Your Marriage Gives A Glimpse Into Eternity: Is It Heaven or Hell?

I had the privilege of officiating the wedding of Gettysburg College alumni last weekend. Revelation 21:1-8 has become my favorite passage for marriage ceremonies because it gives a vision of the greatest wedding of all time — God’s. In heaven, Jesus will take His bride (the church) as his own and they will live happily ever after. This passage at the end of the Bible hits all five senses as it compares the mysteries of eternity to marriage .

  1. Sight: “I saw a new heaven and a new earth for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and . . . I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” (Rev. 21:1-2) In heaven, God’s people will be like “a bride adorned for her husband!” Is there anything more beautiful? Consider the hope this offers those ashamed of their flaws and failures — to be seen as supremely beautiful by God!
  2. Sound: “I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.’” (Rev. 21:3) These are the most anticipated words in the whole Bible. Before that great wedding day, we enjoy visits from God, messages from God, and walks with God — engagement, but not marriage. But starting that day, all boundaries will be removed. We will share one home and finally get to enjoy full, intimate access with the one for whom we were made! Consider the hope this offers those who are alone and forgotten.
  3. Touch“He will wipe every tear from their eyes.” (Rev. 21:4) Notice the tenderness of the divine touch. In heaven, God will wipe away all tears. Verse four continues, “death shall be no more, neither shall their be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” If there is no mourning, what tears remain for God to wipe away? I think these are wedding tears. The kind you shed when you look at your beloved and realize “I don’t deserve you, but I am so thankful you are mine!” Before heaven, we share lonely and painful tears. In heaven, we will share tears that result from laughing until you cry and God will be right there: laughing, smiling, and pulling us close to gently wipe away every happy tear! Consider the hope this gives those who presently drench their pillow with bitter tears.
  4. Taste“I am making all things new… It is done! I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of water of life without payment.” (Rev. 21:5-6) All things will be made new as we drink from the spring of life, without payment! “It is done” echoes the words Jesus cried from the cross. We feast for free because God already paid the bill for the wedding banquet. Savor the feast — living water, a new earth… resurrected bodies! Only God can afford such a lavish spread. Consider the hope this offers to those who, after tasting all this world offers, remain thirsty for more!
  5. Smell – God’s wedding banquet delights four of our five senses, but God reserves the sense of smell to warn us of an alternate reality. Hell will be God’s final divorce from covenant breakers. “As for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur.” (Rev. 21:8) Burning sulfur tops the list of terrible odors. The warning is clear. Hell, like divorce, stinks! All those who choose separation from God – through covenant breaking – will eventually be granted their divorce.

People mock the idea of hell the same way newlyweds mock the idea of divorce. They think they are too good for it. They believe their hearts are too pure and their love is too strong. While such thinking appears honorable and optimistic, it is actually quite naïve. We are all capable of turning heaven into hell, through covenant breaking – with God or with our earthly spouse. The relational principles that govern present reality reflect the ones that govern ultimate reality. A healthy marriage, like a right relationship with God, is heaven on earth. But a sick marriage, like a broken relationship with God, is a living hell. Covenant breaking always creates a living hell – in this world, and the next – apart from God’s intervening grace.

So, take warning. Let the mere scent of hell snap you awake like smelling salts. Recognize the stench of: faithlessness, sexual immorality, idolatry and lies. Turn back to your beloved (both God and your spouse) in repentance, humility, and love.

For those struggling in marriage, you will find endurance as you first realize what Jesus has done for you. As covenant breakers, you and your spouse are bigger sinners than you both realize. But, at the same time, you are also more deeply loved than you can imagine. Jesus Christ died for you and your spouse while you were still sinners. (Romans 5:8) Your heavenly spouse entered the hell you created for him. He tolerated its stench and absorbed its pain so that you could delight in the undeserved benefits he provides.

So, take hope! God’s love can transform any marriage, even ones that reek with the stench of hell. Lean on your divine spouse, Jesus Christ, who absorbed hell and offered heaven in return. Only then will you have strength to absorb the living hell that your earthly spouse sometimes drags you through, and discover the miraculous love that empowers you to offer heaven in return.

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Hope for Improved Race Relations Starts With Us

Growing up during the 1980s, I recognized the advantages I had from being an American citizen — freedom of religion, freedom of speech, etc. The living conditions of the average human on the planet, as well as the restrictions placed on citizens behind the Iron Curtain, made me extremely thankful for “the land of the free and the home of the brave”. But, I was largely unaware of the challenges many children in my own city faced. It never occurred to me that I had many advantages simply because I grew up in a two parent home in the suburbs. As a white male, I’ve never feared that a traffic cop would single me out for my race. I was never worried that my neighbors would be suspicious of me because of my color. I never noticed that band-aids always matched my skin. As Peggy McIntosh wrote, “I was taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group.”

My perspective started to change when I became a member of a minority group as an adoptive parent. Adoptive parents don’t have a history of slavery or being viewed as sub-human, but the naive assumptions of the majority culture were still quite aggravating for me. My kids’ bad behavior was excused by well intentioned friends, “Do you think they’re not sharing their toys because of insecurities related to adoption?” (Maybe they’re behaving like all kids sometimes do. Take yours for instance.) “Who is the real father?” (I think you mean birth father?)  “How could any parent abandon their child?” (You mean choose life and sacrificially place their child in a loving family.) For the first time in my life I carried a pain invisible to most — the cost of widespread misinformation, bias and misrepresentation of a whole segment of society (adoptive families).

Loving Our NeighborRecently our campus ministry, DiscipleMakers, invited Dr. Scott Hancock from Gettysburg College to teach at our winter staff conference about African-American history and the challenges of doing cross cultural ministry well. At breakfast I asked Dr. Hancock several questions:

“What’s your opinion on reparations?” (A state sanctioned recompense to descendants of American slaves).

“Why do you ask?” Scott asked. “If you want to write a check, I can tell you where to send it.”

“Uh, well.” I stammered. “I have mixed feelings about reparations. I don’t think you can unscramble scrambled eggs. I believe we are morally obligated to give sacrificially and generously but how do we justify penalizing the innocent descendants of abusers. Besides, it seems politically impossible to implement a program of reparations at this late stage. However, the gracious giving to those in need, whether through government welfare programs or charity seems doable.”

“Well, I wouldn’t characterize the welfare system as gracious giving and you should know that the majority of people on welfare are white.” Scott replied. “But concerning the issue of reparations, I think you have to settle the moral question first. As Christians we must first ask, ‘Does God demand we make reparations to those who have been victimized?’ If the answer is yes, we must work to find a way to fulfill that moral duty.”

“But in this case it seems undoable.” I said.

“Well, Americans take pride in their ability to solve problems previously thought impossible.” He retorted.

“What scripture verses would you use to argue that reparations are a moral duty once the generations that grievously sinned have passed away?” I asked. “The Year of Jubilee commanded reparations and required Israel to address the problem before that generation passed away. But, we are several generations removed from slavery in America.”

“In the Old Testament, God held people responsible for the sins of their forefathers, meaning several generations and not just their immediate parents.” Dr. Hancock replied. “And in Old Testament law, repentance of sin always entailed making recompense to the victim. Repentance was never limited to admitting wrong but included doing whatever you could to right the wrong.”

I had more questions, but my comments left me feeling embarrassed and possibly misunderstood. At each point Dr. Hancock offered clarifying comments that felt similar to the rebukes I usually give to those unschooled about adoption issues. I kept thinking to myself, “But, I have bi-racial children. Some of my best friends throughout my life have been people of color. Please don’t think me a racist.”

Before my breakfast conversation with Dr. Hancock, I merely assumed that white people, like me, deserved more credit than we’ve been given. As I finished the remains of my sausage and eggs, I realized I was guilty of racial bias in ways I had not previously acknowledged. Who knew whites were the largest recipients of welfare? I didn’t. But was my naivety the same as racism? If I admit racial bias but not racism am I telling myself a white lie? (Pun not intended initially.)

The DiscipleMakers winter staff conference forced me to think more carefully about the advantages I have received as a white man — though unavoidable and unearned — and how they have created self-righteous blind spots in me that hurt my friends and acquaintances from various ethnic backgrounds. There are countless ways to take responsibility for healing the racial divide in our culture, but below is a first step that I identified with the help of my co-worker Jordan Eyster.

This semester, the staff working at Mason-Dixon area campuses will launch a new teaching series through the book of Exodus. As a white protestant, I’ve heard (and preached) many sermons about the Exodus that quickly equate the Israelite’s deliverance from Egypt to the Christian’s deliverance from bondage to Satan, sin and death. While this is a good application of the text, it happens to skip past painfully obvious issues that I doubt African-American preachers miss — the defiling enslavement of an entire people group; the lasting psychological damage from seeing people dehumanized for generations; and the just anger of a loving God committed to save, heal and vindicate the oppressed. Previously, I barely touched upon these critical points when preaching through Exodus. I shudder to think how such neglect has affected minority students who continue to feel the sting of oppression and racism that I simply don’t experience as a white man (and am therefore tempted to assume doesn’t still happen).

God, forgive me for my sins. Though often unintentional they dishonor you, My Lord, and grievously wound those made in your image. Help me (help us all) know how to take greater responsibility to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Conversation printed with the permission of Dr. Scott Hancock.

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