptions may not be literal.

Most of what we know about the appearance of Heaven is what the apostle John wrote in Revelation (note that that word doesn’t end in an S) based on a vision he experienced in which he was taken to Heaven, where various truths were revealed to him. I believe his vision was real.

He described the pearly gates and streets of gold along with many other images that were familiar to him and would be familiar to his readers.

John’s Revelation wasn’t the “speculative fiction” of his day. It was real. True. But how could he adequately describe what he saw in completely literal terms?

Pearls and gold were undoubtedly considered valuable then, just as they are now, but wouldn’t something as special–as unique–as Heaven be made of materials we human beings can’t even conceive of? And what about colors? How could John have hoped to describe colors he’d never seen before–colors no  one on earth could manage to duplicate?

I understand that one purpose for the streets of gold might have been to emphasize that what was considered valuable on earth was so commonplace in Heaven that it was worthy of nothing more than being walked on.

Have you ever been to a foreign country–a country where English was not the normal language? Didn’t you see things that were so unusual you made a mental note to try to learn more about them when you returned home? And didn’t you even take pictures to help you be able to relive your joy at seeing those things in person?

But what happened when you tried to tell your friends about them? Didn’t you find that your best efforts failed to convey adequately the beauty or the uniqueness of what had so impressed you in person? Even though your pictures may have brought smiles to your face, weren’t you conscious of the fact that they failed to do justice to the objects those pictures were of?

That’s all I’m really trying to say. John may have seen literal pearly gates and streets of gold. He undoubtedly saw a number of other things people who would read Revelation ought to know about. But how could he possibly have used human language to describe true godliness?

We sometimes say that people who think they understand God completely are guilty of trying to put Him in a box. He’s too big, too grand, too everything good for any person to comprehend adequately. Any “god” who fits in anyone’s box is too small for me to believe in and worship.

My God is awesome. Nothing else is.

So any description of God’s dwelling place can only be described and understood within the limitations of human speech and understanding.

Even if the pearly gates and streets of gold are literal, I can’t help but be impressed. Not because of the pearls or the gold, however, but because I believe those are just the best representations of things people are incapable of comprehending–or even imagining.

I’ve enjoyed sharing my thoughts on this subject, but I’d love to hear yours. How about leaving a comment?

I’ll be back again next Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

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Thoughts about Heaven and Hell

I’m not caught between Heaven and Hell, thank goodness. As a Christian, I know where I’ll be going.

But I am caught between the teachings of my theologically moderate father and those of our very conservative church, a church I love so dearly otherwise that I tend not to share opinions there that people might take offense at.

One difference of opinion has to do with Creation. I DO believe God is the Creator of everything, and I believe He was quite capable of creating the world in seven twenty-four hour days. But I tend to believe they were seven periods of time. Fortunately, my salvation is not dependent on that belief.

I actually get upset at theology I consider too liberal. I recall a Sunday school lesson years ago in which the quarterly talked about an ax head (somewhere in the Old Testament; I have no idea where) that slipped off, fell in the water, and miraculously floated to the surface again. I felt like ripping up the quarterly for insisting that story had been symbolic, not literal.

I wouldn’t object to someone saying it might have been symbolic, but stating that it was as if the writer of the quarterly knew more about the Bible than God was too much. I would get equally upset about anyone who insists that the story of Jonah and the whale isn’t literal. That’s a failure to give God credit for being able to do the unbelievable.

And that brings me to Heaven and Hell. Everyone knows about Heaven–the pearly gates and the streets of gold. And everyone knows about Hell, too–the eternal lake of fire and the stink of bodies burning but never burning up.

Here’s where I have to tread carefully. The apostle John, who wrote the book of Revelation, from which we get most if not all of our description of Heaven, saw Heaven in a vision. I have no doubt of that or that he REALLY saw Heaven.

But I wonder whether his description of Heaven was simply the most accurate one he could make, being limited to the most descriptive words in his vocabulary. Words that could not possibly be adequate for describing the wonders of Heaven.

How could he have done it differently? I believe the materials–even the colors–found in Heaven are beyond our ability to comprehend. Or even to imagine. So I think John did the best he could to describe the indescribable. Golden streets and pearly gates give us a preview we could understand, but are not necessarily a real description of Heaven.

What probably makes me a moderate and not a liberal is the fact I express that as my opinion about Heaven. Not as a fact. I’m not going to be disappointed in Heaven, no matter what materials it’s made of or what it looks like. That’s all that really matters to me.

Hell is a lot harder for me to deal with. Could it be that there are no human words sufficiently horrible to describe eternal separation from God? And because Jerusalem had a garbage dump outside the city, a place where dead bodies were disposed of,  a place that stank of sulfur, a place where the fires never went out, wouldn’t it make sense to describe Hell in similar terms–terms the people of Jesus’s day could understand and relate to?

Interestingly, Jesus not only described Hell elsewhere as an eternal fire, he told a parable about a rich man who was burning in Hell. He saw the poor man he’d horribly mistreated while they were both still alive. But the poor man was living it up in Heaven while the rich man was eternally miserable in Hell. The rich man begged God to send a warning to his brothers so they wouldn’t suffer the same fate he was suffering.

The thing that really interests me about this story is that the rich man could see into Heaven and recognize what he was missing out on. Consequently his eternal hopelessness was made all the worse.

I’ve heard sermons that treat this parable as a literal story about Heaven and Hell. And it may well be. Once again, what right do I have to be dogmatic?

Either way, it suggests one idea about Hell that makes a lot of sense. If Hell means being eternally separated from God, what could be worse than being somewhere outside Heaven’s gates, able to see how perfect life inside is and perhaps even trying to break down the gates or climb the walls to get inside, but unable to unable to do so?

I’m not trying to change anyone’s opinions on the subjects of Heaven and Hell. As I’ve tried to make clear, I’m not in a position to insist that some parts of the Bible might be symbolic rather than literal. But one of the wonderful things about Christianity is that God loves each of His children just as much as if each of them understood the Bible perfectly from cover to cover.

Comments are welcome.

 

    

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I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger