Do We Become Transcendent?

This article needs to start with a definition. What do I mean by “transcendent”? In this case, I am talking about a quality of God. God is outside of the laws of physics and the constraints of time. He transcends how we normally think of existence for this reason. God can and does work within the created universe. His presence is found within the created universe. But He is not bound by it.

This idea of God being transcendent is mainly derived by His creation of all things, including the Laws that govern the universe. One must be outside to initiate either this universe or Heaven. The Bible also says that Jesus, “holds all things together.” The implication is that space-time is not necessarily permanent and continues to exist by the deliberate action of the Son of God.

Do we ever transcend space and time? Does our death make us transcendent? This idea is expressed in one theory of how our time of death relates to Judgment Day. The idea is that at our death we move outside of time to Judgment Day directly. There is no “Heaven” in our future. We move straight to the Resurrection. What would make this possible? Throughout the New Testament believers are described as being “in Christ” and as we are bound in some way to a transcendent being, we ourselves become transcendent.

This is very speculative about what “in Christ” all entails. If we are transcendent during the intermediate period, the period between our death and Judgment Day, then why am I not transcendent now? I am “in Christ” right now. I am quite bound to space and time for the moment.

I think it is fine to be speculative about eternal life as long as you know you are doing so, and you have no Word of Scripture to better guide you. In this case, I think we do:

 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. 10 They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11 Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.

Revelation 6:9-11 (ESV)

Here we see martyrs (dead by definition) in Heaven (a part of creation). Heaven probably is a space-time that is distinct from our universe. Time in Heaven may not correlate with time on Earth in a one-to-one relationship. But it clearly has time. The martyrs are asked to “wait”. They wonder “how long?” Those are time statements.

Since this is Revelation, is this just a vision with metaphorical meaning that applies to us on Earth only? Are we being asked to wait? It’s possible, so I give you this additional verse.

 For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.

2 Corinthians 5:1-5 (ESV)

Paul’s language is a little confusing, but he is speaking about an existence in Heaven. Heaven is not the resurrection or New Earth. We come from Heaven with Jesus on Judgment Day to the Resurrection and the New Earth. (1 Thess. 4:14)

From this I would conclude that we are never transcendent. We die at a certain time associated with our universe. We arrive in Heaven at a time associated with Heaven. We experience time in Heaven. We return to this Earth with Jesus at a certain time. The laws of physics and our limitations within those laws may differ somewhat, but it is still a life governed by how God creates our environment. Being “in Christ” may have some aspects that we would never imagine, but being transcendent, even for a moment, is not one of them.

Won’t Eternity Be Boring?

When you hear the phrase “eternal life” does it excite you or concern you? I could understand at least one concern. Right now, with quarantine still somewhat in effect, life is a little boring. We just had a three-day weekend, and while I enjoyed sitting on my porch watching nature, it was a bit of a yawner. What will life be if it is eternal? Won’t Heaven and the New Earth become redundant at some point?

Let’s start with the experience of boredom itself. When we are bored the environment around us is failing to stimulate our minds sufficiently. We experience a loss of concentration, hormones that make us feel tired and perhaps a degree of anxiety. The biology that creates boredom is not the biology with which humans were created. We are a creation altered by sin and the curse. I definitely expect that boredom is part of the curse and once you leave your body in the grave, you will leave boredom in the grave as well.

Our new biology of a Heavenly body (1 Cor. 15:40) and then an earthly, resurrected body (1 Cor. 15:42-44) will have many differences, and with them many different emotional, spiritual and physical experiences. Can we say there will not nothing negative? Not quite. At least not until the re-creation of all things.

The one sort of negative picture we see is of Heaven in Revelation 6. The martyrs express a degree of impatience with the slow arrival of Judgment Day:

O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the Earth?

Revelation 6:10

Feelings like impatience and the desire for vengeance show that biology change alone will not remove negative feelings. They don’t say, “Hey we are bored waiting here.” That is significant because they are asked to wait, which is typically and ingredient in boredom now.

With the environment of Heaven and eventually the new Heaven and Earth be that much more stimulating? I expect so.

To experience the glory of God in a direct fashion is an experience none of us have had yet. Even those who have had a vision of it were enthralled. It was life changing.

Near Death Experiences tell of the experience of color and of music that is so heightened. If you enjoy these things now, just wait.

Social interactions are another thing that will be changed. The experience of people currently is a mixed bag of joy, frustration, anger, love and boredom. But we won’t be this blend of sin and the image of God. People will be a joy to be around:

Be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness.

Isaiah 65:18

Then there is exploration. We like to travel, and there is much of the world that we have not experienced. Of the 48 contiguous states, however, we have hit a lot of sights. Our bucket list for the continental United States is growing short. So, over an eternity, won’t the New Earth become a “been there, seen that” experience?

A couple of things, I would not assume to be the same. First, our interaction with nature will be greatly altered:

The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and the dust shall be the food for the serpent. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain

Isaiah 65:25

Won’t it be a joy to experience the wide array of God’s creatures in a friendly rather than adversarial fashion. Imagine doing it with a body that is not as limited as the one you have.

In fact, I wouldn’t assume we will be constrained to the New Earth. With a whole new universe and a whole new Heaven (the former dwelling place of God), why is the earth our only abode? Angels move freely from Heaven to Earth even now. Does the following verse suggest the same for us:

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the Heavens.

2 Corinthians 5:1

A biology that won’t create the experience of boredom, an experience of God that defies comparison, a body or bodies that will have expanded limits, a new relationship with nature, and a whole new universe or two full of God’s creativity all lead to confidence that we will never be bored. That is the gift of God through Jesus Christ.

The Souls of the Martyrs

There are relatively few biblical passages that give us a look into Heaven.  There are even fewer that include human beings.  Revelation 6:9-11 is a short passage that does just that.  What insights does it give?

The first thing to note is that this is part of the unsealing of a scroll within the throne room of God.  The contents of the scroll are unspecified, but a good guess is that this scroll actually unveils God’s good plan for His people.  Unfortunately,  a fair degree of judgment has to fall on mankind before we get to the good stuff.  Seven seals are ultimately broken.  Most bring tragedy to the inhabitants of the Earth.  The strange exception is the fifth seal.  The fifth seal produces a vision for the author of Revelation, John.

John sees the souls of those who have been killed for being Christians.  We are all aware that we will die somehow.  When you are violently put to an untimely death because of your faith those left behind have to wonder “is this worth it”, at least a little.  The vision given is a message for the living.  The martyrs are not gone, they are living.  They are close to God, and God is caring for them.

John says that he sees their souls.  The soul is the immaterial part of our being.  “Immaterial” just means that it is not properly a part of our current universe.  Are souls “material” in Heaven?  In the last verse they are given “white robes”.  This is not apparel.  Pulling on Paul’s language in 2 Corinthians 5, I would conclude that the white robes are actually a Heavenly body.  Or in other words, a physical body in Heaven to pair with the soul.

Their location is also interesting.  They are “under the altar”.  This sounds small, as if they were mice; but the dimensions of the throne room of God are likely very large.  If this throne room is what is seen descending to the New Earth in Revelation 21, then the space under the altar could be the size of Kansas.

The martyrs seem a bit disgruntled but perhaps they are just being curious.  “How long until you judge the inhabitants of Earth and avenge our blood?”  This is not a complaint about being stuck under the altar, but rather a call for justice.  God’s justice will come but not without time for repentance, time for all nations to hear the Gospel, and time for the total number of martyrs to be completed.

The final item seems like a weird criteria.  Martyrdom seems like a bad thing.  Even the martyrs don’t seem particularly fond of it.  But God has set apart special honor for those who are willing to die for Jesus.  He knows who they will be throughout time.  None who are chosen would want to miss the opportunity of this honor.  It is well worth it.  Martyrs for Christ are being made to this day.  Who knows when this will be complete, but each person brings us closer to Judgment Day.  To be a “martyr” means that somebody kills you.  You don’t kill yourself.  The Muslim idea of martyrdom is more suicide and blasphemy than honorable.  A real martyr gives a witness.  That is what the word “martyr” means.  It is a witness that shows I believe and trust God even unto death.  Jesus gave such a witness about His love for us.

The vision is brief but instructive.  In the period between death and Judgment Day, people who belong to God are consciously alive and in Heaven.  Heaven is not their ultimate destination.  Judgment Day will usher in the New Earth. Both Heaven and the New Earth are the gift of Jesus and something to look to with anticipation.

 

 

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