Thursday, July 5, 2018

Journaling Heaven by Randy Alcorn

Heaven. Randy Alcorn. 2004. Tyndale. 533 pages. [Source: Gift]

Several times a year I get "inspired" to journal the book I'm currently reading. Sometimes it's a flop--not the book, but my attempt to journal it. Sometimes I actually do what I set out to do. I hope I am able to follow through with this project.

About This Book
"From the beginning, I want to make it clear that it's vitally important that this book be true to Scripture...It's up to you to test by God's Word what I say, hold on to the good, and reject the bad."
Discernment. Testing everything by God's Word. This is a principle I strive to live by. It is refreshing to see an author be so honest about it and encourage it--in regards to himself. It's not all that unusual to find authors telling readers to be discerning in general, or discerning specifically about other authors--which they proceed to name. Does this serve to put readers more on guard or more at ease?

First sentence: The sense that we will live forever somewhere has shaped every civilization in human history.
"God uses suffering and impending death to unfasten us from this earth and to set our minds on what lies beyond." (xix)
"What delivers us from the fear of death? What takes away death's sting? Only a relationship with the person who died on our behalf, the one who has gone ahead to make a place for us to live with him. If we don't know Jesus, we will fear death and its sting--and we should." (xx)

Richard Baxter said, "It is atheism in practice to think your sufferings are not part of his providence." I don't know if it's popular to come right out and say this. To say that suffering is part of God's plan and design for our lives. I think we're more inclined to say that God allows suffering and he transforms it from meaningless to meaningful. But God writes the story of my life and of your life, of all our lives--and suffering is right there written in all our stories. Suffering shapes us.

I do think suffering has made me more reliant on God, more likely to seek and seek and seek. And I do think it has planted a deep longing for heaven within me. 

I love this second quote. I do. But it's the last sentence that stands out: "If we don't know Jesus, we will fear death and its sting--and we should." Let that sentence soak in. Do we really believe and live out that belief that knowing Jesus is that important, that essential? 

Do believers have any reason to fear death? Do believers in practice fear death anyway? How can we live out the doctrines we're supposed to believe? Do nonbelievers have a reason to fear death? Yes. A thousand times yes. Do people live in fear of death, generally speaking? How often do we think about death? prepare for it? consider our own mortality if you will? Would thinking of death more sober our thinking and our theology? Should it? Why is it so easy to live in denial? And why are more and more believers comfortable with saying that unbelievers have nothing to fear from death? Hell is real. And it's so easy to pretend it isn't. That the gospel message isn't all that urgent after all. 

Chapter One
"Nineteenth century British theologian J.C. Ryle said, 'I pity the man who never thinks about heaven.' We could also say, 'I pity the man who never thinks accurately about Heaven.' It's our inaccurate thinking, I believe, that causes us to choose to think so little about Heaven." (8)

"Satan need not convince us that Heaven doesn't exist. He need only convince us that Heaven is a place of boring, unearthly existence. If we believe that lie, we'll be robbed of our joy and anticipation, we'll set our minds on this life and not the next, and we won't be motivated to share our faith. Why should we share the 'good news' that people can spend eternity in a boring, ghostly place that even we're not looking forward to?" (11)

I love, love, LOVE J.C. Ryle. I pity the man who has never read him. 

I think it is inaccurate thinking--in part--but I also think DISTRACTIONS in general keep us from thinking about heaven, about spiritual matters even in general. Most of us live in the moment, for the moment, deciding moment-to-moment. We stay caught up in the details of the here and now. And we stay on technology more often than not. How often do we sit around and ponder deep thoughts about any subject?

I think the second statement is true enough. I think even more so Satan keeps us distracted so we don't have time to think, have time to ask questions or search for answers. 

I'll leave you with another quote by J.C. Ryle. 

I entreat you to observe how important it is for Christians to be sound in the faith, and to be armed with clear Scriptural knowledge of the whole system of the Gospel. I fear the increasing tendency to regard all doctrinal questions as matters of opinion, and to look on all “earnest-minded” men as right, whatever doctrines they maintain. I observe how one error in religion leads on to another. There is a close connection between false doctrines. It is almost impossible to take up one alone.

Chapter Two
"To long for Christ is to long for Heaven, for that is where we will be with Him. God's people are longing for a better country. We cannot set our eyes on Christ without setting our eyes on Heaven, and we cannot set our eyes on Heaven without setting our eyes on Christ. Still, it is not only Christ but "things above" we are to set our minds on." (20)
"What have you been doing daily to set your mind on things above, to seek Heaven? What should you do differently?" (21)
I think the first statement needs a slight qualifier. We cannot set our eyes on Christ as revealed in the very Word of God without setting our eyes on Heaven. It is easy to create a Christ of our own imagination, a Christ of our own choosing. Our hearts are idol-makers. They are. And sometimes our hearts make idols we call "Jesus Christ." There is only one true Son of God, one Savior, one Messiah. And that Jesus is revealed to us clearly in the Bible. 

We may be free to say "Jesus is....[fill in the blank]" "Heaven is....[fill in the blank]." But that doesn't make it so. If what we believe about Jesus or what we believe about Heaven is not substantiated by the Word of God, if it doesn't line up with the Revealed Word, if it doesn't track with sound doctrine, then we're being fools. We can believe just about anything and everything--but our believing something doesn't mean it's reality. There is a truth to be known, to be searched for, to be clung to, to be proclaimed. Jesus is the way, the truth, the life. 

We can set our eyes on a heaven of our own imagining without coming anywhere close to Jesus Christ. And when we do--we like to write a book in hopes of it becoming a best seller. 

Chapter Three
First sentence: "For every American who believes he's going to Hell, there are 120 who believe they're going to Heaven." (23)
"The safest road to hell is the gradual one--the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts. ~ C.S. Lewis" (23)
"We must not believe Satan's lie that it's unloving to speak to people about Hell. The most basic truth is that there are only two possible destinations after death: Heaven and Hell. Each is just as real and just as eternal as the other. Unless and until we surrender our lives to Jesus Christ, we're headed for Hell. The most loving thing we can do for our friends and our family is to warn them about the road that leads to destruction and tell them about the road that leads to life." (26)
"Because God is the source of all good, and Hell is the absence of God, Hell must also be the absence of all good. Likewise, community, fellowship, and friendship are good, rooted in the triune God himself. but in this absence of God, Hell will have no community, no camaraderie, no friendship. I don't believe Hell is a place where demons take delight in punishing people and where people commiserate over their fate. More likely, each person is in solitary confinement, just as the rich man is portrayed alone in Hell (Luke 16:22-23). Misery loves company, but there will be nothing to love in Hell." (28)

So much to say. Where to start? Does this lie come from Satan? Yes. A thousand times yes. The question is why are we so quick to believe it? Why is it so hard to go counter culture and speak the truth in love? Is it because we doubt God's Word? Is it because we're afraid to be labeled a Jesus Freak (for lack of a better word on the spot)? Is it because we're afraid of being lumped together with fanatics who spoke the truth not in love but in hate? Is it because we're afraid of being lumped together with fanatics who mixed just enough truth in with their own personal crazy to taint their message? Is it because we're ashamed to be identified as Christians as Christ-followers? Are we afraid of what people will think of us? Why do we make it about us at all? Perhaps it's because we're afraid of hard conversations. Perhaps it's because we're afraid of conversations at all. Perhaps because we don't think of heaven and hell at all--not in regards to ourselves let alone in regards to other people. 

We live in a society where one of the only absolutes being glorified is: "There are no absolutes." Truth isn't absolute--isn't allowed to be absolute--in wider culture and society. Even within some church communities it isn't allowed to be absolute. This is what is true for us; but our truth isn't better than your truth. It is easy to turn Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life into: Jesus is A way, Jesus is A truth, JESUS is A life. Jesus is one of many ways, one of many truths, one of many ways to do life. My best life comes from following Jesus but YOUR best life might come from someone else--something else. You do spirituality your way; I'll do it my way. It's all good. We are all free to live life as we please. We are. We are free to think the way we want, believe the way we want, act the way we want--within reason. But that doesn't mean our thoughts, beliefs, actions don't have consequences in light of eternity. 

From The Storytelling God by Jared C. Wilson:
If hell exists--and I know that it's a big "if" in the estimation of some--it is entirely reasonable to speak and act as if it were the gravest danger facing anyone. It would certainly be more dangerous than bodily death, if Jesus's logic is to have any influence.
You don't even have to be a Christian to understand this. Perhaps you've seen Penn Jillette's YouTube video rant on Christian proselytization which went viral a couple of years ago. Jillette, one-half of the celebrated illusionist duo Penn and Teller, is an atheist. He does not believe hell exists. But he says pointedly to Christians in his rant that if you believe hell exists, it would not be hateful at all to warn him about it. It would in fact be hateful not to. This is what we should all call being logical. Jillette uses the illustration of a speeding bus. If he's standing in its way and doesn't see it coming, the loving thing to do is to push him out of its way. He then asks, "How much do you have to hate someone not to proselytize?" (101)

As for the second quote. I have never thought of Hell as being solitary confinement, the absence of all good including community and friendship. But now that Alcorn has mentioned it, it makes its own kind of sense. God made us to be in families, in communities, to belong. It has a nightmarish quality to it: being trapped with yourself, with your thoughts, with your brokenness for eternity. How much solace and comfort we get in this life by being with others. Again, I don't think we can take it too far and say absolutely hell is.... I think we cannot truly imagine the horrors of hell or the glories of heaven. I'm not saying we shouldn't try. Especially in regards to heaven. But I think it should be informed imagining. If our imaginations counter what the Word reveals to's not Scripture that is wrong.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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