Zach’s reply to my post about Universal Salvation definitely hits home. Admittedly, I have no clue as to why God would allow the things He allows. I also find most, if not all, explanations inadequate. It isn’t that I find God’s reason to be inadequate; it’s that He hasn’t given us one. Some might get defensive about others not accepting their answers and often mutter something about having faith as a kind of final word. But the object of our faith isn’t other people’s opinions; it’s God.
Zach mentioned C.S. Lewis’s vision of heaven as a rebooted earth, which Zach compares to John the Revelator’s vision of the New Jerusalem. The New Jerusalem is not what makes the connection between the Bible’s view of heaven and our own. Lewis gets his idea from Revelation 21.1–4 (just before the New Jerusalem description), which describes what heaven really is:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”
The New Earth will contain New Jerusalem, but what we conceive of as “heaven” is not conceptually synonymous with the New Jerusalem—the latter is contained within the former.
The idea that (former) atheists would be disappointed is an odd anachronism. I can see the disappointment now about such a prospect; but if we are all transformed between here and there, which is a place without “mourning, or crying, or pain” then we would probably be right at home. Further, atheists aren’t the only ones with theological issues. The problem of evil stops me in my tracks. I have no response to it (except to share with Bart Ehrman/Ecclesiastes that there is no reason or answer for suffering.)
I will never discount, disregard, or attempt to make any amount of suffering seem less than what it is. Thus, when I try to make sense of the senseless, I strive to do justice to the sufferers in how I think the Bible says God will respond. It’s impossible to read through the Prophets and not see that God hates oppression. I like to think that however we are transformed will be necessarily connected to who we are and what we have experienced before the New Earth. That is, if the Beatitudes are any indicator, those who mourn will be comforted (Mt. 5.4). Or even here in the very passage under consideration, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Whether this includes an answer the text does not say. But it does say that the God of the universe will personally wipe away every tear. In other words, all is not lost. All will not have been for naught. Suffering will not have been meaningless, it will not have gotten the final say or the final upper hand. On the New Earth, the evil we have seen will not have won.
But why the delay? I ask this all the time. It shakes my faith to the core. I cannot read about the Holocaust without weeping and feeling anger toward God. I don’t have an answer, I don’t understand it, it does not make sense to me. But there are two things that I strongly believe that at least help me hope for something better: First, that God is love and that He hates oppression and evil. Second, that there will be a New Earth in which these evils are answered. If God is our Father, then the earthly analogue of letting our kids experience pain and suffering so that they grow just might mean something. I can’t stand to see my baby boy fall and hurt himself. But if the reality of his future as one who can walk in freedom is greater than the reality of that temporal pain then I’m willing to make the trade-off. He doesn’t understand now. He won’t understand when he realizes that I am willingly holding him down for painful flu shots. But some day he will. To help me get through these times, I think of the some day—a new(er) earth of sorts that has yet to be because it is future.
The reality of the delay does not, for me, negate the reality of the final answer, which will come from the gentle hand of God the Father wiping away His children’s tears. I remember being skeptical of my parents’ gentle embrace after learning a tough lesson; but I wanted nothing more than to receive their comfort, which silently answered my questions with a love greater than I was capable of understanding.