An old friend of mine posted a thought experiment recently: Basically, pick your afterlife ala a Choose Your Own Adventure scenario. He wanted people to choose what they most probably considered to be the truth from a number of options, one of which was, “People who exhibit sufficient good in life go to a heaven of some sort, while everyone else suffers a worse fate.”
Of course, he misses the point of the Bible that the primary thing that determines one’s destiny is not “sufficient good in life,” but rather one’s trust in and loyalty to God and his Messiah, but that’s not the part that got me to respond. It’s how boring “go[ing] to a heaven of some sort” is compared to what the Bible actually teaches. So I responded on Facebook:
I’m gonna have to go with “none of the above.” The afterlife I actually believe in is the one where I’m resurrected, become immortal, am able to move through more than 3.5 dimensions, become effectively divine, and get to see the end of this universe and the start of the next. The whole “go to heaven” bit is pretty boring in comparison.
He wrote back, “Finally we agree” in regards to that last part. What I don’t think he gets is that what I just described is exactly what the Bible says about “going to heaven.”
Most of my audience will get where I got the resurrection, immortality, and seeing the “new heavens and new earth” from, but I can imagine some being confused by being able to move in more dimensions–and even more squirming in discomfort when I say that I expect to “become effectively divine.” So let me explain where I got that from.
The Physics of Immortality
“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he (Yeshua) appears, we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2)
Let’s talk about some of the things Yeshua did after he rose from the dead: He seems to teleport and/or walk through walls a lot, yet he’s physical enough that he asks his disciples to pass the fish and lets Thomas poke his scars. The implication is that his body is indeed physical, but that he’s able to move through more than three dimensions of space and a half dimension of time, like the three-dimensional being interacting with the two-dimensional people of Edwin Abott’s Flatland. (If you’ve never read the book, you should; and hey, apparently there’s a movie now.)
If Yeshua’s resurrection body was indeed capable of moving through hyper-spaces (spaces of more than three dimensions), and if we are going to be like him, seeing him as he truly is, that would imply that we will have the same capability.
Wait, Did You Say “Divine”?
Okay, but where do I get this idea that I will be effectively divine? That sounds uncomfortably close to what the Mormons teach, doesn’t it?
Well, let’s talk about that. What do we mean by “divine”? The term can be used of God (big “G”), but it is also used of other “heavenly” or “angelic” beings, so it doesn’t mean only the power or nature of the Eternal Creator. Heck, at one point we used it of clergy, e.g., a Puritan divine was a pastor. It comes from a Latin term that means “a god,” in the sense of a being who is greater than human. And we absolutely expect to become more than the mortal beings we are now in the resurrection (1Co. 15:40-49).
In fact, this is implied by the Bible’s use of the word “saints” to describe Yeshua’s followers: “Saint” really means “holy one,” which was a term used from earliest antiquity to describe the “gods” and angelic beings (cf. Deu. 33:2; Job 5:1, 15:15; Psa. 89:5, 7; Dan. 4:7; Jude 1:14, quoting 1 Enoch 1:9). We’ve already seen that the setup of the camp of Israel symbolized Hashem’s intent that they would be a new Divine Council. That intent carries over into the Ekklesia, and will be fully realized in the resurrection, when those raised will become “equal to angels” (Luke 20:36) and will even be set over those angels (1Co. 6:3).
Finally, the New Testament says that those who are in Yeshua are adopted as God’s sons and daughters (Mat. 5:9, 45, 7:11, 17:25-27; John 1:12; Rom. 8:14-23; 2Co. 6:18; Gal. 3:26, 4:5-6; Eph. 1:5; Heb. 2:10-17; 1Jn. 3:1-10). Relationally, we are already regarded by our Father as his children, but it’s more than that.
C.S. Lewis famously explained what the Bible means by Yeshua having been “begotten” by God this way:
“We don’t use the words begetting or begotten much in modern English, but everyone still knows what they mean. To beget is to become the father of: to create is to make. And the difference is this. When you beget, you beget something o the same kind as yourself. A man begets human babies, a beaver begets little beavers and a bird begets eggs which turn into little birds. But when you make, you make something of a different kind from yourself. A bird makes a nest, a beaver builds a dam, a man makes a wireless set – or he may make something more like himself than a wireless set: say, a statue. If he is clever enough carver he may make a statue which is very like man indeed. But, of course, it is not a ream man; it only looks like one. It cannot breathe or think. It is not alive.
Now that is the first thing to get clear. What God begets is God; just as what man begets is man. What God creates is not God; just as what man makes is not man. That is why men are not Son’s of God in the sense that Christ is. They may be like God in certain ways, but they are not things of the same kind. They are more like statues or pictures of God.”
Except that there is a place where we are described as being “begotten” by God, using the same Greek term as is used of Yeshua:
“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him.” (1Jn. 5:1, cf. 3:9, 4:7, 5:4 and 18)
So if we go with C.S. Lewis’ thought, the implication is that if we have been “begotten” by God, the end purpose is to become so very much like him in every respect–not just morally–that we can be true images of God.
Obviously, there are some limits to that. The Eternal Creator has no beginning or end; he simply is (“I Am that I Am”). This is actually the problem with Mormonism, which holds that the God we worship was himself created by another God. While we will be truly immortal, we will always have had a beginning, and all that we are or ever will be is derived from our Father. But you know what? It’s still going to be much cooler than we can ever imagine: “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1Co. 2:9, quoting Isa. 40:13).
That’s certainly a lot better than playing harps on clouds in an eternal church service. It’s a shame that imagery that was once used to try to capture the sublime has been reduced to self-parody. The truth is, and always will be, so much more than a painting can capture.