Friday, February 17, 2006

All Fish Go to Heaven

Kinsey's fish Dennis died the other day.

Now this was not Kinsey's first experience with death. My mom and dad had a dog that had to be put to sleep that Kinsey really loved. Sheryl and I debated what to tell her and we decided to go ahead and tell her the truth about Tyler. She seemed to take it pretty well, although she missed him the next couple of times she went over to their house. When Dennis died on Tuesday, Kinsey was sad for a little while, but also looking forward to a new fish.

She did ask about whether she would see him in Heaven, and one of the things I've decided to do is be as honest theologically with her as possible, so I paused.

You see, in my reading of certain passages of Scripture and authors like NT Wright, my views on life and the afterlife have taken a bit of a turn. You see, there are passages like Romans 8:18-25 that talks about Creation groaning and waiting "in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed" that have changed my perspective. A passage like Revelation 21:1-4 talk about the city of God coming down out of Heaven and God making His dwelling among men has helped in this as well.

The turn in my thought is this. For a long time, I accepted the idea of the Rapture and Jesus returning to take his people away: Left Behind theology for lack of a better term. As I've started looking through the Scriptures, I'm not sure that's the best way to look at things. The Bible seems to say that creation and earth will be a part of the coming Kingdom of God. Now, I will admit that my thinking on this is not fully formed and that I'm treading into some dangerous ground by putting this up, but hey, it's a blog.

This does not deny the idea of a place after death. N.T. Wright says a couple of things that I really like on this subject. 1) "Heaven is important but it's not the end of the world." 2) "The concern is not so much life after death. It's life after life after death." You see, the real subject of all of this is the resurrection at the end of time. And what does that mean for eternity? Again, I'm not sure, but it certainly seems like the earth or better, the new heaven and new earth are going to be a part of that. And that creation will realize the fruit of her groaning and fulfill the promise that God set forth in Genesis. We've got to remember that in the Genesis creation narrative (the first one), God never calls the creation "perfect" or "complete." He calls it "good" and "very good." That to me seems to imply an incompleteness that would seem to come later.

So when Kinsey asked me if she would see Dennis in Heaven, I paused. I don't know if she will see him there, but I do believe Creation will be a part of the new Creation, of the Ressurection. Whether or not that actual fish will be there or not, I'm not sure. What I told her was that Heaven was going to be an amazing place because we'll be with God. And that yes, maybe we'll see Dennis there, but I really didn't know.

Thankfully, she accepted this and I didn't have to go into my eschatalogical theology, like I did here.

Adam Ellis has done some really interesting writing on this that you can read here. Oh and one other recommendation: David Carden wrote a really great parable called The King's Stew that I highly recommend taking a look at.


Tiffany said...

I'm glad you're writing and thinking about this. I have lately thought about just throwing the idea of "salvation" onto my blog and seeing what comments I get.

My most basic struggle with all of this is the conflict I see inherent in the idea that some of us will be condemned, yet we will not know sorrow after death. I have a brother, whom I love so, so dearly, who is not a Christian. In fact, he chose to walk away from Christianity after being baptized in junior high. So how will that work? Will I just not remember that I had a brother? Will I not care? Or will he, in fact, be redeemed as one of God's children?

Paul tells us we will get a new body - that definitely implies a new created, physical existence. A lot of Scriptures refer to salvation and heaven in global terms, not just what will happen to our souls. But I can't discount all of Jesus' warnings about hell, sheep and goats, etc.

I think we just have such an incomplete understanding of what God is going to do at the end of time. I'd love to hear more of your thoughts on this in the future.

And I'm very sorry about Kinsey's fish.

Phil said...

Kinsey's actually fine with Dennis and she's looking forward to her next fish that she's already named Mareesa.

Tiff, I'm having the same questions about what this means and there's one that I'm contemplating that I'll probably talk about next week some: We are told to forgive 70 times 7, which I believe is a Jewish phrase for never stop forgiving. Are we being asked to do something God doesn't? I don't mean that to seem blasphemous at all, but it's crossed my mind.

I also agree with the judgmental nature of the end of time and I'm still trying to work out the stuff like the sheep and goats. There are some other theories out there that I'm only becoming familiar with. I will say this: all of this is really speculation and I really feel that God would much rather us bring the Kingdom into this world than spending too much time worrying about the next.

Kat Coble said...

Universalism has always been popular with Christians, because none of us like to imagine that God would condemn our brethren.

As much as I want to, I can't embrace that particular theology because I believe that God has made plain the plan of salvation and the consequences for those who do not adhere to it. HOWEVER, lately I've been finding a lot of "hidden peace" in the texts about judging. I think one of the reasons God tells us (repeatedly) to not judge is because He knows just how difficult a job that is. He also knows that He is the only one with access to ALL the evidence and testimony in each case. I also think that's part of Jesus' order to "let the dead bury the dead"--in other words let these concerns of this world take care of themselves. Our job as Christians is to take up our cross daily and follow Christ by going therefore into all the world and preaching the Gospel.

As far as pets going to heaven, I have two completely unsupported (scripturally) ideas on that. Both of which may sound like crackpottery, but there you go.

1. In many cases I firmly believe that pets are a form of the agents of God. Time and again I've seen pets come into lives where it seems they were directly placed by a loving God who knew the need of the pet's owner. I don't mean that "dogs are angels" but it has occured to me on several occasions that perhaps pets are another type of God's agent. As there are angels in heaven, I believe there will be these pets in heaven also.

2. Tim (the wise Mr. Kat) points out that animals have no souls. Many preachers use this to say they are not entitled to enter heaven. Tim says that it means just the opposite--that without souls they had no need of redemption, so they get a "free pass" into heaven.

Either way, I trust God enough to know that He will not have me with Him in the afterlife and curse me for eternity with an aching heart. I trust Him to come up with solutions more magnificent than anything I could devise.

Justin said...

whew phil, this blog could possibly open a whole can of worms couldn't it?

My take on the matter, at least at this point in time, is that most of Jesus' talk of hell is just metaphorical, and was a tool used against the pharisees who were using this idea of hell, borrowed from other cultures, to try and scare the jews into following the pharisaical interpretation of the law. So Jesus, knowing what they were doing, uses hell in the same way to say you are in danger of this if you don't have a kingdom heart, rather than if you don't live up to whatever human made law is in place at appointed time.

There was no "hell" in early jewish ideology. only sheol, which is just the place the dead go. Hell somehow came into jewish culture sometime between malachi and jesus. Anyway, I tend to be of the group that says that God forgives everyone, but if you don't have a heart for God, you really aren't gonna enjoy dwelling in his kingdom. So, I guess that would kinda be like hell, to be a completely greedy covetous person living in a place where everyone was others centric and lived a kingdom lifestyle.

Phil, I can't believe you bought into the whole rapture thing.... j/k

Phil said...


Hmmm... Seems like I've read those ideas from somewhere.


Justin said...

nope. completely came up with those all by myself. i'm a master theologian.

btw, how do you tag posts, cause i'm pretty much an attention whore and want people to be able to find my blog.

that was a joke about being an attention whore. well, kinda.

Tony Arnold said...

I have no intention of refuting, agreeing, or debating anyone else's concept or context of hell. I offer three, and I feel very important, theological tenets we should carefully consider in our walk as disciples of Christ.

1. That at some point God will endow man with the full knowledge of His purpose and full understanding of our existences.

2. Regardless of what form a separation from God will take, that at some point God will separate mankind into two camps: those that will dwell with Him eternally (will not be separated from Him); and those that will be separated from Him eternally . Further, based on tenet #1, that separation will create an agony beyond bearing.

3. We should have no fear of this separation. That's right. We should have no fear of this separation! I love what Thomas Merton had to say about this issue.

My opinion is that it is a very extraordinary thing for anyone to be upset by such a topic. Why should anyone be shattered by the thought of hell? It is not compulsory for anyone to go there. Those who do, do so by their own choice, and against the will of God, and they can only get into hell by defying and resisting all the work of Providence and grace. It is their own will that takes them there, not God’s. In damning them He is only ratifying their own decision—a decision which He has left entirely to their own choice. Nor will He ever hold our weakness alone responsible for our damnation. Our weakness should not terrify us: it is the source of our strength. Power is made perfect in infirmity, and our very helplessness is all the more potent a claim on that Divine Mercy Who calls to Himself the poor, the little ones, the heavily burdened.

We do not need to be so concerned about the form of our separation of God. Our focus should be solely on Christ--The Way to a loving and permanent relationship with our Father. We freely and wholly have been provided an opportunity to know God and be with Him. The agent for this relationship is the Holy Spirit.

We should focus on the union not the separation. Run to the Father, now. Do not waste time out of the relationship. Invest time in the relationship.

Tiffany said...

For what it's worth, my own personal frustration with this issue is not because I'm worried about my own salvation, nor is it because I think that it is my job to "convert" my brother. In fact, one reason his and my relationship has improved the last couple of years is that we're both okay with debating this stuff, but not expecting the other to agree.

My - well, fear is the best word for it - is knowing that if I will be with God for eternity, and he will not because of the judgment, then he and I will also not be in the same place, and that breaks my heart.

Right now, I'm solidly in there with Katherine - I don't know how God will handle it (and to pretend like I do is incredibly stupid and presumptutos), but I know it will satisfy all of His promises, and will be more perfect and magnificent than we could ever come up with.

Still, when someone asks me about salvation and sin, it's hard for me to answer these days.

Thanks for everyone's thoughts, though, and to Phil for letting me hijack this thread. It has been really encouraging to read all of this tonight

KC said...

Wow - that's about all I have to say. You never cease to amaze me w/ how open honest you are w/ Kinsey. I can honestly say I have no idea how I'd answer that question (not just b/c I don't have kids) b/c I haven't decided myself. Thanks for providing more ideas to throw in the mix.

Phil said...

Hey, KC.

You know, the thing about talking with Kinsey that way is that we're trying not to set her up for disappointment later. I've known several people who've set their hopes on many, many things and had those hopes dashed and disappointed. I hope by being as honest as I can I'm showing her two things:

1) I don't have all the answers to all the questions, but I do have a framework for my faith and how to live my life.

2) That there are more things out there than we understand and we should embrace the mystery of life.

As to the other comments, Tiff, I don't consider this a threadjack at all. I hope the stuff I write can generate dialogue and conversation. And I have those same questions, but like for Kinsey, I don't know that I have the answers. But I do have a framework and that HAS to be to be Jesus to every one I come in contact with whether I think they will be with God for eternity or not.

Anonymous said...

I was googling for something and this entry came up in my results... so I read it... and I have a comment. :)

When we've had the "Will my pet be in heaven?" question, we've given this answer:

I don't know, since the Bible doesn't really say. All I know is that you'll be the happiest you can possibly be in heaven, and if it takes (insert pet name here) to make you the happiest you can be then perhaps he will be there. That's something God will figure out for you.


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