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!

Does God ‘Need’ Us In Heaven?

heavenly cloudLet me preface this discussion by affirming the fact that, in the truest sense, God doesn’t need us or anything period! God is the All-Self-Sustaining Being! But I raise this subject in light of a post I shared recently by Pastor Robert Houston (“My Problem with Angels”). In that post, Pastor Houston beautifully lays out the premise that humans do not “morph” or are not transformed or changed into angels when they die. I concur whole-heartedly with his findings and I too am distressed and disturbed by the various false theologies that are being promoted concerning death and dying.  Now I can understand when it is coming from posts on Facebook and other social media outlets (I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen depictions on Facebook of people who have died hovering in the clouds with angel wings). But what is even more disturbing to me is some of the things I hear at funerals (Oh I’m sorry, they are not ‘funerals’ anymore, they are ‘home-going celebrations’ and ‘celebrations of life’) from preachers, pastors, and supposedly seasoned saints! I was almost floored recently when I attended a funeral service for an elderly mother of a church. The church clerk read a resolution from the church and all was going well until. . . .She read: “Whereas God, in His wise providence, decided to take out of this world a lovely flower that He needed for His Heavenly Garden. . .” I’m sorry, I’m not trying to be overly critical, but that’s just bad theology and church folks should know better!

First of all, by implication, the statement is saying that God killed or allowed the mother to die just to enhance or beautify Heaven! What a ridiculous idea! God is not in the business of taking people out of this world for Heaven’s benefit! Jesus said that he came that we might have life and that we might have that life more abundantly! Secondly, God really doesn’t need us in Heaven! In fact, we are actually of more use to God on earth than in Heaven! If God really wanted or needed us in Heaven, then it really was a waste of time and effort to create a physical world in the first place!

Now, I’m about to say something here that many orthodox and traditional theologians and church folks might gasp at: I really don’t think “Heaven” as we traditionally know of it, is God’s ultimate destination for us! Now, before you pick up rocks to stone me or call a ministerial counsel to revoke my preaching license, allow me a few moments to argue my point. If we are to take the Bible as the revelation of God, then we must deal with the reality that according to the Genesis account, death was not part of God’s original plan. According to Genesis, God created man as a combination of spirit and flesh with the intentions of man living in a physical state upon the earth forever! Death only came about as the result of sin. And death in the Bible is never extinction; it is always separation. When Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, they immediately died spiritually (that is, they were separated from God) and they began to die physically. So my point is this; the only reason people die is because of sin, and sin and death were not part of God’s original intent!

Now, let’s fast-forward to Revelation 21, where the Apostle John talks about the culmination of the age. He said: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 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. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev 21:1-4 ESV) Notice in the text that John said he saw the holy city “coming down out of heaven.” Where is it coming down to? The new earth! Notice also that according to the voice John heard, the dwelling place of God will be ‘with man.’ “He will dwell with them.” He makes the same statement in other words with the very next breath: “God himself will be with them as their God.” He says it three times in very short order: God will be with them! We think the ultimate goal is for us to be with God, but according to the Bible, the ultimate goal is for God to be with us!

Also, let’s consider the purpose of the resurrection. According to the Bible, the purpose of the resurrection will be to reunite the spirit/soul with the body. Now, if it’s God intent for us to spend eternity in Heaven with Him in a spiritual state without a body, then the resurrection has no purpose! Why will we need a body? Because as God made us; our bodies are part of who we are! We are not complete without our bodies! Our loved ones who have died and who are in Heaven right now, even though they are in the presence of God, they are yet incomplete because they do not have their bodies! Remember 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18? Paul told them that God would bring with Jesus those who had died in Christ. And then he says that “the dead in Christ shall rise first.” Wait a minute! Aren’t those who died in Christ that God will bring with him when he comes and the dead in Christ who shall be raise first the same people? Then how can they be brought with Christ and be raise up out of the graves at the same time? Answer: Christ will bring their spirits with Him and will resurrect their bodies from the grave. Why? To reunite their spirits with their bodies! And why will they need their bodies? Because they will spend eternity, not in a strictly spiritual state as angels in Heaven, but rather they will spend eternity on the new earth in a redeemed spiritual-physical combination, which was God’s original intent for man in the first place!

I really didn’t mean for this post to be this long, but I really wanted to bring out the point that God wants us to be in good health and live as long as possible so that we might influence people to accept His Kingdom! Our task is not just to wait, but to work while we wait! Being saved is not just about getting ‘fire insurance’ or securing a ‘Heavenly retirement package,” it’s about influencing as many people as we can, while we can, for the Kingdom of God!

No! God doesn’t ‘need’ us in Heaven! God has no needs at all! God is self-sufficient and self-sustaining! But if there is something that we can do for God, then the Bible indicates our service is more profitable now, here on earth, than in Heaven! The old hymn writer had it right when he wrote: “To serve this present age, my calling to fulfill! Oh may it all, my power engage, to do my Master’s will!”   

A Time to Cry

crying at casketRecently, I attended a funeral service where a speaker got up and said: “This is not a time to be sad or a time to cry, but rather a time to rejoice! This is a time to celebrate!” Now, I know their intention was to uplift the mourners and to encourage us to praise and worship God.  And just like everybody else, after he said it, I said “Amen!” But later on, I started to do some thinking. We were at a funeral, but the speaker said it was not the time or the place to cry! Well, why not? Someone had died and we all were suffering from the loss of their company; why not cry? We were at a funeral! What better time and place is there to cry and be sad than at a funeral?

One of the trends in much of the preaching and teaching of today is the tendency to say or to imply that one should be happy ALL of the time! From what I am hearing, it seems as if there is no legitimate place for pain and sorrow in life and if a person does experience pain and sorrow it is an indication that something is amiss with their faith. I would like to suggest that such preaching and teaching is not only unrealistic, it is also unbiblical! It is unrealistic because it is a denial of reality to expect people not to cry when they have suffered a loss! Crying is part of the human emotional make-up! As Betty Everett used to sing back in the day: “The rich have to cry! The poor have to cry! You’ll have to cry and I’ll have to cry!” The funny thing about it is that many times the very people who are always telling others not to cry will often try to jump in the casket when one of their loved-one dies! I think we should quit trying to get people to suppress their expressions of bereavement, but rather “allow” them to mourn, allow them to grieve and grant them the freedom to cry! After all, it was their momma, their daddy, their son, or their daughter who died, not ours!  And if grief is not expressed at the funeral, it will be expressed at some other time and in some other form that is usually not productive or healthy.

Not only is it unrealistic, it is also unbiblical to deny them or us the freedom to express grief, bereavement and sorrow because the Bible says: “There is . . . a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” (Ecc 3:4 KJV) So if the funeral is not the time or place to cry then when and where is it? One of the first Bible verses I ever learned as a child was John 11:35. It is the shortest verse in the Bible. It says: “Jesus wept.” Ironically, I learned this verse as a saying for grace over meals. I still haven’t figured out what Jesus crying had to do with me eating! But when we look at this verse in context, we discover that Jesus cried at the grave of Lazarus, his friend. Now, I’m not going into the theological discussion as to why he cried, I just want to point out the fact that Jesus was at a funeral and he cried! Now, if Jesus cried at a funeral, what’s wrong with us crying at a funeral? Paul wrote, in I Thessalonians 4:13, that we are not to grieve as others who have no hope. He didn’t say that we are not to grieve; he said we are not to grieve as others who have no hope!

So the next time you are grieving over the loss of a loved-one and someone tells you at the funeral not to cry or that you shouldn’t cry; don’t listen to them! Crying is a normal and natural expression of grief and loss! If it doesn’t come out that way, which is normal, it will come out another way that is abnormal and unhealthy! And if you feel like you must give them a reply, just tell them in the words of an old song I heard some time ago: “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to!”

Is Heaven Home?


Back in my early days of seminary, during the first weeks of class, our professor introduced our class to a concept he called “deconstruction.” The idea was to “de-construct” (not destroy) everything we had learn or been taught theologically in order to analyze and verify it. He said this was necessary because most of the beliefs we had adopted, we had accepted them without giving them any serious critical thought. In other words, we had accepted what we have been told as truth without doing any research or investigation to verify the validity of it. The goal of deconstruction was not just to tear down our “pop-theology” (the professor’s term for theology we had formed from what we were told and not from serious biblical study) but to analyze, investigate, and verify it. Within that process, ideas thought to be true but after serious study, found not to be, were discarded and ideas that were found to be true were strengthened and expanded, along with the adoption of new concepts and truths acquired through serious biblical and theological study.

Now, some might reason: Why is this process necessary? Isn’t this just re-inventing the wheel? No! It’s not “re-inventing” the wheel; ‘it’s making a better wheel! It’s taking apart the crude wagon wheel and reconstructing it with state of the art technology to produce a wheel with a more balanced and smoother ride! And beside this, most people are not like the Bereans in the days of the Apostle Paul. As Paul preached to the Bereans, the Bible says of them in Acts 17:11: “These people were more conscientious than those in Thessalonica. They received the message with unrestrained eagerness, daily and critically examining the biblical texts to determine the authenticity of what they heard.” (Acts 17:11 MIT <MacDonald Idiomatic Translation>) Do you see that? They didn’t just take Paul’s word for it! They carefully examined the biblical text to verify what Paul said! Now, as my Daddy used to say: “I said all of that to say this: I want to ask a question that challenges our traditional thinking: “Is Heaven home?”

In the circles I commonly travel, people don’t have “funerals” anymore!  Oh yes! They still have a service when someone dies, but it is not called a funeral; it is called a “home-going” service. The idea is that the person (presumably a Christian) has labored in the vineyard of life and now that God has called them “home,” instead of mourning their death, the fact that they have been called from labor to reward and that they are now at home (in Heaven): resting in the arms of the Lord is celebrated! But, I’ve been giving this some serious thought and study for a few years now! And my question is not whether or not they have gone to Heaven, my question is: Are they at “home?” Or “Is Heaven home?” What is “home?” By definition, home is the place of origin. Home is the place of residence, the final destination. With these definitions in mind, I want to go out on a theological limb and suggest that Heaven is NOT home! Now, before you brand me as a heretic and call a council to revoke my ministerial license, let me give you some reasons why I think Heaven is NOT home:

First of all, by definition, home is the place of origin. Home is where you come from. So the question that begs to be asked is: Did we come from Heaven? According to the biblical text, we didn’t! Genesis 2:7 says: “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” (KJV) The text suggests that man in his origin was a combination of the earthly (the dust of the ground) and the divine (the God-given breath or spirit <the particular Hebrew word in this text that is translated as “breath” is neshamah, which can be translated as “breath” and/or “spirit.”>). Man is a combination of Heaven and Earth, but man didn’t come from Heaven! Man’s origin is the earth! In fact, the whole Creation story seems to suggest that earth was created for man’s habitation and dominion! By the way, when Adam and Eve fell in the Fall, they didn’t fall “from Heaven!” They didn’t lose Heaven; they lost dominion!

We can also define home as the place of residence or the final destination. Using that definition, let’s see if Heaven is indeed home. Is Heaven our ultimate place of residence or our final destination? Again, I would like to suggest that although we commonly think so, the Bible really says otherwise! Genesis 1:26-28 says: “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” (KJV) Clearly, man (male and female) was made to have dominion over the earth. Also remember, at this point in the text, sin had not yet entered into the world, so this would constitute God’s original intent. God’s original intent was for man to have dominion over the earth! Psalm 115:16 says: “The heaven, even the heavens, are the LORD’S: but the earth hath he given to the children of men.” (KJV) Heaven is God’s home; not ours! And speaking of God’s original intent; it was not God’s original intent for man to die! Death came as a consequence of sin! The only way we can get to Heaven now is by dying!  And according to the Bible, death is not extinction; death is separation. Physical death is the separation of the soul/spirit from the body. So when the believer dies, the body is left on earth and only the soul/spirit goes to God. Now, stay with me here! God created us originally to live on earth in a body. We were created as a union of spirit and body. Therefore, when we die and our soul/spirit goes to Heaven, not only are we not at home, but in a sense we are also incomplete! The Bible says that Heaven is a place, but it is a spiritual place. In other words, as Paul says in I Corinthians 15:50: “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God.” Our bodies cannot and do not go to Heaven, only our spirit/soul. When we go to Heaven, part of us is left behind!

Now, God doesn’t just discard the body and forget about it. You see, if Heaven was home, there would be no need for the resurrection! But there will be a resurrection (a reunion of the spirit/soul with the body)! Even the Old Testament Patriarch Job said: “For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.” (Job 19:25-26 KJV) Now, let me ask you this: If Heaven is a spiritual state and Heaven is our final destination, why go through the trouble of having a resurrection? Now some would answer at this point: “So that we might be judged in our bodies for what we did in our bodies.” But couldn’t God just as well judge us in spirit without our bodies? I would like to suggest that the purpose of the resurrection is not primarily for judgment! God has something even greater in mind! Let’s look at a few “resurrection” texts for some further insights. Now, we usually look at I Thessalonians 4:13-18 as a proof text for the “rapture” but it also sheds some interesting light on the resurrection. Verse 14 says: “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.” (KJV) Paul says that when Jesus comes, he will bring with him the spirits of those believers who had already died. Question: If Heaven is home, why bring the spirits with him when he comes back to earth? Why couldn’t he just say to them: “Wait here (in Heaven) while I go down and get the rest!” But he will bring their spirits with him! Why? Verse 16 gives us the answer: “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first.” (KJV) Wait a minute! Aren’t “those who sleep in Jesus” (the ones he will bring back with him) and “the dead in Christ” the same people? What’s going on here? It’s the resurrection! Jesus will bring back with him the spirits/souls from Heaven and their bodies will be raised from the graves so that body and soul might be reunited! Paul concludes by saying in verse 17, “and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” (KJV) But wait a minute! Why would we need our bodies (even if they are glorified) if we are going to spent eternity in Heaven where we won’t need them? Because we are not going to spend eternity in a disembodied state in Heaven, but we will need bodies for where we will spend eternity!

Let me now conclude by lifting up the words of the Apostle John in Revelation 21:1-5 for us to ponder in regard to our question. John said: “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful.” (KJV) The first thing I want us to notice is that John said he saw the holy city, new Jerusalem “coming down from God out of heaven.” Where is it coming down to, John? Coming down to the “new earth” mentioned in verse 1! (By the way, a reference to a city can be a reference to not just the structures, but also to the inhabitants, here I think is a reference to the people of the city) Secondly, note in verse 3 that John said he heard a great voice out of heaven saying: “Behold the tabernacle of God is with men, he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.” Do you see that? Three times in one verse: God is “with men,” he will dwell “with them,” God himself shall be “with them!” We’ve always preached and taught that the ultimate goal is for us to go and be with God, but according to this text, the ultimate end is God coming to be with us!

Now this is just a short summary of summary of why I believe Heaven is NOT home. I have much more that I could share with you, but in the words of Jesus: “You cannot bear them now!” But, it is for these reasons that where I serve as pastor, we don’t have a “home-going” service when a member dies; we have a “celebrations of life” service! I have even given my wife instructions that if I should die before she does, to make sure they don’t put my body in a casket that has the words: “Going Home” on the headboard. If anything, I want a custom headboard with the words: “Gone Away,” or “On Vacation” or even the words: “I’ll Be Back!” For as the Apostle Paul said: “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring (back) with him those who have fallen asleep.” (1Th 4:14 ESV)

Your comments and critiques are welcomed! Tell me what you think! Is Heaven Home?