One Disciple

The reflections of one disciple of Jesus on his journey in God's grace.

Category: God

Hello? Dad?

The dying spouse turns to the loved one and says, “Don’t worry.  I will always be with you, watching over you.”   Do our deceased loved ones really watch over us?

About ten years ago my brother called and told me Dad had died.   My wife and I loaded the car and made the cross country trip to my parents’ home.  That first night I went to his shop and saw his tools on the workbench just as he had left them only two days prior.  The radio was still on the Christian station he listened to.  He wouldn’t be back to pick up his tools again.   I had never felt pain like that.  The pain was the finality of his separation from us.  I couldn’t reach him anymore.  I went outside to the bench just under the window of his shop, sat down and cried.   I had things I wanted to tell him, in the darkness I started talking to him as if he was on the edge of heaven but right there with me.  Did he hear me?  No, I don’t believe he did.  Here is why.

There is an instance of the dead talking with the living recorded in the Bible.  It is found in 1Samuel chapter 28.  King Saul had been rejected by God for his gross insubordination and he was now facing a mighty enemy army.  The old prophet he had relied on for communication with God was dead but there was a way, he believed, to contact the dead prophet.  He disguised himself and went to a medium and asked her to get the Prophet Samuel for him.  In summary, Samuel came to Saul, rebuked him and told him the battle would be lost and he and his sons would die the next day.  Saul went to the wrong source for help. God told his people to have nothing to do with witches, charmers or those who consulted spirits. (See Deuteronomy 18:9–14) What Saul did broke God’s specific command.  God makes it clear in Deu. 18:15-22 that He alone is the go to source for reaching beyond the physical limitations He placed us under.

The logical question is where are those who are dead?  While the body returns to dust (Genesis 3:14) the spirit/soul is immortal and goes to one of two places, hell (Luke 25:30; Luke 16:19-31:etc) or heaven (Luke 23:43; 2Corinthians 5:1-10; etc.).  There is no indication or teaching in the Bible that the dead know what we are doing.

So did Dad hear me that night?  No, and that is for the best for us both.  It is best for him because he would be nothing but a helpless witness of what is happening here.  It is best for me because I would be trying to continue what was only temporary.

In God’s prohibition of consulting mediums He was keeping the people focused and dependent on Himself.  In the passage from 2 Corinthians what is the hope and comfort of the one who has repented of their sin and turned to Christ for salvation from the judgment of God?  It is to be with Christ their eternal love and Lord.

One final thought.  You may be familiar with the phrase from Genesis, “A man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”  My mother misses my dad but she constantly talks about Jesus being her husband.  She knows that the most intimate connection one human can have to another; marriage was not intended to be eternal.  Jesus told us that in heaven there won’t be any marrying and giving in marriage because we will be like the angels in heaven.  No more marriage or children.  The marital relationship will be over and our perfect love will be for God and we will love our neighbor perfectly even if that neighbor, such as my Dad, was related to me here as my Dad.

 

 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.      Romans 8:38–39 (ESV)

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.   For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.   Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.     John 3:16–18 (ESV)

The Eternal Ceiling

I was just a boy when one lazy afternoon I lay down on the couch, closed my eyes, and starting thinking, “What if there was nothing?” I focused on that thought, n o t h i n g. What would that mean? I mentally removed things as I worked toward nothing. Then suddenly a chill came over me as I came to one final thing to remove.  If I did I would lose my mind. I quickly opened my eyes and went to find something to do. Aristotle said that “Nothing is what a rock dreams about.” That afternoon I almost became a rock.

Wondering what was before is part of being human. Trying to imagine nothing is trying to imagine what was before what is. The problem is in that premise. If something was before what is then we still must ask what was before what was etc. until we find the ultimate, the absolute. In a conversation with two Mormon missionaries I interrupted them to ask about their doctrine of the god of the planet earth. “As I understand it, this god is actually the son of another god of another planet, who is also the son of a god of another planet, and so on. Where did the first god come from?” They hesitated, then said, “Those are complex things that we cannot get into.”

 
In contrast to the refusal of the Mormon missionaries to explain to me their doctrine Dr. Oliphant takes us boldly into the heart of Christian doctrine of God. I am listening to a course from Westminster Seminary by Dr. Scott Oliphant titled, The Doctrine of God. This is a study of what was before, the absolute. In the first class Dr. Oliphant warned us that it would be very challenging to our thinking and might even make some in the class angry. I recall it was either during the class on the Communicatio Idiomatum or the class on The Extra Calvinisticum, one of the young men questioning Dr. Oliphant on the divine and human natures of Christ was clearly upset. He had hit the wall, the divine ceiling, beyond which neither he nor Dr. Oliphant could go.

 
Lest we think this is a problem unique to religion we must stop a moment and realize the atheist faces the same challenge. Years ago a neighbor boy loaned my son a movie called Contact a movie conceived by Carl Sagan. The plot centered on a young scientist using SETI to make contact with a higher life form than us. There it was Dr. Sagan was looking for a god too. Yet I expect that ultimately Dr. Sagan and most atheists believe in the eternality of matter. Matter may cycle from one big bang to another but inert, impersonal, matter is all there is or ever was, “In the beginning there was matter.” Naturally this means that for humanity there is no more meaning in life than there is in the dreams of a rock. I believe it was Christopher Hitchens who said, “We must get over this childish idea of purpose.”

 
Purpose comes from meaning which can only come from an absolute being, the one beyond which there is not. The list of what is beyond us, beyond our understanding, beyond our ability to grasp, is without limit so we are clearly not any kind of an absolute. We can learn and become more knowledgeable but God cannot. Cornelius Van Til put it this way, “God thinks what He is and He is what he thinks.” Dr. Oliphant added this from Aristotle who said the Highest Thing is thought thinking itself but since this thinking could not be on things outside itself or it would not be the Highest Thing then the only thought the Highest Thing could think is itself. Wow! You might want to think on that for a bit, I still am. There is that heavenly ceiling again, “bam!”
So we have just thought about the omniscient God which leads always to worship:

Job’s Confession
42 Then Job answered the LORD:
2 “I know that you can do all things;
no purpose of yours can be thwarted;
3 you asked,
‘Who is this who darkens counsel
without knowledge?’
But I have declared without understanding
things too wonderful for me to know.
4 You said,
‘Pay attention, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you will answer me.’
5 I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye has seen you.
6 Therefore I despise myself,
and I repent in dust and ashes!

Standing on the Moon on the way to Jupiter

I am having more fun and enjoying more peace. I think actually the word “fun” is wrong here it should be joy, an inner delight. I actually love God, I mean from my heart not just acting on a requirement. Why this change in my inner being? I think I can attribute it all to knowing God more accurately.

Most of my life theology was far less interesting than a Louis L’Amore novel. But one miserable day I knelt in despair and cried. As a missionary to shepherds I could not stop doing stupid things, not intentionally evil just not up-to-standard for the excellence required for an experienced Christian missionary. As I petitioned God I “saw” Him sitting on His throne, holding His head in His hands wondering if I would ever get my life under control and get things done as I was taught to do. I was pushing God to despair.
In this state of misery the Spirit suddenly revealed to me that God was sitting there quite calm! He was at peace about my life not because my stupidity and sin didn’t matter but because He knew about all of it long before I existed and His plan was still on schedule. The realization that He was not sitting there watching me destroy His work was transforming. It was a moment that I still consider to be a moment of new birth, salvation, of Steve Kreis. All my life had been based on the concept that God had offered me salvation, I chose it, in contrast to nearly all my school classmates, and I was now to serve God and live for Him. This left the burden of getting it right on my shoulders and that late summer afternoon it had broken me.

That was about six years ago. Since then I have faced financial gain and then financial loss. I have faced my ineptitude and sinfulness. I have struggled but in contrast to the past I have grown in my faith and in my love for my Father. The change has not been based on the miraculous but on theology.

Theology was about as interesting as a cook book before. I would scan it to get some general ingredients and then cook up something with those ingredients (plus some creative ideas of my own) and voilà! I had something inedible or at least tasteless. No longer.  The few L’Amore westerns I have are packed away and my cherished volumes are thick and deep in theology.

One of my professors is Geerhardus Vos (1862-1949), former professor of Biblical Theology, Princeton Theological Seminary. In his book, Biblical Theology, he says, “Theology is the science concerning God.” When I hear the word science I think of standing under the stars on a clear, dark night and being enraptured with these great wonders longing to know more and go farther. Apply that to God and you find yourself longing to dig further and know more about Him. In the science of God I have fallen in love with Him. (I will add a side benefit is falling in love with my wife too.)

I have on my Kindle the Inaugural address that Vos gave at Princeton as he took the chair of Biblical Theology, May 8, 1894. It is titled, THE IDEA OF BIBLICAL THEOLOGY AS A SCIENCE AND AS A THEOLOGICAL DISCIPLINE. What an incredible address it is. It is like looking at the planets through the telescope of Mt. Palomar and then riding the shuttle and finally standing on the moon looking back at the earth and then beyond. Let Jupiter and Iome close with some quotes from the beginning of the address.

“Between God as the Creator and all other things as created the distinction is absolute. There is not another such gulf within the universe. God, as distinct from the creature, is the only legitimate object of Theology.
It will be seen, however, on a moment’s reflection, that Theology is not merely distinguished from the other sciences by its object, but that it also sustains an altogether unique relation to this object, for which no strict analogy can be found elsewhere. In all the other sciences man is the one who of himself takes the first step in approaching the objective world, in subjecting it to his scrutiny , in compelling it to submit to his experiments — in a word, man is the one who proceeds actively to make nature reveal her facts and her laws. In Theology this relation between the subject and object is reversed. Here it is God who takes the first step to approach man for the purpose of disclosing His nature, nay , who creates man in order that He may have a finite mind able to receive the knowledge of His infinite perfections.”
Geerhardus Vos. The Idea of Biblical Theology as a Science and as a Theological Discipline (Kindle Locations 54-56).

I am standing on the moon on the way to Jupiter.