Saturday, September 10, 2011

Seven Years, or a Few Days?

And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise. Luke 23:43

Anyone who knew Glen, knew he did not believe in what is sometimes called an “intermediate state”, between our present life and the resurrection.

More precisely, Glen did not believe we have immortal souls. “It is a recipe for being lonely, despised, and laughed at” he often said, referring to stating this “heretical” belief.

“I don’t see it in the scriptures, though there are a number of passages that can be interpreted that way”.

Of those at the Oak Street Bible Shop, Sue had come to believe like Glen. Gary sometimes agreed with Glen, but kept finding passages that seemed to prove all people are immortal in their “soulish” state.

Joy hated for the subject to come up. She knew in her heart we cannot die. She had believed it as a devout Catholic and when she became a Baptist retained this belief. From childhood she knew we are immortal and never wavered in this belief.

Except for the Watchtower people, or Jehovah’s Witnesses, as she called them, no one of a regular church denomination had ever challenged the doctrine of intrinsic immortality.

Then, years ago, along came Glen Brock. “I know the passages people refer to”, he said, and they can seem quite convincing. But, please note one fact. No passage says we are presently immortal, or have immortal souls. It is always by interpretation and never by a direct statement.”

Sue, upon hearing this quoted a proverb, “We easily believe, what we earnestly hope for.” She had a way of bringing such things up from who knows where.

“No one wants to believe we die, or that our loved ones are dead instead of in heaven” she would say.

It had been a while since the subject of death had come up. Joy was content that it be so. The whole subject disturbed her. Deep inside she feared Glen was right, but would never admit this, even to herself.

A few months ago, I was present when the subject was reopened. Gary, always testing everyone and everything, “Like a good Berean”, he would say, decided to challenge Glen the next time he came to the store.

Glen rang the little bell above the door and entered with a smile, saying nothing. Sue felt sorry that he was walking into what she thought of as a trap.

Glen sensed something, “So what’s on everyone’s mind?”, he inquired pleasantly.

Joy wished she was not there, she wished each person could hold their own beliefs and just leave it at that.

Gary spoke, “Glen you know I am pretty well convinced as you are that when we die, we die. I have heard you refute a number of attempts to interpret scriptures that seem to say we have immortal souls. I was very impressed when you talked about Lazarus and the rich man, though I don’t remember your quote at the time...”

Glen rose to the subject,”How about looking at the other Lazarus? is what I said. Compare the story Jesus told to unbelievers, with the narrative of Mary, Martha, and Jesus in John, chapter eleven.”

“I remember now” , Gary smiled as he recalled it. “You said two opposite points of view emerge when we compare the two passages.”

Joy had no idea where this was headed and decided to remain silent. Sue was intrigued with how Glen argued, so patiently, waiting for his listeners to see for themselves.

Glen waited, sensing that more was in view than a reminiscence of a long past discussion.

Gary spoke respectfully, “What I see no way out of, and I have tried, is the thief on the cross who asked Jesus to remember him.”

Glen answered in the same spirit, “You have brought up the hardest scripture I know of to reconcile with the idea that when we die, we die, and are asleep in Christ until He wakes us.”

I have heard a number of people struggle with this passage, only to be laughed at by traditional teachers. Donald Barnhouse mocked a man who said it means Jesus told the thief that day.”

I heard a cassette where in a sneering voice he said “ I’m not telling you Monday, I’m not telling you Tuesday, I’m telling you today!”

Joy broke her silence. “It must mean that Jesus and the thief went to Paradise in their immortal souls. You don’t believe in that descent, but it explains everything doesn’t it?”

Glen anticipated this argument, he had heard it for decades. “There is another interpretation that no one mentions” he relied. It is much simpler than the harrowing of hell idea, and is presented early in the Bible and very literally too.”

Joy, Gary, and Sue remained silent. They had no idea what Glen was referring to. He had never spoken of it that they could remember.

“Let me ask you all a question. There are two lengths of time concerning the same incident in Genesis. Glen began to recite from memory:

"And Jacob served seven years for Rachael; and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her.” Genesis 29:20

Glen saw frowns and looks of non-comprehension. He continued, “Concerning the length of time Jacob served for Rachael, how long did he serve?

“Seven years” said Joy, adamantly.

Gary, cautiously, “But to him it was as a few days.”

Sue spoke with a dreamy expression, “For the love he had to her”.

Glen waited as they all considered this idea. “Which was it” he asked “Seven years, or a few days? Our human experience does not always conform to the calender. Almost two thousand years have passed since the believing thief died, but asleep, the time means nothing to him.

If there is no intermediate state while we sleep, how much time passes for us?” From death to our awakening, how much time has passed?”

“Ever wonder why the story of Jacob and Rachel contains this seeming contradiction?”

Glen looked puzzled, “Do I have an order to pick up? I forgot what I came for.”

“I think I know” said Sue.

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