Every now and then I have stop and protest one thing or another that has become fashionable among Evangelicals. We’re always told that every good and trendy thing comes from the Throne Room. But that isn’t really the case, and it makes sense to call some of these things out. I have friends on Facebook and Twitter who incessantly whine about the bourgeois nature of the faith as practiced by the saints, but endless complaint is not the solution either. One of these days I’m going to tell them to sell all or shut up as I’ve done with the Episcopalians, but in the meanwhile…some of the things I’ve gone against in the past are:
- The unBiblical use of the shofar, in my piece Blowing Your Own Horn.
- The endless proclaiming that we’re going to “take the land” in (appropriately enough) If You’re Going to Take the Land, Take It.
- The assertion of authority in Evangelical churches.
- Prosperity teaching, in My Reply to Glendon Hermanus on the Tithe and the Authority of the Church.
- The whole business of “mansions” in heaven in It’s Time to Get Back to Cabins in Heaven.
The last one is most germane to the present topic. In a recent tribute to my favourite Catholic priest I mentioned the “Mystic Rose”. Among other things, that was a quick swat at yet another bit of Pentecostal and Charismatic big talk that’s been going around for a while: the concept that we’re going to be working in heaven. I think it’s time to call this one out, too.
First: I am amazed that Evangelical Christians of any kind, dominated as they are in this country by the Scots-Irish, would even dream of such a concept. The Scots-Irish, as you will recall, came over here so that they would not have to do the work. They fought the War Between the States trying to make sure this state of affairs was preserved, and even when they lost it they ended up keeping the workload distribution pretty much as it was. The fact that this is a relatively new concept suggests that it may be an import. One would think that such seed is falling on rocky soil, but evidently not.
Second, there is no Biblical sanction for such a concept. The Scriptures are not very detailed on what our life with God on the other side will be like. They speak of rewards, crowns, ruling and the like, but none of this suggests work. The whole idea of ruling is that someone else gets to do the work while you take the credit. The whole sweep of salvation suggests that God has done all the work in preparing our eternal home with him:
It was faith that enabled Abraham to obey the Call that he received, and to set out for the place which he was afterwards to obtain as his own; and he set out not knowing where he was going. It was faith that made him go to live as an emigrant in the Promised Land–as in a strange country–living there in tents with Isaac and Jacob, who shared the promise with him. For he was looking for the City with the sure foundations, whose architect and builder is God. (Hebrews 11:8-10)
(Note for Ray H. Hughes Sr. fans: this was the scripture he used for his famous 1961 sermon, “Heaven, Capital City” where he denounced the idea of cabins in heaven. But even with that there was no suggestion that we would have to work to build any of them; in fact, Jesus promised that he would go and prepare the place).
The Heavenly Jerusalem likewise comes down ready at the end of history (cf. Revelation 21:10). If it’s built and it’s perfect, what can we add to it? And what would we do in any case?
What I think is going on here is that people’s view of the relationship of this life with the life to come has changed. In the past, life was harder, more uncertain and shorter. People wanted heaven to be what this life wasn’t: long, stable and easy. Now people find life better, although they’d still rather watch shows about reality than actually live it. So they look at heaven as an extension of the life they have now. That’s why these days we get questions about whether there will be such things as pets, golf, etc. in heaven, when what we’ll get will far overshadow the joys of any or all of these things or anything else.
Evidently the person who first hatched the idea that we would work in heaven really loved their job. But I’m “old school” enough to still think that heaven needs to be what this life isn’t, and I think the weight of the Scriptures is on my side on this issue. And I think that, as time rolls on in this country, a generation which is too broke to retire and has bankrupted the country where the eagle flies once a month will think twice before working through the last retirement they’ll have.
This is probably as good a place as any to introduce the “Mystic Rose”. I first saw it in Dante’s Paradiso (Cantos XXXI and XXXII), where we are presented with what amounts to a stadium where each of the saints has a seat and God himself is contemplated in the “field” or “yellow” of a rose. (A yellow more suggests a daisy or sunflower to me, but I digress…) The whole idea of a stadium in heaven suggests a perpetual football game, which should be enough to make any SEC fan chuck the idea of working in heaven.
In this interplay of the serious and whimsical, there’s one thing that not working in heaven should suggest: whatever we’re going to do for God, we need to get done while we’re here. Antoine Arnauld, the great French logician, was a tireless advocate of Jansenism, a very serious form of Christianity. At one point his associate Pierre Nicole begged Arnauld to take a break from his labours, to which reply came: “Rest, rest, shall I have not all eternity to rest?”
We shall. But in the meanwhile…