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“. . . On Earth as it is in Heaven (I)”: God’s not a Narcissist

These days, my prayers are simple. I fail to understand these long-winded sermons that are bellowed out from behind the pulpit, veiled as a prayer. I think to myself, “If you weren’t done preaching, keep going, but don’t stop and then continue on as if you’re talking to God.” So, I try to avoid my prayers being a treatise of my opinion. I have two “go-to’s” in my current prayer life. First, The Lord’s Prayer. I mean, come on, the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, and he gave it to them straight. I don’t know how we’ve gotten so far away from it. Second, “God have mercy on me, a sinner.”

“Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed by thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” So begins the so-called, Lord’s Prayer. Amidst Christendom’s obsession over “the will of God”, I was overwhelmingly impressed one day by the most obvious observation – the question screaming from the words. How is God’s will done in Heaven? Plainly, that’s how Jesus wished things on earth were. Yet, I’ve never heard a sermon on this subject. I’ve never even heard the topic discussed. And I was raised a missionary’s kid, brought up in the heart of evangelicalism, educated at Christian institutions and have endured probably more than a thousand sermons. I’ve never heard the question asked.

Therefore, I’m asking it. How is God’s will done in Heaven? In response, I’m going to write a multi-part inquisition into this subject. This is the first installment. I think a proper starting point for the inquiry is: What the Heck is Heaven? I also think it would be wise to attempt to define Heaven’s antonym: What the hell is Hell? Those will be two installments.

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I’m obviously a little biased. The basis of much of the faith-based rhetoric in this blog is that God loves you but has no plan for your life. So, I really don’t want to discover a bunch of evidence that indicates that God has a specific plan as to the what, where and when of our afterlife, and that we’re to shut-up and do what we’re told. I don’t think that evidence exists, but you all, of course, will decide for yourselves.

I can tell you what else I hope not to find: evidence that life in Heaven consists of us bowing down before our Creator in perpetual singing and praise. I don’t want to be sacrilegious, and I love worship services with great music and praise for an hour, but I can’t imagine it being the entirety or majority of our afterlives. Certainly there’ll be relationships, activity, productivity, etc.

I’m confident that will be the case because: God’s not a Narcissist.

Only the truth will set you free. Set Me Free 360.

One Comment

  1. Jon
    Jon February 7, 2017

    Yes, what is “heaven”?

    In Matthew 6, the first instance of “heaven” in the Prayer (nb: w/in the broader context of the Sermon on the Mount), is in the plural (heavens) while the 2nd instance, in v. 10, is singular (heaven). As a friend and mentor used to say: “We can’t talk about what a text means until we know what it says.” Instructively, the Latin Vulgate follows this same parsing. Why the difference? Many commentators simply gloss over that question. I would not. The shorter, Lukan version does not mention heaven/s and only minor variants have the interpolated Matthew content in Luke. Many lay-orientated commentaries will not touch this subject (cf. the usually exhaustive Keener who doesn’t even mention it) but the more thorough ones, e.g., Betz’s in the Hermenia series, do and Betz accurately translates the problematic Greek. This shows that since “heaven” is what you’re after, you’ll like need to go to more serious resources for definitive answers.

    The term “heaven” itself is used in the NT mostly in the Gospels and in those, mostly in Matthew. The exception amongst the epistles is Hebrews, notably another text (like Matthew) written for a predominately Jewish audience. Thus, to even begin to understand the NT meaning one would need at least a basic understanding of the OT concept, “heaven” and its synonyms and parallel concepts. The specific term is, more or less, absent from Paul (unless you conclude that Paul wrote Hebrews). Of note here is that both Paul and Luke, writers with a non-Jewish audiences in mind, do not spend much time on the idea.

    There are many books written on the subject: N.T. Wright’s, “The Lord and His Prayer” is a good, evangelical piece; Stanely Hauerwas’ “Lord Teach Us to Pray” is a Protestant, mainline treatment. The Church Fathers, esp. Tertullian, Cyprian and Origen all have things to say on this prayer and prayer in general and lastly Paul Murray’s “Praying with Confidence” is an excellent Catholic treatment focusing on Aquinas’ comments. To show the extent of the resources, there are actually book-length studies simply listing the bibliographical sources on the Lord’s Prayer alone (cf. N. Folge’s volume, published by a Dominican publishing house). Also of note, Nicholas Ayo’s comprehensive survey of literary and theological sources/allusions. And lastly, D. Bonhoeffer’s most important work, “Discipleship”, is an exposition of the Sermon on the Mount, with comments on the Lord’s Prayer. Also, some standard commentaries need to at least be consulted: besides Betz already mentioned, the Anchor volume on Matthew by Albright jumps to mind as important.

    In terms of “hell”, there are a couple of different Greek terms used in the NT but it is mentioned only 16 times in the whole of the NT and so, at best, a very minor concept. Why would that be relative to the voluminous talk about it in Church, from the pulpit and amongst those that try to evangelize others? Pascal’s Wager jumps to mind for its regulative and merely pragmatic use.

    My guess is that, though we all want a text to conform to our expectations, the biblical witness is often stubborn about what it is indicating and will likely disappoint any predetermined goals.


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