Last Sunday, I took up the topic of hell and what happens to those who willfully and stubbornly resist God's call to come and follow. The images that God used in the Scriptures to describe their punishment are horrible. "Lake of fire", "where the worm never dies", "where the fire is never quenched", "Wailing and gnashing of teeth", "outer darkness" - are all mentioned and provide the backdrop to what happens when we refuse God's call on us to live our lives loving God and loving our neighbors.
I made the point then that God commissioned the writers of the NT to use phrases that even if symbolic, point to a greater reality. That should give anyone pause to consider what God thinks of the way we've spent our lives.
Now I've been immersed in the language of heaven all week and I see the same pattern play itself out. Sure there are some specifics we can pull out of the Scriptures about what heaven is like, but there's still more of the use of similes and metaphors than our modern "I need to know exactly" minds can find comfort in.
William Willimon, former Dean of the Chapel at Duke University, and now Bishop of the United Methodist Church in North Alabama, wrote recently about how hard it is for us to appreciate mystery and metaphor.
As Douglas Sloane, in his book on higher education puts it, in American universities, at least since the early 1900’s quantifiable thinking (statistics, matter, money) has reigned supreme while qualifiable thinking (thoughts of beauty, right and wrong, good and bad) has had a rough go of it.HT A Peculiar Prophet - William Willimon
Augustine, as a bright young man with a superior classical education, confessed to Bishop Ambrose that he had tried to read the Bible but frankly, he was unimpressed. To him the Bible seemed like woefully inferior literature, crudely written, poorly edited.
“You young fool,” replied Ambrose. “You can’t get it because when you read in the Bible about ‘fish,’ you think ‘fish.’ When you read ‘bread,’ you think ‘bread.’”
Ambrose explained to him the spiritual depth of scripture, showed young Augustine levels of meaning beyond the surface appearance of things.
Thus, years later, after entering this strange new world of the Bible, Augustine is sitting under a tree in a garden. He hears a child singing, “Take up and read, take up and read.” Is it the voice of a child or an angel? By this time his imagination is so excited, his consciousness so heightened that he can’t tell the difference. He does what the voice says, takes up the Bible, flops it open to an obscure passage from Romans, and his life is changed forever. After that, we call him “St. Augustine.”
I realized early on this week that I was approaching the topic of heaven more like the young Augustine than the Saint he became once he let God leave mystery and wonder out front of us.
Wouldn't following Jesus mean that we don't have to know everything about where we are headed, just that He will guide us?