Earning Wings?

As I write this, first of all, I don’t want to come across as being flippant, disrespectful, or insensitive to those who have died or to those they left behind. My aim is not to agitate but rather to educate. With that being said, let me get into what stimulated me to write this post.

I was perusing my Facebook page the other day when I ran across this post of someone commenting about a person who had recently died. I was particularly arrested by their suggestion that the person who had died had; ‘earned their wings!’ Now, this was not the first time I had seen that comment, for across the years, I had read it too many times for me to count! Perhaps, this time for me was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back! At any rate, I felt the need to write this post to address this erroneous idea.

There are basically three errors that are inherent in the notion that when a person dies they have ‘earned their wings.’ First of all, the idea of ‘earning’ is completely opposite of biblical teaching. The Bible teaches that salvation cannot be earned, but rather is the result of God’s unmerited divine favor, known as grace! The Apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesian church; “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9 NKJ) Therefore, there is nothing we can ‘earn’ because everything we receive from God is by God’s grace! The Old Testament Prophet Isaiah wrote: “But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags. .”  (Isa. 64:6 NKJ) [in the Hebrew text, ‘filthy rags’ is a reference to a woman’s menstrual cloth!] The best we have to offer in regard to earning merit with God is utterly repugnant!

Secondly, where did this idea that we will get ‘wings’ when we die come from? (I wrote about this false notion more extensively in another post: Forever Human). Perhaps it comes from a misunderstanding of a statement Jesus made to the Sadducees in regard to marriage after death. Jesus said: “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven.” (Matt. 22:30 NKJ) Men will be ‘like angel’ in that there will be no marriages, not like angel as in being of the same class of being as angels. And where did we get the idea that angels have wings? The only biblical reference to angelic creatures having wings is in Isaiah 6. If you read carefully, you will note that these creatures were not ordinary angels, but are specifically named as: Serephim. There is no record in the Bible of ordinary angels having wings! In addition to that, a careful and correct reading of the Bible will reveal that the function of angels is to minister to the heirs of salvation. (Hebrews 1:13-14) Therefore, for humans to become angels at death is a demotion rather than a promotion! In God’s hierarchy, angels are beneath us, not above us!

Lastly, I also talked about this more extensively in another post (All Dogs ‘Don’t’ Go To Heaven), but it does not matter how much suffering a person went through on earth, that does not qualify them for Heaven! I know we would like to think that all of our loved-ones and friends are at peace in Heaven, but the biblical truth of the matter is all of them are not! Everybody who has died is not resting in peace! The only thing that qualifies a person for Heaven is a correct relationship with God through Jesus Christ!

I know we say things like this in an effort to comfort the bereaved, but I think it does more harm than good when the comfort is based on false hope! Therefore, as we seek to comfort those who are bereaved, let us be careful to give them real comfort from the Word of God and not false comfort from worldly ideas or Facebook theology!

Forever Human

It was a beautiful service, with multitudes of flowers and a massive gathering of family and friends. The casket was elaborate and no expense was spared in giving the dearly departed a grand send-off! I can’t tell you the number of times  I have personally observed such an occasion. But the thing that sticks with me long after such occasions more than the memory of the beautiful flowers or the elaborate casket, is the gross biblical ignorance displayed by Christian laymen and preachers at the funeral! The Apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonians: “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep. . . .” (1 Thessalonians 4:13 KJV) Yet, in spite of Paul’s writings and other passages in Scripture that provide insight into the state of the dearly departed, most people today are still ignorant of what the Bible says about death and the future eternal state of humanity!

You would think it was true according to what many, supposedly ‘spiritual people,’ say at funerals, but people don’t actually die because God wants or needs them in Heaven to enhance the ‘flowers of Heaven’ or to keep Him company! The Bible says; “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” (Romans 5:12 ESV) Death occurs because of sin! Not necessarily because of the particular sins of the person who died, but rather because we live in a sinful fallen world! Jesus said: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10 ESV) So often, when someone dies, we attribute the death to God. We say things like: “The Lord took him!” or “It was just God’s will!” or the classic: “We loved them, but God loved them best!” (The absurdity of that statement is that we are actually implying that God loved them so much that God killed them, which is utterly ridiculous!). But, as in the case of the parable of the enemy who sowed the tares among the wheat while men slept, the truth of the matter is that when it comes to death, the real cause is; ‘An enemy has done this!” (Matthew 13:28).

But let me get back to my main purpose for writing this post! I think one of the greatest fallacies perpetrated when someone dies and on funeral occasions is the notion that people somehow turn into angels when they die! This false notion is illustrated by a depiction of the deceased, floating in the clouds with angel-wings on their backs! But there are at least two things wrong with that picture! First of all, where did we get the notion that even real angels have wings? It is certainly NOT from the Bible! The only heavenly or spiritual beings portrayed in the Bible as having wings are the Cherubim and the Seraphim! The fact that these two beings are specifically designated and their specific function indicates they are not the same as angels! Whenever and wherever angels are encountered in the Bible, they are always depicted as looking like normal men! No wings! No halos! And definitely No harps!

Secondly, angels are depicted in the Bible as ‘messengers.’ In fact, both the Hebrew and Greek words that are translated as ‘angel’ in our English Bibles actually mean; ‘messenger.’ So, in a sense, the word ‘angel’ is not actually a designation of identity, but rather a designation of function! Just like, the term that we use for the person who delivers our mail doesn’t really say anything about who they are, it just tells what they do!  It is not their identity, it is their function!  As humans, we are the object of God’s love and the crown jewels of God’s created order. Therefore, for humans to turn into angels would actually be a ‘step-down’ not a step-up! Hush! I hear you! You are saying: “But what about Psalm 8:5, where the Bible says that man was created a little lower than the angels?” Well, the word that is translated as ‘angels’ in that verse is not the same Hebrew word that is translated as; ‘angel’ everywhere else in the Old Testament. In just about every other place in the Old Testament, where we see the word ‘angel’ or ‘angels’ in our English Bibles, the Hebrew word is ‘malek’ which means; messenger or representative. But in Psalm 8:5, the Hebrew word is ‘elohim’ which is actually the term used to refer to Yahweh God (the LORD God) or gods! Thus, what the Psalmist actually said was that man was made, not a little lower than ‘angels’ but rather a little lower than God! Therefore, for humans to become angels at death would be a demotion rather than a promotion! And think about it! If it was God’s intention for humans to become angels, why did God make them human? He could have made them angels in the first place! But God made angels to be angels forever and humans to be humans forever!

 We are forever human! In fact, the Bible states that the dearly-parted will one day come back to earth to reclaim their total humanity! (see1 Corinthians 15:13-29; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18) [I use the term; ‘total’ because, according to the Genesis account, man was created as a union of spirit and body. Therefore, absence of a body, makes the dearly departed somewhat incomplete and not their total selves!] That’s what the Resurrection is all about; to reunite the spirit/soul with the body! For if we read the Bible carefully, we will discover that the redeemed will not spent eternity in the Heavenly realm in a spiritually disembodied state as the dearly departed are now, but rather on the earth in glorified bodies! (see Revelation 21:1-5) Notice the wording of the Revelation text, particularly verse 3 where John says: And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. (Rev. 21:3 ESV) It is repeated three times in just one verse; the emphasis is not on man being with God, but rather John wants us to know the plan is for God to spend eternity with us! Why? Because that’s the way God made us! God did not create man to dwell in Heaven, God created man to dwell on the earth. When Adam communed with God, Adam didn’t go to Heaven to see God, but rather God came down to earth; to the garden to commune with Adam; the being God made to be forever human!

Sleep: The Practice of Death and Alternative Reality

Have you ever considered the fact that every time we go to sleep, we are in a sense, dead to the world? I mean, think about it: When we are asleep, we are not aware of anything that is happening around us, and life as we know it, goes on without us! When we are asleep, we do not participate in any of the activities or functions of people who are awake! When we are asleep, we are totally unaware of the world around us. So, in a sense, when we are asleep; we are dead!

However, during sleep, while we may be ‘dead to the world,’ we are by no means in a state of total unconsciousness! The medical community says we don’t go to sleep without dreaming. I read one report that said everyone is thought to dream 3 to 6 dreams each night with each dream lasting from 5 to 20 minutes! The report also said that about 95 percent of the dreams are forgotten by the time a person gets out of bed and that dreaming can help a person learn and develop long-term memories.

Think about it! Not only are we dead to the world every time we go to sleep, but also, every time we go to sleep, we participate in and experience an alternate reality! Yes! We participate and experience! The report said; we don’t remember 95 percent of our dreams, but the 5 percent we do remember often have a lingering effect upon us after we wake up! Have you ever had a dream that you were falling and you woke up in a cold sweat; screaming and clutching the sheets? If you were not alone, someone probably assured you that everything was all right and that you should go back to sleep because it was ‘only a dream.’ But when you were experiencing it, it didn’t ‘feel’ like it was ‘only a dream’ to you! It wasn’t like you were in a movie theater or just watching television. No! You weren’t merely watching it; you were experiencing it! You were an active participant! You had stake in how things turned out; so much so that your body reacted in the same way it would if you actually had that experience during your conscious waking hours!

Now, I don’t know about you, but in the dreams I remember, I was always able to do things I could not possibly do in my waking conscious state. For instance, in one particular dream, I was able to move from one location to another in a matter of seconds by just thinking! I was able to fly and do other things that were physically impossible to do in my conscious state. The weird thing about it was that in my dreams, I didn’t think of those things as impossibilities, they were normal, because in my dreams, I was actually doing them!

Now before you brand me as a heretic or as being unstable, I’m qualifying what I’m about to say as just musing. But what if the lyrics of the song: “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” are more true than we realize? What if this life, as we consciously experience it for 70 years or so, is merely ‘but a dream?’ What if, when we close our eyes for the final time and experience physical death, at that point ,we wake up to real life and discover this life was but a dream? Only time will tell, because those who have actually experience it don’t come back to tell; it’s a one-way journey! But in the meantime, every night and every time we go to sleep; we are practicing death and experiencing alternative realities.

Please! Don’t Take Me With You!

I am deeply disturbed by the recent rash of murder-suicides happening all around the country with couples. I am trying to wrap my head around it. The whole situation is senseless!

I mean, if you kill that person in a fit of jealous rage, that only proves that you really didn’t love them in the first place and that the relationship was all about you, because real love doesn’t hurt!

So, you kill them, cause untold grief and despair for everyone involved, ruin your life and then go to jail, just to prove you are not to be played? That doesn’t seem very smart to me! Especially when you consider how many other people there are in the world; surely there is someone else you could find happiness with.

And then there are those who kill their lover and then turn around and kill themselves! I mean; what’s the point? If you killed them because you couldn’t stand the idea of them being with someone else, why not just kill yourself first? That would serve the same purpose.

Now before anybody thinks that I am suggesting murder or that people should commit suicide before they murder someone, I am not! I’m just thinking out loud, trying to make sense out of a senseless situation.

But, I will say this: If you are troubled and contemplating such irrational actions as I have just described, find someone to talk to! I can assure you that murder and suicide are never viable options! If you are angry and upset that they left you or cheated on you, your best revenge is to go on with your life and be happy! Whatever you’re going through, remember that you’re just going through; it won’t last! It’s only temporary! That is why murder and suicide are so tragic; murder and suicide are permanent solutions to temporary problems

In times like these, we need to be there for one another! If someone comes to you with a situation, most of the time, they already know what they need to do, they just need someone to listen. Please be a good listener and a good friend. Don’t betray their trust in you and don’t abuse their confidence in you.

Let’s look out for one another! Murder and suicide are never viable options; but love always is! 

 

Some Thoughts on the Death of Bishop Eddie Long

michael-harrisThe following is a “guest post” from Michael Clayton Harris, M. Div. Harris is a graduate of Emory University’s Candler School of Theology and pastor of the Acts of Faith Baptist Church in Stone Mountain, GA. He is also the son of the Rev. Dr. Michael Neely Harris, the recently retired pastor of the historic Wheat Street Baptist Church of Atlanta, GA.

This is a reflection by Pastor Harris concerning reactions to the death of Bishop Eddie L. Long, pastor of the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church of Lithonia, GA taken from his FaceBook page with permission:

“I tried to avoid writing this but I just couldn’t sleep on it so here it goes. It’s a shame that people are so heartless and hateful that they would vilify Bishop Eddie Long on the day that he died because of his alleged past indiscretions. Additionally, it’s very important in thought plus spirituality to have the mindset that if you prayed for Eddie Long while he was sick and now pray for his family and church family now that he has passed, then that suddenly means you have no compassion and have stopped praying for the young men who were the plaintiffs in the highly publicized scandal.

I must admit, I’m livid by how people can attack the deceased and have no respect for at least the loved ones of the deceased. I guess Eddie Long’s family deserves hearing him or reading about him be crucified on the day of his death even though they didn’t have anything to do with his alleged actions? As people talk about the victims whose lives have been forever changed mentally, emotionally, and let’s not forget financially (since they settled the case out of court allegedly for millions of dollars), where’s the deep compassionate talk for his widow and his children whose lives have forever been changed because of the scandal being publicized, plus the hurt & shame they have encountered because of the alleged actions of their loved one, plus the hurt & pain they have experienced through watching their loved one’s sickness and now dealing with their death? I guess they deserve whatever comes their way because of being related to someone who allegedly committed such a heinous act? I guess praying for family members whose lives have also been forever changed not because of what they’ve done shows support for Bishop Long’s alleged actions as well? I guess the family members don’t have to wrestle with anything like the alleged victims?

I highlight this side because I’ve seen first-hand on year before last the damage from the scandal that has been done to one of his children who in a public setting was very anti-social and insecure because of the fear of not knowing what other people felt or thought about them because of the alleged actions of their father which were made public. Imagine trying to live your life in the shadow of one of your family members indiscretions for the rest of your life? Imagine hearing people pull out all of your deceased loved ones baggage and skeletons in the closet as you begin to mourn your loved one’s death? Would you be cool with that? Should there not be any prayer and compassion given to a family member whose innocent from any wrong doing but forever will live under the dark cloud of a family member’s indiscretion for the rest of their life? FYI, if you haven’t discerned there are way more victims in this whole matter than just the young men.

May God grant #BishopEddieLong‘s family & the #NewBirth Church family a double portion of His love, peace, comfort, strength, & healing! May God bestow upon some people more love and compassion to respect the deceased and their family members as they grieve, in Jesus name!”

Thanks to Pastor Harris for his prolific insights and for allowing the reproduction of his thoughts on this page. Your comments are welcomed.