I have three items about last Sunday’s church service.
A. Someone was telling the congregation about his Thanksgiving. He
was talking about sitting on the couch, watching football on TV after
having his Thanksgiving meal, dozing off. In the midst of all this, he
said, he had a sense of God telling him that everything will be okay.
He said that we can have this experience when we are with family on
Thanksgiving, or if we are alone.
B. The pastor was preaching about the importance of thanksgiving.
He was talking about an experience that he had when his daughter was
sick. All of the doctors were believers, and he said that he could feel
the presence of God. The pastor said that God may not always do that
sort of thing, but there are occasions when God does.
The pastor also talked about how God may have delivered us from
peril, and we were not even aware of it. Someone may have been about to
assault you, for example, but God diverted the would-be assaulter’s
mind onto something else.
When a Christian says this, my mind cannot help but to ask “problem
of evil” questions. Why didn’t God stop that other assault, or
misfortune? Some think it makes more sense to say that God doesn’t
intervene at all, rather than to say that God stops evil in some cases
but not others. With this mindset, can we truly thank God, as if God is
the source of our good fortune?
I cannot provide a satisfactory answer to the problem of evil. I do
not dismiss the possibility of God’s existence, though, for there are
people who have what seem to be God-moments. I also believe in having
gratitude and expressing it towards people, rather than taking people
and positive circumstances for granted. That sort of attitude, as
opposed to a sense of entitlement, can help a person have a better
attitude towards life, and maybe to get along with others better. As
far as the problem of evil goes, people who have should think about
people who need and, if they can, they should help provide for their
needs. That does not exactly solve the problem of why God seems
inactive in the face of evil, but it does hopefully discourage an
attitude of being satisfied with our good fortune and leaving things
C. The pastor was saying that we should get used to thanking God
here, because we will be doing that a lot in heaven. He said that there
will be no football and baseball in heaven! No, we will be praising
and spending time with God, and we will be spending a lot of time with
That reminded me, somewhat, of a Mark Driscoll sermon that I heard
last week. Driscoll was saying that God is loving, even towards people
in hell. God loves the people in hell, Driscoll said, but God will not
let them into heaven where they can hurt God’s people.
What troubles me about these sentiments is that they assume that how
people are now is how they will be in the afterlife. I fare positively
and negatively, according to these criteria. On the one hand, I do
enjoy spending time with God in prayer and listening to and singing
praise songs. On that criterion, I will love heaven! On the other
hand, I do not particularly enjoy socializing with Christians, and there
are times when my attitude towards God is negative. On those criteria,
I won’t like heaven that much!
I suppose that one can say that God will transform Christians and
cleanse them of sinful imperfections before letting them into heaven. I
am hesitant, though, to say that heaven and this life are radically
discontinuous from each other. Why am I in this life, building
character, if God will transform me and everyone else after we die,
anyway? Is it so I will better appreciate my transformed state, in
which I will no longer struggle against sin because I will be sinless?
What exactly is my eschatological hope? I grew up in Armstrongism,
which said that believers would become godlike beings, ruling the earth
and creating their own universes. This may beat sitting on a cloud and
playing a harp, but it does not particularly appeal to me. Some
Christians talk about learning, attending lectures, and listening to
Mozart playing a live concert in heaven! That appeals to me more! Such
a conception may allow there to be football and baseball in heaven,
even though the pastor has a point when he notes that God will be a
significant figure there, and so maybe in the here and now we should
prepare ourselves for that by loving God.
The first time I really developed an eschatological hope was when I read Jonathan Edwards’ sermon, “Heaven, A World of Love.”
Edwards said that heaven is a place where people love each other. If
you do not have companions, Edwards said, do not hate those who reject
you, but look forward to heaven, a world of love! Edwards himself could
get frustrated with people in this life, and his daughter, Esther,
hoped even more for the millennium as she was dealing with difficult
people (see here)!
On some level, Edwards may have believed that the love that believers
have and show here will be continuous with the love that they will have
and show in heaven. But he and his daughter also allowed their social
frustrations in the here and now to be a foil for the happiness and
harmony that will exist in heaven.
The Devil’s Empathy
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