Monday, May 28, 2012

Introducing June book club title, Setting Our Sights on Heaven, by Paul D. Wolfe

I don't spend much of my waking hours thinking about heaven. There are points in time when I do. Tragically, at funerals. Fearfully, when driving (and for some reason, nearly always when I'm crossing the Harbour Bridge in lane four). Rarely, though, do I consider it deeply.

I'm reminded, in my own inability to think of my future, of the lines in one of Emily Dickinson's poem, "Because I could not stop for Death, he kindly stopped for me." There are so many reasons why we may not want to think about death, and yet we cannot NOT think about it; however, so often it is at the 'worst' times to think about it that we do. When we're overcome by emotions of grief or fear.

We live in a society that would prefer to focus on the here-and-now. Only people who work in certain fields (I think of medical professionals, undertakers, homicide detectives, et al) are faced with death on a weekly or daily basis, the rest of us can push it aside to glory in our youth and to spend big to attain it again once it has past.

However, thinking about what happens after death, thinking about eternity isn't just reserved for the religious or those in particular fields; the wisdom contained in Ecclesiastes emphasises this, "he (God) has also put eternity in their hearts, but man cannot discover the work God has done from beginning to end." (Eccl. 3:11)

Wolfe not only thinks we should meditate on this important topic, but that we should have it shape our lives now,

"Some suspect that immersing ourselves in the truths of heaven will only render us inattentive to the things of earth, even neglectful of vital relationships and responsibilities. But those who have tasted and seen the goodness of real, biblical heavenly-mindedness know the opposite to be true: the one who faithfully contemplates things unseen and things yet to come finds a new zeal for the glory of God and the cause of Christ here on earth. 'Lift thine eyes', and see for yourself." (Introduction, pp. xx-xxi)

In a recent sermon on Ephesians 1:1-14 the preacher gave the example of dark matter and its influence on the universe. His point was that sometimes we don't see the things that are actually influencing us. That is essentially what this book is about. We don't 'see' heaven in an empirical sense, but it should (and does, by the way) influence us.

God has revealed heaven to us through his words and through the Word become flesh (Jesus). As Christians we are privileged to have this 'dark matter' revealed to us. Wolfe's book opens up this topic, taking the reader through an examination of heaven and why we don't focus on it and why we should, leading us lovingly, graciously, and with humility and humour (it is so nice to have his personality come through in the text, it has the 'feel' of a cosy chat at points). The book is not academic (and makes no claim to be), but expounds the Bible's teaching about heaven from the very beginning of Creation until the New Creation.

This book was encouraging in that it helped me put together the disparate elements that had hitherto made up my understanding of heaven. It has been so helpful to have someone do the hard work of synthesising the Bible's teaching. More than this, Wolfe is an excellent teacher, clearly showing how he has reached his conclusions; he unpacks carefully from the Bible, essentially giving a Biblical Theology of heaven in the first couple of chapters. Throughout the book his foundation is the Bible, but he has also read from other Christian thinkers, drawing often from the likes of Packer, Baxter, Edwards and the Westminster confession (as an Anglican I really enjoyed the opportunity to read from sections of this!). He has so inspired me that I am currently reading Richard Baxter's The Saints' Everlasting Rest.

This is an opportunity to think about heaven, not so much in grief, and certainly not in fear, but clearly and deeply, for God has put this topic on our hearts, and it is right and good to think about it.

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