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!

Rest in Peace?

TombstoneAccording to Wikipedia, “Rest in peace” is a short epithet or idiomatic expression wishing eternal rest and peace for someone who has died. The phrase “dormit in pace” (English: “he sleeps in peace”) was found in the catacombs of the early Christians and indicated that “they died in the peace of the Church, that is, united in Christ. The expression typically appears on headstones, often abbreviated as “RIP” or “R.I.P.”.

Notice in its origin, the phrase was associated with the church and extended to those who had died “in the peace of the Church, that is, united with Christ.” But today, the expression is commonly extended to anyone who dies. My question is this: “How can someone who did not live in peace, die and rest in peace?” My mother used to always tell us when we were young: “You can’t live crooked and die straight!” In other words, she was telling us that the way we lived our lives would have a direct bearing on our eternal state after death! I don’t mean to be splitting hairs or making much ado about nothing, but I think we have gotten to a point where, in many cases, we are just saying things just to be saying something!

I read a recent Facebook posting by a young man dedicated to a friend who was a gang-banger and was killed in a gang-related shooting. In this post, I read the traditional wish for the deceased to RIP (rest in peace). But the thing that really caught my attention was a picture of the deceased gang-banger in the heavenly clouds wearing angel wings! It’s amazing to me that we have a tendency to “demonize” people while they live and “angelize” them when they die! We tell lies “on them” while they are living and tell lies “for them” when they are dead! Now, I know that no matter what type of life a person lived, we would like to think that they are in “a better place” when they die. But, according to the Bible, that is not always the case. If we are to believe Jesus and the biblical record then we must concede that “all dogs don’t go to Heaven!” No matter how we may wish that all will rest in peace, the truth of the matter is that all will not! Jesus said in the story of The Rich Man and Lazarus in the Gospel of Luke that Lazarus was resting in the bosom of Abraham, but of the rich man he said: “And in hell he lifted up his eyes!” Two different fates for two different lives lived.

The best way for the wish for a person to rest in peace when they die to be fulfilled is to introduce them to the Prince of Peace while they yet live! The Bible says that the Lord will keep in perfect peace the one whose mind is stayed on Him. It also says that there is no peace for the wicked! How can it be assure that the wish: RIP is fulfilled? Well, the best way is to make sure you rest in peace is to live in peace! There can be no RIP later unless we LIP (Live in <the Peace that God provides> now! How can we live in that peace? We can live in that peace by being reconciled to God through faith in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus at Calvary’s Cross. We can’t have the peace of God until we have peace with God! When we have that peace, we can have peace in the midst of the storms while we live and can be assured that we will rest in peace when we die!