8: How God sees us – an eternal perspective
This talk was given by Dr Andrew Faraday on . It is preceded by a reading of 1 Corinthians 15:35–58 from the J B Phillips’ New Testament.
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Getting back to the passage today, and have we got the first slide to give us the title? There you are. What does God think of us? It is the last one in the series. I also thought it’s, “What do we think of Him?” It’s also that passage obviously is about what happens when we die? J.B. Phillips version has a heading for this passage which is “Parallels in nature help us grasp the truths of the resurrection”. Which I thought was quite a good heading. The passage certainly it says something about our relationship to the divine or to the spirit world, if you want to call it, and what the long term future does hold for us.
This raises questions and the questions were there weren’t they in the passage, of what sort of creatures we are and the relation between our souls and our bodies and our spirits. I think we can really think of just souls and bodies. Many people today I think hold one or two views use about this. Some think we’re spiritual beings and there’s something immortal about us that will go on and will go on thinking after we die. At present we’re just occupying a mortal body. Others think that we’re just a body with a consciousness inside our brains and when we die we cease to exist.
It’s really a question of which is primary, isn’t it? The soul or the body? When I was thinking of this, I thought I’ve recently been to two funerals, which were very different. At the first funeral, there was no eulogy, no story of the person’s life and what they’d done and what they were like. The person who died had specifically asked that the funeral was totally focused on Jesus and the gospel. The celebrant actually just gave a very strong gospel appeal. At the second funeral, there was very full eulogy. I learned a lot about the person I hadn’t ever known.
The celebrant never mentioned God or Jesus except to ask us to say the Lord’s prayer. She just made a few comments about the dead person’s soul finding rest. I just thought the differences between the funerals highlighted how different people today think about death and what will happen to our souls. The first was had the strong belief that we’ll rise again with a new and a wonderful body. The second was I think that many people hold in this world a sort of “don’t know”. They hope it’ll work out for the best and there’s sort of God and an afterlife.
There’s also a third group of people who are the definite atheists and they think there’s nothing beyond our physical existence. Some of them even have a hope in a continued existence in this world with imagining in the future we can transfer our brains to some robot or computer body so that we can stay alive almost forever. I say that’s a science fiction type of the future that fills me with horror.
The Christians that Paul was writing to had been wondering about their future state. Jesus hadn’t come back within a few years of the resurrection. More and more of the early Christians were dying. They were puzzled about the connection between our earthly bodies and the resurrection body we’d receive at the second coming. Paul is saying isn’t he, that the bodies are very different but related. I think it also explains the importance of Jesus’ tomb being empty. That Jesus’ earthly body was transformed into his resurrection body. That’s why it wasn’t there any more. Jesus’ resurrection was very soon after his death.
For us, it’s going to take a lot longer probably, unless he comes back before we die. It doesn’t matter how long or how short it takes for our earthly bodies to decay, there’ll be some connection between our earthly bodies and our new ones. Remember Jesus still bore the marks of the crucifixion, didn’t he? Which he showed to Thomas and told him to put his fingers in the marks, didn’t he? They were to me a badge of honour, rather than marks of shame. We’ll recognize and be recognized as individuals.
Another thing to remember of course, from all these is that we’re all going to get to heaven at the same time. There are not going to be people who get there first because we all rise together, don’t we? Then Paul talks of the contrast between our earthly bodies and the resurrection ones. He talks a lot about that, didn’t he, in there? The resurrection ones are incorruptible and sinless. They have a glory or a splendour we can’t imagine. Paul likened them to the heavenly bodies, to the sun, the moon, and the stars. It made me think, we know so much more about the heavenly bodies today than they did at that time.
Can we appreciate the same splendour? At Friday Break with the mums and tots where I go, I go to get my grandchildren thing because I don’t have my real ones. I find it hard to appreciate that wonder sometimes. I say because we sing Twinkle, twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are. Of course, I know what a star is, it’s just a very large lamp of hydrogen reacting to form helium and producing a lot of energy. That’s what makes it glow. Then the moon isn’t even glowing, is it? It’s just reflecting the sun’s light. You can’t actually see a star. That’s just a blur of light you see, you’re not seeing the shape of the star. It isn’t shaped like a diamond anyway.
No wonder many people find it hard to see the spiritual side of creation in the way that we can. It can all look so very material. The important thing is, not for us but if we’re going to introduce these people to the God of the universe and to Jesus, maybe we need to rethink about this splendour and put it in terms of the present day. Interesting, I was looking up the Greek word for glory or splendour, it can also mean opinion. Interesting, isn’t it?
First, we want to think about Paul and how others in the ancient world saw the universe. They could see they lived in a very flat world with a very vast space above them and an earth beneath that sometimes shook and you had volcanoes and out comes hot lava shooting up into the world, into the sky. That gives them a vision of maybe the fires of hell.
Well, let’s see the next slide if we can. If you were in the Middle East and you moved in any direction, it’s not really far before you come to an enormous amount of water. No wonder they thought that the earth was floating on an enormous sea and at the end of the earth there was just sea.
I know some clever Greeks had worked out the earth was round but I think that most people didn’t understand that. They would think just the simple way. If we have the next slide, we can see that’s an Egyptian carving of what they thought the universe looked like. You can see that dark shape that goes all the way around. That’s the god, Nut, who they thought of as being the firmament in the sky, the arch in the sky, and there are all the stars stuck in it. That’s what they thought it was like. The blue of the sky to them looked like water up there, so they thought there was water up above the firmament. You can see on that picture there’s the sun god Ra, in a boat sailing around the sky. He goes around.
There’s a picture of the sun going round. Then at night, the boat goes in the waters under the earth back around and comes back around again to the east. That’s what they were thinking. That seems quite a good way of thinking if that’s all you knew. Of course, we can see the similarity between that picture and the creation story in Genesis where it talks about the dome in the sky. It’s separating of the waters above from the waters beneath. We shouldn’t try to put that into terms we understand today. It’s really just that picture. When if we look at the next slide, we can see the Babylonians. This is the picture they had.
That shows that there’s the magic big god on the right, the sun god, sitting above the waters above the firmament on his throne. They believed, you can see the water there, the wiggly lines, then underneath the dark line is the firmament that they thought was there and there the light stars sitting on it. They have the same picture. Of course, they believed that the waters could come down onto the earth, they would call it the windows of heaven, as it says in the flood story, could open and the waters come down. Then the springs of the deep and so the water among the earth could come forward. That’s what they thought, there was water under the earth.
Where did the water in the wells come from if we weren’t floating on water? I can now show you in the next slide, a composite picture of what Paul and the ancient Jews would think the world would look like. There’s God up at the top in his upper heaven, and there’s the lower heaven. There’s the earth and the underworld underneath. That’s the picture they would have. How else would the authors of the Bible have expressed themselves but in terms of that? We can see that all the way through the Bible, it talks about heaven, and hell, and the underworld underneath and the world that we have today.
There’s nothing wrong with that. We couldn’t possibly have had the Bible in today’s terms because they wouldn’t have understood it. It’s a bit like how we explain things to children, we don’t think we’re lying to them or not telling the truth, do we? We don’t always explain it as you would explain it in modern scientific terms. Of course, to think in modern terms, where are Heaven and Hell? They’re not up there and down there. We know that because we can go up there and we can go down there, can’t we? Remember Yuri Gagarin said when he was up there, “I can’t see God up here.”
With our modern knowledge, we can picture Heaven and Hell much closer, in fact. The ancients thought in up and down dimensions, which they couldn’t reach, but our latest theories have not three or four dimensions if we include time, that way, that way, that way, and time. There’s actually either 10 or 11 dimensions, in the latest theories we have. There’s an awful lot more places to imagine Heaven and Hell, and they can be actually here, just in a way we can’t see. Then if we look at the other thing Paul talked about, it’s about the wonders of the animal world, but we’ve discovered so much more and found it so much more amazing than Paul did, if you’re looking for glory.
We know there are many more real creatures than Paul could ever have dreamed of. What is it? There are 300,000 different species of beetles. I think Adam would have had an awfully long time trying to name them all. [laughs] The amazing ways they all interact and depend on each other. Just look at David Attenborough programmes and that fills us with glory and splendour of this amazing world. When we think that heaven is going to be a million times more glorious and splendid than that, isn’t it? Paul when he looked up in the sky he could see 10,000 stars.
That’s all he thought they were, but actually, we know there’s about as many stars as grains of sand in the world, which is utterly incomprehensible, isn’t it? It’s 10 with 22 noughts. Then what’s the universe made of? We used to think, we’d got it cracked. There were three fundamental particles, in atoms, protons, and neutrons, and then electrons going around them. We’ve now found it’s all much much more complex than that, much more. All these particles are made up of different things. We’ve now got over 60 fundamental particles we’ve discovered and counting. That only accounts for 5% of the universe, the other 95% we’ve no idea what it’s made of.
Good heavens, our ignorance is staggering, isn’t it? Then, of course, we look at our bodies. They’re almost all empty space, that you’re not really there it’s just the light that’s showing you. Each atom has its mass concentrated into the size of a fly in a cathedral, to give you an idea of scale. So just think how much empty space there is in you. I can see no problem at all in Jesus’ resurrection body going through walls, there’s nothing there. I just have no idea how it happens. Of course, even more amazing than that, each of our bodies has a finite fuzziness about it.
You’ve heard about things have particles and also as waves, but we’ve got a bit of a wave and this is a finite, incredibly, incredibly small probability that I could be anywhere in the universe at any moment. Again, that’s no problem for God, when he moved Philip, the deacon from one place to another, remember the story in Acts where he suddenly found himself somewhere else. That’s no problem. I was listening to, the other day, to a debate on the internet, on life after death, between Christopher Hitchens, he was a well-known atheist, who died recently, and some Jewish rabbis.
That was interesting because the rabbis were trying to counter Christopher Hitchens’ arguments on the non-existence of God or how horrible if there was a God he must be from all the things you read in the Old Testament. The Rabbis in fact admitted to knowing virtually nothing concrete about heaven and hell. They just seemed to assume they’d be all right because they were part of the family. They also thought other good people would be okay too. They were very liberal in their thoughts, but they never mentioned the need for redemption. They just lump Christianity together with all the other religions.
If we look at the next slide, you have something interesting. There you are. If we get back to something that we like, there we are, and that’s Jesus being exalted. God exalts him to the highest place and gave him the name that’s above every name. That is at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth or as the translation, maybe it’s better, down in the underworld. There’s Paul believing in that three-decker universe again, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
Now we can bring our thoughts back to Jesus and we know it’s that wonderful passage in Philippians. That’s the end of it, isn’t it about him, coming down from heaven and giving everything up? Interestingly enough I put there that remember Paul says that, “I know a man who 14 years ago was caught up to the third heaven”. What then is all that about? Well, it’s from that picture, isn’t it? There was the first heaven, the second heaven, the firmament, the third heaven up there with God. We can see what he was talking about and understand it.
They say it’s the truth of the resurrection, isn’t it, that gives us a hope that many other people don’t have, even those Jewish rabbis, really. We may not know how we get there but we can be absolutely sure it’s our destination. We know that Jesus was raised with a glorious new body, and that’s what awaits us. As Paul says, “It’s sin that gives death its sting,” even though so many people seem to ignore the consequences of that. By his death, Jesus has removed that sting for those of us who have acknowledged him, haven’t we?
Well, is the resurrection a fact? Because we’ve talked about all these material facts and all these materialists think, well, it’s just thoughts that you have about God and anybody else’s views are as good as anybody. What about all those scientific facts I’ve been giving you, or about the material universe, we don’t seem to know an awful lot about that, do we? It’s just our current “as far as we’ve got.” It’s certainly not as complete as some people might think. If we think about the resurrection, I think that’s a more certain fact than anything we know in science, because no one’s ever been able to come up with an alternative explanation of the resurrection that holds water.
It’s sometimes been called the best-attested fact in history. Then the Bible too, that stood up to every test that anybody’s put to it, really. If you say about the translations, I’ve told you before, haven’t I? About the J.B. Phillips translation. There’s the story Adrian Plass says of how there was a rumour that when J.B. Phillips was stuck, C.S. Lewis had come. He had died, but he came and talked to him and helped him to finish the translation. Of course, Adrian Plass was querying that. He was preaching at a church and this little old lady came up to her afterwards and she turned out to be J.B. Phillips’ wife.
J.B. Phillips had died by then. He asked her about this story. She said, “No, I never saw C.S. Lewis, but I heard him.” There was some miraculous evidence about the translation.
I’ve certainly found it helpful, as Gill has, too, I think, who met probably some of you. If we move on, we can maybe look at slide seven, can we? The next slide. There you are. That’s something else that Paul said, “Truly, if our hope in Christ was limited to this life, only we should of all mankind be most be pitied.” Then he says, “Remember there are men who have plenty to say but have no knowledge of God.”
Michael Faraday, when he was an old man, was asked what his speculations were about the future, meaning what he thought about life after death. What he said was, “Speculations? I know whom I have believed and am persuaded he’s able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.” If we look at the next slide, we can see that in the J.B. Phillips translation, “For I know the one in who I’ve placed my confidence and am perfectly certain that the work is committed to me, is safe in his hands until that day.” That’s why I like that translation, it’s a bit easier to understand the thing that we sing so glibly but we’re not actually quite sure what he’s talking about.
I think maybe if you finish there, and we’ll finish also with the verse from the end of the section that we were looking at, from what Paul said there. “Brothers and sisters of mine, stand firm, let nothing move you as you busy yourselves in the Lord’s work. Be assured that nothing you do for him is ever lost or wasted.” Both those quotations just remind us, don’t they, that what we do in this life is preparing for the world to come. This is of importance, not just to us but to the world itself. Thank you.
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