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Bishop N.T. Wright of Durham England says that Christians have it all wrong. The idea of heaven as this wonderful place resting in the clouds where everyone will go when they die (if they’re good) is a crock of shit. He didn’t actually put it that way. That’s how I interpreted his words, and I doubt he’d have a problem with my interpretation, because that is, after all, the way most Christians absorb their theology – by interpreting words. But that is essentially what he said.
He sat down with Time magazine for a phone interview recently to explain what he means. Apparently, going to heaven is a two stage process.
In the Bible we are told that you die, and enter an intermediate state. St. Paul is very clear that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead already, but that nobody else has yet. Secondly, our physical state. The New Testament says that when Christ does return, the dead will experience a whole new life: not just our soul, but our bodies. And finally, the location. At no point do the resurrection narratives in the four Gospels say, “Jesus has been raised, therefore we are all going to heaven.” It says that Christ is coming here, to join together the heavens and the Earth in an act of new creation.
And what will this intermediate state be like?
We know that we will be with God and with Christ, resting and being refreshed. Paul writes that it will be conscious, but compared with being bodily alive, it will be like being asleep.
So even though Jesus said that we would see him before the first generation of Christians had died, and 2000 years has gone by, apparently everybody is in some state of suspended animation, awaiting their reunion with Jesus. We wait in this state until everybody has lived and died, then in the second stage, we all get back together for a big party. Do I interpret that correctly?
One thing I’m having a problem with is what the people who died and are waiting for Jesus’ return are doing while they wait, like Thelonius (not the monk) who died in 223 BCE after being thrown from a horse, or baby girl Smith, who died being born to her mother Mary, in 15th century England. (Note: I made them up as representative examples of real people.) Are they all playing Parcheesi in limbo? Why is god making them wait?
I want to know how Bishop Wright came to these conclusions. Where does he get his knowledge? What makes him interpret the bible this way? What makes him so sure that he knows exactly what’s going to happen after I die? Here are some clues.
In the Bible we are told…
St. Paul is very clear….
The New Testament says…
What the New Testament really says…
Here’s my favorite:
John Polkinghorne, a physicist and a priest, has put it this way: “God will download our software onto his hardware until the time he gives us new hardware to run the software again for ourselves.”
(God’s going to swap out our software and put it in his hardware? I’ve read a lot of oddly creative metaphors interpreting the language of the bible, but that one is truly
stupid insipid. And Wright quotes it with pleasure. WTF?)
Their source for all this incredibly precise and exacting prognostication is a book, a single book. OK. He did cite an ancient Jewish text called The Wisdom of Solomon for the revelatory explanation that “the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God”, which, to me, says it all, i.e. nothing. But aside from that, this book has been around for 2000 years, yet he’s got a new spin on it. What makes his interpretation any better, any closer to the truth about what happens on the supernatural plane of existence, than any one else’s?
These people, including Bishop Wright, haven’t the foggiest idea what they are talking about. They interpret and re-interpret the language of the bible until it says what they want it to say. They keep coming up with new spins, with modern allusions to keep the masses interested so that they can claim this 2000 year old book is still relevant. In effect, they make it up as they go along. We have a word for that process. It’s called “fiction”.
To wind up, the “old view” of heaven is passé, antiquated and unrealistic. We are not going to join up with our loved ones, we will not be floating on clouds, and there really is no hell that is the antithesis of heaven. However, this “new heaven” is
more exciting than hanging around listening to nice music. In Revelation and Paul’s letters we are told that God’s people will actually be running the new world on God’s behalf.
So, life after death is comparable to a middle level manager position in a big corporation? Sounds like fun.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve finally realized where the term “apologetics ” comes from. It comes from the sense that after Christians interpret the bible to support their preconceived conclusions, they should apologize.