Thursday, February 12, 2009

Living with the Underworld - Pt 3

Chapter 2

This chapter was so helpful! It was good to get the chance to think about 'the where' of heaven and hell and all things underworldish. Ever since my childhood assumptions were 'sorted out' at university ("... but surely you don't believe that heaven's up there?") I'd filed these concepts into a list of topics not to be thought about or spoken of again. But once more Peter ventures into this 'no go' zone and gives us an adult discussion on where the underworld might be. And it was helpful to think through these issues once and for all.

And how about that: Jesus spoke about heaven as above too! I guess I’ve noticed that, but I’d not given much thought to it. It was a useful point for me to hear, having concluded that I'd picked up unbiblical notions along the way. So are we 'allowed' to talk of above and below after all? Well, in a way it’s helpful, we have to talk about heaven being somewhere or else it doesn’t feel like reality. It’s good to clarify that it is metaphor, for all the pedantic astronauts in our lives, but how wonderful it is that the Bible keeps talking in ways that are familiar to us. And how interesting it is that our basic cosmology hasn’t changed all that much.

While the basics haven’t changed, the idea that stood out for me the most in this chapter was the ancient cosmology that sees us living surrounded by the underworld (page 32). Freaky! Maybe Nana was right, all my dead relatives are hovering nearby! Only joking—I’m very glad for the existence of metaphor. But no wonder so many people down the centuries have lived in fear.

We might ask why doesn't the Bible tell us more about heaven and hell? I don’t know about you but I’ve often found that setting my heart on things above isn't a simple task. Alas, it's easier to imagine hell than heaven. It’s easy to think of how it might feel even if not what it will look like. Certainly, except for Belinda Carlisle, heaven ain’t a place on earth for most people, and there’ve been many references to hell's fury during this tragic week in Victoria.

So, I’m pondering all these perspectives reminding myself not to slip into focusing too much on the peripheral. But once again as I read on I find that the centre is very much there, and suddenly the stakes are raised and we’re reflecting on the underworld within, and asking the constructive questions about how we deal with it all. I like how Peter keeps reminding us of the real apocalypse, unveiling what God has done for the world in Jesus Christ. It tells me that it doesn’t matter where exactly heaven is when there are many people in the world who are not yet able to get there. The Bible wants us to keep that on the top of our agenda for the moment, the how, not the where. This is where Peter’s going, via an interesting diversion on the 'who' of the underworld, just for 'fun'. And one more thing, I keep marveling at how precisely Peter crafts every chapter! The lost theme introduced at the beginning is returned to at the end. And I’m reminded of why this is all important, perhaps even why the book was written. Relieving fears by correct orientation. This is what this book will continue to do.

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