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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Pearly Gates & Streets of Gold (part one)

Let me begin by sharing a short passage from my novel The Devil and Pastor Gus, which I consider to be the most important novel I’ve ever written, even if its readership has been more limited than for some of the others. This comes from page 269 of the print edition. Gus is having a conversation with Peter about what Heaven is really like. Peter is speaking first:

 

“But God tells me you’re a bit skeptical about the ‘pearly gates’ and ‘streets of gold’ the Bible talks about.” As if anticipating Gus’s defensiveness, he added, “That doesn’t bother Him, though.”

“That’s good. I’ve always believed Heaven is too wonderful to picture, so its exact appearance is beyond my imagination.”

Peter patted Gus on the shoulder. “It’s beyond everyone’s imagination.”

Readers often ask the authors they admire whether their stories are autobiographical. I willingly admit there’s probably some of me in every character I create, even the women. But that’s especially true of Pastor Gus himself. Both of us suffered a midlife crisis for what seemed like years, and each of us wanted to leave a significant spiritual legacy through our writing–novels, specifically.

There are a number of less significant similarities, like Gus’s desire to speak with a genuine Australian accent after returning from a mission trip there. I’ve been to Australia six or seven times, and most of my trips were mission trips.

But what I want to focus on today has to do with the passage of The Devil and Pastor Gus quoted above. I was hesitant to write those paragraphs for fear I would be accused of not taking the Bible literally.

I do take the Bible literally, but with these (go ahead and call me liberal if you must) thoughts in mind:

  • Ancient Hebrew didn’t originally have vowels, and many words had multiple meanings. Without having the constant guidance of someone who lived during biblical times, many passages that would’ve been perfectly clear then are confusing to modern readers. It’s even possible that the original meanings have sometimes been “lost in translation”–or at least unintentionally mangled.
  • Furthermore, some things were applicable to the Jews of yesteryear and were never meant for modern-day Christians. Remember that the next time you’re, uh, pigging out on bacon or sausage.
  • Ancient Hebrew didn’t have uppercase letters. So the contemporary tendency to uppercase pronouns designating God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit is–in one sense–an enhancement to the Bible. That may be correctly done in most instances. But are all of the correct?

Are you accusing me yet of being too liberal? I hope not. I could give you more ammunition that’s not relevant to this blog post. For example, I don’t really care whether the seven days of creation were twenty-four hour days or periods of time. I’ve heard both from people I highly respect.

My, but I’m straying from the original purpose of this post. Tell you what. Let’s call today’s post “Part One.” I’ll finish next Sunday.

Any comments on Part One? Please share.

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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