I have spent some time over the past semester thinking about the limits of language. The difficulty of representation, and the various techniques which an author will use in their attempt to convey their ideas.
How does one convey the horror of war?
How do we use words to show the miracle of birth?
How do we understand the wonder of heaven and God who is enthroned there?
We rely so much on the visual, we are saturated by it, consumed by it. Words are different. Words allow us to move away from the natural to the supernatural, from the real to the surreal, from the literal to the abstract. Words can construct whole new worlds that belong nowhere other than in the space between the page (or screen) and the minds of the author and reader. Words are intimate. Words can allow us to see that which is beyond what is visible. We can understand through the words of astrophysicists and microbiologists, things that are either so far away or so close, yet so small.
The first chapter of Wolfe's Setting our Sights on Heaven looks at the what of heaven, giving something of both a systematic and a biblical theology. One section of this chapter, which stood out for me, was his explanation of the Bible's use of anthropomorphic language when describing God enthroned in heaven. When looking at why this language is used Wolfe writes that it is in order to show:
1. the reality of his sovereign transcendence over the created order, and 2. the intimacy of the fellowship that the inhabitants of heaven enjoy with him. (p. 7)
Wolfe then shows how the Bible makes this clear, using Isaiah 6:1-3, as his textual example:
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne, and His robe filled the temple. Seraphim were standing above Him; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another:
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts;
His glory fills the whole earth.
God who created by word gives us words in order to allow the believer to have a glimpse into heaven.
The second chapter turns to looking at how Jesus will get the believer to heaven. Wolfe looks at our effectual calling, our dying and Christ's return. Or, in Wolfe’s words: at our first fruits of communion with God, our further communion with God and our full communion with God.
The aspect of this chapter which I found really interesting was his emphasis that heaven is like earth in that it is also a place of waiting for the New Creation. Wolfe shows us that while in heaven there is purity, praise and peace, there is also a pining for the New Creation. It is the voices of the saints crying out for God to judge, to 'avenge' their blood (Rev 6) and of Christ who is seated “at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet” (Heb 10:12-13). This fits with the eschatology of the Lord's Prayer, “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10).
As it is in heaven.
God's reign is everywhere. God has a plan that includes those of us here on earth and heaven. And Christ is at the centre of that plan. Christ has called us, redeeming us by his blood, Christ has gone as the first fruits of the resurrection to prepare our heavenly dwelling and Christ will come again, ushering in the New Creation.
Wolfe shows us the manifold impact of what Christ has achieved for us, now, later and later still when he looks at the 'heavenly blessing' of justification. In terms of our present situation (state), “to be justified is to possess the same right to heaven that belongs to those who are already there.” (p. 31), “second, justification is heavenly in that it anticipates the day when the believer will go to heaven through death.” (p. 31) and finally, justification anticipates when the New Creation will be brought in. The Christian will not be any more justified than when we first came to Christ, but the verdict will be pronounced for all to hear. Wolfe (quoting Packer), “God's justifying decision is the judgment of the Last Day, declaring where we shall spend eternity brought forward into the present and pronounced here and now.” (p. 32)
This truth, this good news, makes my heart sing with delight and draws my mind to the words of the Victorian (era) poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, in his poem 'That nature is a heraclitean fire and of the comfort of the resurrection':
Enough! the Resurrection,
A heart’s-clarion! Away grief’s gasping, ' joyless days, dejection.
Across my foundering deck shone
A beacon, an eternal beam. ' Flesh fade, and mortal trash
Fall to the residuary worm; ' world’s wildfire, leave but ash:
In a flash, at a trumpet crash,
I am all at once what Christ is, ' since he was what I am, and
This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, ' patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,
Is immortal diamond.