This morning I was writing an email response to some comments & questions I received from a dear Christian friend and thought I should make my response a blog post (minus any personal identifiers). This blog is not specifically about Biblical Theology but it does guide what I write here. So, especially for my non-Christian readers, please indulge a little theology.
From a Christian perspective you and I have previously discussed the dark powers behind today’s irrational/unspiritual Gender craze.
Let me flesh this out some more.
First, we need to define what we mean by the word ‘spirituality.’
From a Classic Christian perspective, there are two spiritualities in the created world, and both are, simply put, God-Directed. That’s what makes them Spiritual.
I’m referring to (1) human spirituality and (2) non-human, for example, angelic spirituality.
If we want to be truly ‘spiritual’ as a human (1) we must be and become what we were CREATED to be and become, that is to say, God-Directed embodied souls. In other words, God-Directed earthlings.
Far too often Christians have erroneously thought that being ‘spiritual’ means transcending our created-ness. And this has led them to misread the biblical story. Of course, we humans are called to rise above our ‘fallen condition’ but the biblical story emphatically demonstrates that this was not our original created state. Recovery of God’s original intent for humans is the destiny described for us in the Biblical text.
In fact, the biblical story contradicts what many Christians believe about our final destiny. Most Christians believe that our final destiny is far away from this corruptible, and often painful earthly existence. They think we were created to spend our eternal destiny with God in an incorruptible resplendent realm called Heaven.
Well…part of that belief is correct. We will be spending an everlasting existence with God. But the Bible says very little about spending eternity ‘in heaven‘ with God; or, in fact, going to heaven when we die. I’m sure that comes as a big surprise to many. (I don’t have time to discuss the interim state of believers today, that period between bodily death & bodily resurrection, except to say we will be in God’s good care.)
We should also not forget that heaven too was created, just like the earth, and angels are creatures, just like humans.
The Bible, written for humans, actually says a whole lot more about God coming down to spend time with us earthlings. The ‘travel plan’ revealed in scripture is overwhelmingly about God coming down to us, and dwelling with us. Not humans going up to God. (I’ll say something about spacial metaphors in a moment.)
Speaking Biblically, and I cannot stress this too much:
The central and often repeated biblical promise was that YHWH (GOD) would one day return to dwell with us.
I bet you didn’t learn that in Sunday School! I didn’t either. But we should have.
Okay. Time for some biblical exegesis. So hang in there.
For those who think corruption can’t possibly reside in heaven, read the words of Jesus written in Luke 10:18
I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.
Or this one in Ephesians 6:10-12
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
Apparently there is cleansing work to be done in God’s created heaven too. Several Old Testament texts imply the same. But let’s move on.
From the very beginning of the biblical witness (Genesis) to its end (Revelation), the Alpha and Omega of that witness is about God’s desire to dwell with God’s creation.
From ‘walking’ in Eden’s Garden Temple with humans (Genesis 1,2, & 3) to residing at the center of Heaven & Earth in the New Jerusalem Garden Temple, a city that will ‘come down‘ out of heaven (Revelation 21&22), THE BIBLICAL BIG PICTURE, is about THE GREAT RECONCILIATION, THE REMARRIAGE OF HEAVEN AND EARTH, the coming together of CREATED SPIRIT WITH CREATED MATTER, and for us individual humans, the reintegration of SOUL WITH BODY.
I bet you didn’t learn that in Sunday School. I didn’t Either. But we should have.
God’s ‘first’ created family, invisible beings and their realm of rule, heaven, will one day be reconciled with God’s ‘second’ created family, humans and their realm of rule, the earth. In like manner, so will our souls be reconciled with our bodies.
A restored, and fully integrated creation, with God at the center, is our destiny. (Again, see the back of the book, Revelation 21 & 22). And remember the beginning.
In the beginning God created the Heaven(s) and the Earth. (Genesis 1:1)
God’s Created Heaven(s) and God’s Created Earth were intended from the beginning to co-exist together in fruitful God-Directed Matrimony. That’s the Biblical Story. That’s Wholistic Spirituality. But so many Christians fail to understand it, which has led many into a gnostic trap. God’s redeemable world suffers because of this misunderstanding, this lack of Christian witness to the Truth about God’s plan.
But….some may say, what about Philippians 3:20-21?
... our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.
I’ve highlighted a few words that should provide clues about how to properly interpret this passage. First, our Savior who possesses a glorious ‘body‘ will come ‘from’ heaven to dwell with us. That’s the first thing to notice.
Next, let me provide some crucial historical context; for proper exegesis must consider the meaning of words at the time the text was written. When Paul wrote these words, the CITIZENS of Rome in Philippi were expected to live as Romans in Philippi. Philippi was a proud Roman colony, a ‘second Rome’ actually, and it was full of retired Roman soldiers. These retired citizen-soldiers were not expected to one day RETURN to an overcrowded Rome (which did not want or need them.) They were expected to remain in Philippi to establish Roman peace, justice and culture in that colony.
That is how ‘citizenship’ would have been understood by the recipients of Paul’s letter to the Philippians. That’s how we should understand it. For we humans are citizens of God’s Kingdom on Earth.
Next, we should recognize the historical context of the Greek term parousia: the term that Paul uses in another important text. Parousia means presence and may easily be understood as arrival. It was a word used of Caesar when he would come to pay a visit to one of his colonies. His loyal subjects would of course not wait for him to arrive inside their city, that would be an unconscionable, unforgivable slight, but would go outside the city to meet the “son of god” (yes that is what they would sometimes call Caesar), and escort him in a royal procession back into the city.
NOTE: Archaeologists have found coins from the 1st Century with the image of Tiberius Caesar, adopted son of Augustus (the Caesar mentioned in Luke 2). The inscription found on the coin reads “Ti[berivs] Caesar Divi Avg[vsti] F[ilivs] Avgvstvs” (“Caesar Augustus Tiberius, son of the Divine Augustus“), claiming that after death Augustus had become a god. Making Tiberius a “son of god.”
That was one way the word parousia was used and understood in Paul’s day. Unlike most of Paul’s technical terms, terms like righteousness (δικαιοσύνη-dikaiosyne) parousia had zero biblical overtones. It comes from the classical world of Greece and Rome.
Now…read the following passage where Paul uses the word parousia and consider what I wrote in the previous paragraphs.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 Paul writes the following:
For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming (parousia) of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.
Question: Did reading that passage in light of the popular understanding of what a good Roman citizen should do when the ‘son of god’ arrives from Rome change your understanding of this much quoted Christian text? I hope so.
Still, here’s the confusing part for most. The text does say we will be caught up together with the dead in Christ ‘in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.’
Let’s unpack that, for this language, unlike parousia, does have clear biblical overtones. Those overtones come principally from Daniel 7:13-14, where ‘one like a son of man‘ goes up on the clouds as he is vindicated by God after his suffering.
“I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.
First. We need to discuss the literary genre of this type of writing. Scholars refer to this style of biblical and non-biblical text as Apocalyptic.
Apocalyptic literature deals with eschatology (ἔσχατος, eschatos, “last things”). This type of writing was especially prevalent from approximately 200 bc to ad 200, starting with Jewish writings and eventually including the work of Christians. Apocalyptic literature reflected its origins in a time of great unrest and oppression. While Jews were in the midst of resisting forceful Hellenization, Christians were being persecuted by the Roman Empire (Collins, “Cosmos and Salvation,” 121–42).
The apocalyptic genre contains a revelation within a narrative framework. The revelation is given to a human being by an otherworldly mediator who unveils a supernatural reality, along with the means by which humanity can become a part of it (Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination, 9).
D. A. Neal, “Apocalyptic Literature, Introduction to,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).
The book of Revelation and the Daniel 7 passage above is largely written in the Apocalyptic style. That style contains within it symbolic – coded language for the purpose of concealing from oppressive authorities the truth about the outworking of God’s purposes and their ultimate demise, a truth that the visionary himself wouldn’t fully understand.
Now, back to the parousia text in 1 Thess 4.
Two things: caught up in the clouds could be symbolically understood in the same way that Peter and James and John were ‘caught up in the clouds’ on the Mount of Transfiguration (see: Matthew 17, Mark 9, Luke 9, and 2 Peter 1.) They didn’t leave their bodies behind during that event. But they were definitely ‘in the clouds.’
Also, ‘Meet the Lord in the air‘ perhaps reflects a New Creation ability. We may with our ‘glorified bodies’ move effortlessly between heaven and earth as the Resurrected Jesus apparently did (see: Luke 24:31 & 36 & John 20:19) before his final ascension to heaven and his sending of the Spirit of Christ. (See Romans 8:9, Acts 16:7, Galatians 4:6, Philippians 1:19, 1 Peter 1:11). To be sure, there is mystery here, “how precisely will this work out? what will it look like to us?” but this is the biblical story.
Plus, the Daniel 7 passage, from which Paul draws his language in 1 Thessalonians 4 is based on a VISION. I think it would be unwise to be overly literal in our interpretation of such visionary language.
And lastly, along those same lines, it would be unwise to view heaven as ‘up’ and earth as ‘down’ even though the biblical text implies those spacial metaphors. ‘Up’ for us Americans would be ‘down’ for the Chinese and vice versa. It would be better to understand heaven as simply a different dimension of God’s created space, a dimension that currently is hidden behind a curtain, so to speak, to be ‘fully revealed at ‘the day of the Lord.’
Moving from the Biblical text, yet based upon it, our most developed Creed says, Jesus is a person who is both fully God and fully human. So…the Classic Christian teaching of Christ’s Ascension tells us that right now, in heaven, sitting at the right hand of God the Father, on a shared throne, is the Second Person of the Trinity, and that person has a human body. (See Matthew 26:64 & Acts 7:56)
WHAT?! Yep. Put that one in your theological pipe and smoke it. You might want to sit back, relax, breathe it in, and savor the rich, provocative, this world, implications. Go ahead. I dare ya.
[Now, of course I don’t expect non-Christians to buy into this biblical story. But I do hope as rational beings they can see the darkness that is embedded in the body hatred of Gender Ideology, and make common cause with Classic Christians even though they might disagree with our Theology of the Body. Among other things <grin>]
I’m convinced the ancient heresy of gnosticism1GNOSTICISM: the Gnostics taught a bewildering variety of views. Fundamental to clearly gnostic systems was a dualism, which opposed the transcendent God and an ignorant demiurge (often a caricature of the OT Jehovah). In some systems the creation of the world resulted from the presumption of Sophia (Wisdom). In any event the material creation, including the body, was regarded as inherently evil. Sparks of divinity, however, had been encapsuled in the bodies of certain pneumatic or spiritual individuals, who were ignorant of their celestial origins. The transcendent God sent down a redeemer (Christ), who brought them salvation in the form of a secret gnōsis or “knowledge.” Most Gnostics were docetics, who held that Christ did not really suffer as he was not truly incarnate. Gnostics hoped to escape from the prison of their bodies at death and to traverse the planetary spheres of hostile demons to be reunited with God. There was for them, of course, no reason to believe in the resurrection of the body. – (Dictionary of Paul & His Letters, InterVarsity Press, 1993, pg 352,) has become embedded in the theologies of far too many Christians. Especially, in the Mainline Protestant circles of the Western world. But also, in “low church” Protestantism. Here I’m thinking of those who regard “this ole world (and by extension, this ole body) as not my home.”
Gnosticism (see footnote 1 above) was the first major heresy in the early church. And it always seems to be ‘hangin round the house.’ Essentially Gnosticism teaches that the material creation, including the body, was an inherently evil act. The truly ‘spiritual’ individual would know this (gk gnosis) and seek to transcend the deeply flawed material world.
In contrast, Classic Christianity teaches that the creation of embodied souls with an earth to inhabit AND rule was not a mistake, nor an existence to be transcended or “raptured from”, as Gnostics believed then and believe now. Rather, our visible and invisible nature (body & soul) was designed by God to be an integrated whole. The separation of which is the definition of death. And death is what the dark oppressive powers want for us. Not God.
True Love would not want this for any part of God’s Good Creation. The reconciliation of invisible with visible is God’s Biblical New Creation plan. Elsewhere in the letter to the Philippians, Paul encourages us to ‘work out this salvation’ with fear and trembling, a ‘work’ that engages both our visible and invisible nature.
I must also say, in case I’m misunderstood, this talk of human rule MUST be understood as a Christ-like rule, which is to say, we must rule through self-giving, and perhaps, a suffering love, a love characterized mostly by patient persuasion. This is not about rule through human conquest or coercion in the manner of so many kingdoms before us. For it should go without saying that unlike radical Islam and, it must be admitted, unlike some so-called Christian rulers of the past, the followers of Christ must not ‘take up the sword’ to bring about God’s rule. May God forgive those who have.
And also it must be said, believing unwholesome unbiblical things won’t necessarily strip Christians of family membership (by God’s grace), but the roots of these beliefs do come from a dark place, from an un-Christ-like way of thinking. Those errors will certainly blunt our Christian witness and our personal development.
The dark ‘gnostic’ pull captivating today’s Western world moves us toward an anti-human anti-creational future. I’m deeply concerned about the foreseeable future.
Some of today’s ideologues would describe their movement as a technologically aided ‘spiritual’ quest in an effort to transcend human limitations (transhumanism). But as students of scripture we should recognize no substantive difference between that goal and the original Edenic temptation: take, eat “you will be like God….”
We humans were given bodies by God and the ‘limitations’ that come with those bodies, (angels have different limitations) because we were meant to have them. Forever.
God made us complimentary male & female humans. We are two halves of one reproductive whole, among other productive tasks we accomplish together. From the beginning it was so (Matthew 19:4).
As creatures, those are our only options. FULL STOP.
Dear Sister, the lesbian writer of the article I gave you to read eventually came to realize the cultic aspect of Gender Ideology: which is nothing more than ancient Gnosticism in modern dress, with its own initiation, rituals & rules. She is no longer a true believer in that religion. Good for her. And her children.
Any thought that someone born male or female was born in the wrong body, a wrongness that may be rectified by a ‘higher consciousness’ and technological innovation, OR the thought that bodies are irrelevant in God’s big picture, is an idea straight out of Gnosticism. It is a pathway to darkness, not light. It is an outright denial of the Biblical witness, and our ancient Creeds, and must be rejected by Christians.
We must of course love confused people but we cannot affirm their deeply confused gnostic beliefs about who they are, and who they were meant to become.
Real World Implications.
Today, with the support of public and private Western institutions, including some Churches, healthy bodies of confused teens are being mutilated
Apart from that obvious horror, if we as a culture do not say NO to this gnostic madness, it will result in child abuse charges against parent’s who don’t affirm, or the loss of a professional license to practice. Or, as in some countries today, criminal charges against clergy for preaching the truth…with even greater persecutions yet to come.
The hour to stop this Western madness is getting late. And yet I know God’s time will eventually come, just perhaps not in our day. Because today too many Western Churches have not been faithful to God’s plan. Thankfully, the Global Church has not surrendered to this madness. There is Hope. Truthful Love will win. Eventually. For the Lord of Heaven & Earth, full of Grace and Truth, will return and put Heaven and Earth back together again.