Reading: 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:8; John 5:36-47
As you have realised, today we are celebrating the bible: a treasured gift from God to us – or is it? If the results of a recent survey also apply to Holy Cross, around 50 of us here will never bother reading the bible at all! If that sounds bad then in the survey, about 1/3 of the people who claimed a Christian faith also said they never prayed! While I consider this a tragedy I am not really surprised; as a society we have developed a consumer mentality which means we can easily be ungrateful for the things we have been given and which we take for granted.
Now that was a survey of people claiming faith. Another survey of ordinary parents showed even more ignorance of the bible. Around 1/3 of parents had no idea that Adam & Eve, David & Goliath or the story of the Good Samaritan were in the bible. And tragically, around 30% of parents think Superman and Harry Potter might be in the bible; and over half of those surveyed thought the film called ‘The Hunger Games’ might come from the bible.
Are we missing out? Absolutely! Before the bible was written down God was only heard to speak through a few special people. Then the world population was very small and this was a workable way of hearing from God. But since the scriptures were written down and especially with the advent of printing and now technology, everyone in the world can access the message of the scriptures. Their importance is that if the message only comes through people it can be altered by them. But having written scriptures means we can access God’s word to us directly in its pristine, unchanged condition.
Well I hope that will make you reassess your commitment to studying the bible. I can guarantee that at the end of our lives we are likely to regret not taking the bible seriously enough; and probably also regretting all the frivolous things on which we wasted our time. So, to help us think about the future, I have chosen the passage from Corinthians which we had read to us earlier.
This passage has three themes:
1. The trials of this present life;
2. God’s promise of life for ever in a new spiritual body;
3. And the expectant faith which the Holy Spirit gives us.
All of those are wonderful topics. But today I want to focus on one statement made within those topics and unpack it for you. St Paul wrote:
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
A few years’ ago, an idea became very popular in scientific thinking; it is called the ‘multiverse’. Put simply it suggests that there are many created universes and not just ours. Unfortunately for this theory, we are only aware of what is in our universe and not any others if they exist. This has led to lots of arguments between believers and atheists about God – whether or not he is needed as the Creator of all things.
I am not going to dwell on this debate except to ask a simple question. If you believe there are other universes which we cannot see or discover anything about, why can you not accept that there might be another universe which is not made of atoms and molecules but is composed of something completely different – a spiritual universe? And this universe is the one which St Paul refers to: an eternal one which cannot be viewed with human eyes: ‘what is unseen is eternal’.
My reading of the bible tells me in many places that such a universe exists. It is not a universe made of atoms but it is a spiritual place. And because it is spiritual it is eternal. We know that our universe will eventually become stagnant and dead. Perhaps more to the point, life on earth will eventually end. Perhaps even more concerning is the possibility that human life as it exists now might only last another century because of many negative factors which are happening.
There are many places in the bible which speak of this eternal universe. It is usually called ‘Heaven’ to distinguish it from the kind of life we have on earth. We read of the Lord walking in the garden with Adam and Eve. The bible tells us of Enoch who disappeared from the earth because he was such a holy person. In many places people were visited by angels with human appearance but spiritual powers. Elijah was carried away in a flaming spiritual chariot. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were preserved in the executioner’s furnace where they were joined by another being.
But for me the greatest manifestations of this unseen universe occur in the life of Jesus. There is no question that the Jesus revealed in the bible was no ordinary person. And this extraordinariness is because Jesus represents the meeting of two different universes.
We are taught in the Creed and in other ways that although Jesus is God he also became human. We call this The Incarnation: Mary gave birth to a son with no other human agency involved. The miracle of the birth of the God/Man was the result of this eternal spiritual universe interacting with our material temporal universe.
Another example was when Jesus was changed in appearance on the Mount of Transfiguration. We read how his clothes and appearance glowed powerfully and that he spoke with Moses and Elijah – people who were long dead. Heaven was interacting again with our world, and revealed people who had moved location from this universe to the eternal one.
But perhaps the greatest interaction was at The Resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The recorded appearances show us his human side: he ate, spoke and walked. But his eternal side also showed as he walked through walls, appeared and disappeared; and finally ascended up into Heaven to wait until that time when he will come again for the final time to earth.
The bible also gives us glimpses of what this heavenly universe is like. Jacob had a vision of angels ascending and descending a ladder to this universe. Isaiah was cleansed by an angel bringing holy fire from God’s presence. St Paul was carried into this eternal universe which he described as the third heaven; but was unsure in what form he went there. He relates that he heard things said which were so pure that they could not be repeated in world so corrupted by sin.
But let us think on this theme for a moment. Our universe is fatally corrupted by sin and death. It is a dying universe. There is no death in the universe to come. The bible reveals that the agents of death, that is the devil and his angels, were thrown out of Heaven into ours: they were not allowed to defile it. We do not know if this universe was created before or after the devil sinned and was thrown out. There are many things which suggest that our world was created in the shadow of sin: the fact that it is decaying and becoming disordered; the presence of death in the history of the earth as evidence by fossil history; and perhaps most of all by the presence of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden.
If it is true that our universe was created when evil already existed, then we can look upon creation as the means by which God planned to redeem people from the curse of sin. In this case everything was configured for the appearance of Jesus in order to destroy death and redeem a people of faith. Indeed, this is what the bible says:
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. (Hebrews 2:14-15)
We may wrongly think that life here is just for ‘living to the full’; but the bible message is that this life is but an audition for that eternal universe. A Heaven which is not seen, but is promised to those who live by faith not by sight.