God will one day lead a revolution to overturn the power structures of the world. The biblical writers call this “heaven.” Those at the bottom will be put at the top and vice versa, and it may have nothing to do with how good or righteous we are. The conversation leads to more questions and even some concerns, which Nate and Tim begin to address.
Nate: Okay, so we’re back! Heaven part two, part of this Heaven and Hell series. Go check it out, almostheretical.com, if you haven’t heard the rest. We’re deep in here, so first things first, I do want to let you know that we have a second podcast that we’re doing called Utterly Heretical that is for supporters of the show. If you want to find out more about that, you can do that at almostheretical.com, or you can just go straight to our Patreon page, patreon.com/almostheretical. Okay so, at the end of Heaven part 1, last episode, you had talked about how there’s all these questions. We want to know, what is the question or questions that heaven, the biblical vision of heaven, which maybe that’s multiple things, but that this vision of heaven was the answer to. So oftentimes we just start with the answer, “Here’s what heaven is. Here’s what it’s going to be like. Here’s who it’s for.” But we don’t start with what are the questions that people had in their minds that heaven was the answer for. And so that’s where we want to go. And you listed a bunch of different questions that we want to kind of get to. And one of them, the one that we said we were going to at least start this episode with, was talking about heaven as a revolution. So wait, what’s the question there?
Tim: Yeah, it’s…
Nate: “What is heaven?” [laughs]
Tim: [laughing] No. It’s a part of the question of “How will God set things right?” And so that’s why I kind of tried to frame that I think we, protestant, modern-day Christians, are familiar with that question, but then the paradigm we have for what is wrong and how it needs to be fixed I think is quite different from the paradigm that the biblical authors, or the paradigms that the various biblical authors would have had. So for instance—
Nate: Are you going to start talking about like, angelic beings and all the spiritual realm and all that kind of stuff again?
Tim: [sighs] You know, I don’t have to answer that question. I can talk about weird stuff.
Nate: [laughing] Okay, no but here’s what I want to say. It’s because, it seems like there’s other things that are wrong in the world other than just, “There’s these divine beings that are at war,” or the biblical writers thinking, “There are these divine beings and this other realm that’s at war with us and we need to take back our rightful—” I guess that’s cool, and I want to hear about that. But I also want to know, what about all the real problems in the world? What about the real suffering that’s in our world right now? You know what I’m saying? Even just look around the States for the last year or two and you can come up with enough problems that we need an answer to, we need an ultimate fix for. So I don’t want to just live in the angelic realm. I want to know how are we going to actually fix these other problems, real problems that are going on. Does that make sense?
Tim: Right. It does. I won’t make you live in the angelic realm today, Nate. [laughs]
Nate: I’m just not going to let you off that easily.
Tim: We’ll actually, this episode we’ll probably only brush up against the kind of weird spiritual being stuff. But actually what we’ll mostly get into is actually more socioeconomic, to use our modern language around it, in terms of a reversal of the power structures of this world. What we’ll touch on is that the biblical authors all have a view in which the power structures of this world are intimately connected with power structures in this other world of this heavenly realm where the gods and divine beings and angels and all that live. But we won’t touch on that piece so much. But let me start by asking you, Nate.
Nate: Hit me!
Tim: If you were to try to give the summary explanation of, according to the Bible, in your view past or present, what is wrong and what needs to be fixed?
Nate: Yeah. I feel like I’m pretty good at giving what I used to teach. That’s like what comes to my head really quickly. Which is that there’s the problem of sin. And I don’t know if we want to get to who introduced sin into the world, but sin was introduced into the world, we failed. We fell short, and since then every human has fallen short of the glory of God, and so we need to, even before you do anything there’s this sin problem that needs to be fixed. And that’s what needs to be set right, and so that’s what Jesus set right and if you believe in Him, then you will have all of those sins overlooked, washed away, all this kind of stuff, and go to, whatever the good place is, you’ll go there. And if not you’ll go to the other place. But so that’s the problem, it’s this sin problem. Is that fair, do you think? Or… is that a little to simplified?
Tim: You mean, is that fair to kind of the typical conception?
Tim: Yeah. I think it pretty much is. And what’s interesting, so you say “sin.” What I really think you’re saying and what I really think most people are saying is “guilt.” Right, so you—
Nate: I don’t know. Well, let me talk about it for a second and you tell me if this is guilt or not.
Nate: So you fall short, right? So there’s this measure, there’s this bar, and you don’t measure up to, and it’s the glory of God, it’s perfection, and you don’t measure up to that. There’s nothing actually you could do to measure up to that, so don’t even try. And because you don’t measure up to that, you’ll never be good enough to be in God’s presence. And so that’s the problem, I think, how it usually would be communicated is that’s the problem. Is that guilt?
Tim: Uh… Yeah, so I see. So this second go you emphasized “to be in God’s presence.” So then what you’re articulating is that sin is kind of an obstacle or a barrier, if the goal is for humans to be in God’s presence, to be with God. Which I do—
Nate: Well, that’s what heaven is, right?
Tim: Yes, and I do think that’s a basic building block of the view or the hope described in the scriptures. But then what’s implied is because of essentially the dual doctrines of total depravity and original sin, that all of us are tainted or imperfect or unfit to be in God’s presence, therefore something has to happen to change that status, right?
Nate: Yes, exactly. And this reminds me, our friend Krispin Mayfield wrote a guest blog for Almost Heretical’s blog, you should go check it out, it’s called Hell Anxiety & Attachment Theory. It’s really amazing, but it’s about this, we all have this desire to be accepted, and Christianity starts with, at least in the West over the last few hundred years, it starts with, “You are not good enough to be in God’s presence. There’s something fundamentally wrong about you that needs to be fixed, and God can only be around people that have been fixed.” So whether it’s covering you up with Jesus so that He can’t see that stuff, or changing you.” Even I think in a better view would be people saying, “No, He’s going to change you, He’s going to do the work to change you,” but it’s still starting with, “Something’s wrong about you and there’s nothing you can do about it. But from the day you were born, even before that, something was wrong with you that needs to be fixed for you to be with God.” And I was like, wow. I never really thought about it like that until I started reading some of Krispin’s stuff. But that’s a really messed up place to start the story from, you know what I’m saying?
Tim: Yeah, totally. Totally. Well, and I think, so that way of describing the problem and solution, when you emphasize being in God’s presence, I do think it gets much closer than for instance when we emphasize, “We’re guilty and must be forgiven.” And that’s like when we talk about the chasm thing. Or for instance, “You’re guilty and you’re going to be punished to hell,” and so the goal is to get you out of that line. Right? Get out of the line to hell and get into the line to heaven. So part of the conversation we’re going to have today is to say, if you’re interested, I think one area of study that I’ve found fascinating, we did some conversations on atonement back several months ago, and I didn’t get into it in detail, there is actually a paper on our website if you’re interested. But I just think much of the New Testament language around the problem and the goal, i.e., what did Jesus accomplish? What did His life and death and resurrection and ascension accomplish?, is rooted in an ancient view of cosmology that the Jews shared with many of their neighbors, which is that of sacred space and profane space. And essentially divine contact with humanity or with the profane world. And there was totally a belief that we as we are are unfit to be in God’s presence, but it had nothing to do with guilt or because we weren’t good enough. It actually simply had to do with this idea that we have to prepare ourselves and even the space itself for that contact. And that is what the entire sacrificial system, the entire temple system—
Nate: I was going to say, that’s like temple type stuff, right?
Tim: Totally. That’s what atonement, the Day of Atonement, and the rituals were. It’s why the blood wasn’t sprinkled on the person who’s giving the sacrifice. The blood was sprinkled around the tabernacle itself as essentially an insulating layer of life that would act as a sort of glove between God and the priest that would keep the priest from dying. So it had very little, I would say nothing, to do with God not liking us, which is so often how this gets internalized, the language around atonement gets internalized. And it really had to do with these conceptions of what do we have to do to prepare human space—it started with the tent, the tabernacle, and then the temple—what do we have to do to prepare that space for God to come be in it? And that same language gets talked about the entire world. So where you start the story in Genesis is you have this space, this garden, a paradise—that’s essentially what the word eden means in Hebrew—where God and humans can be together. It’s an overlap of divine space and this new, according to the story, this new world, this new earthy space.
Nate: Are we talking about the garden on this one, then?
Tim: Not quite.
Nate: Oh okay.
Tim: Just kind of trying basically to get us to see the problem through a more nuanced view.
Tim: But basically so much of the language around atonement is the idea that Jesus’ death and blood, just like the blood of animals, gets essentially, metaphorically sprinkled over the entire earth so that all of this world has now been ritually, ceremonially prepared for contact between the divine and humans. And that’s why, for instance, you get food now declared to be clean and acceptable for eating and there’s no more temple, and the Holy Spirit now is able to indwell humans on mass scale. It’s this idea that it very much was a sense of, “We can’t be with God anymore,” that’s this idea of Adam and Even getting kicked out of the garden and there being these crazy, fiery cherubim set at the entrances, to this picture at the end of Revelation where you have this image of God and mankind dwelling, and there’s no need for a temple structure. And there’s no need for sacrifices because we have been prepared to interact and make contact with God. But again, that has nothing to do with the idea that God doesn’t like us. It actually has to do with an entire set of assumptions that none of us believe today. Like, we don’t believe that there is some fact about the cosmos that makes us need an insulating liner of blood.
Tim: So again, we can get into that later. It gets back to the atonement conversation, but related, so when we’re trying to think about the aim, then the problem that’s described, and therefore the solution that is presented, I do think being in God’s presence is a big piece of it. But the biblical story is totally focused on a whole other piece that at least in my past was almost completely ignored, which has to do with who is ruling. Who is in charge. Where power lies. And so again, you go back to the very first page of the Bible, the whole point of God creating humans, the human, adam, is to rule over this new world. And again we talked in earlier episodes where I tried to make a case that the main story that Genesis 1-11 is telling is that a war broke out between these divine cosmic beings and humanity, and the logical implication that many Jews thought this through is the sense, the belief that these angelic beings, the serpent for example, was jealous that God had given humanity the right to rule over this space. And basically they wanted the right to rule. That was one of them, where we asked “Why is there a snake in the garden?” That’s one way of answering that question, is there was a snake in the garden because the snake and other divine beings, or this dragon serpent figure, wanted to seize humanity’s right to rule here. But then what happens… you get the strange stories, there’s the snake in the garden, and then there’s the strange stories in Genesis 6 of gods coming down and sleeping with human women. But then most of the rest of what you see in Genesis 1-11 isn’t about weird cosmic beings, it’s about people. So you have Cain and Abel and violence happening there; and then you have Lamech and the violence is multiplying; and then you have the tower of Babel scene and the flood all happening in between. And most of that is not necessarily related to a war for power between the divine realm and the human realm. It’s saying that that war for power has created a war for power amongst humans. So that starts literally in the first descendants of Adam and Eve, according to the Cain and Abel story, if you’re reading this sort of literarily. But the effect, the literary effect is that warring is spiraling out of control, and that’s part of what this tower of Babel scene is depicting is the creation… so it’s essentially the tower of Babylon, that the creation of an empire to rule, one empire, one society who thinks it’s their job to rule over the whole world. That is the epitome of what has gone wrong. Now think about this, we know who wrote the scriptures. And we know when for instance, roughly, that Genesis 1-11 was added to the scriptures. It was when Israel was living under the oppression of the Babylonian empire. So a greater paradigm is that there is massive, real, political upheaval, a real political, socioeconomic, sociopolitical problem. Not just like, “We aren’t right with God.” It’s not the hyper-individualistic Christianity of western protestantism. It’s this universal large-scale, we’re talking about nations and communities and societies and civilizations, problem. And then when you move forward into Genesis, I know this is covering a lot of ground real fast, what’s the first thing that happens after the tower of Babel? It’s the idea that God is going to start a nation amongst all the nations of the world that will be essentially the new Adam and Eve to rule the world and to rule it in the kind of way, not like the tower of Babel, the anti-Babel, the anti-Babylon, that would rule it in the kind of way that would actually bless everyone in the whole world. So what we know and is obvious and comes out everywhere throughout the rest of the scriptures is that Israel believed that its entire identity was to inherit the right and the power to rule the world. Right? And we talked about how dangerous a religious idea that is, but we also know that Israel never got close to ruling the world, right? Like we talked about last time, Jerusalem was the best thing they ever had going and Jerusalem has been ruled by other nations as long as it was ever ruled by Israel or Judah. And so a major part of the problem in every biblical writer’s head, the writers, the redactors, the editors, in every Jew, even if their theology was not good, every Jew knew that one of the major problems was that they were supposed to be ruling the world as God’s chosen ambassadors, and instead they were being ruled over. So when they were to ask the problem, “How will God set things right?” that in large part meant, “How will God bring us to be ruling rather than being ruled over?” And I think there’s a piece that happens here that you can kind of trace through various pieces of scripture, that that becomes a more universal scope, a more universal question of, “How will all of the little, marginalized, oppressed peoples in the world be redeemed from the empires of the world who are colonizing and ruling over them?” And what we’ll see is that heaven and the hope of God setting things right is in large part simply saying that will be switched. There will be a reversal. And the little guy will rule the big guy. Those that were in power and in charge will no longer be in power.
Nate: But if heaven isn’t saying there’s going to be new rules about how that ruling happens, then that’s really not good news in my opinion. Because like we’ve talked about before on the show, once you’re in power, you end up just doing the same things that the others did and now you’re the big guy and everyone else is the little guy, and you’re taking it back out on them. Even if you start out with good intentions, that’s not usually the way it ends. And so there’s got to be some ethics or something around this as to why Israel would have been the ones to rule and the way they were supposed to rule and the way that is then going to happen in this heaven space. At least in the biblical writers’ minds. Is that true?
Tim: Well, totally, and I totally agree with you. But I mean, how else is Jesus good news? Other than to say that the person and being who believed and others believed about Him that He deserved and inherited the keys to the kingdom, all power on heaven and earth, to rule not just the entire world but to rule to heavens, that that is the same person who decided it was better to wash His friends’ feet than to allow them to serve Him? That is the beauty of Christianity. And so if we just have a story that one people group is destined to rule on God’s behalf instead of the other people, like I’m not interested at all. If it’s just a matter of who’s in charge, if that’s really all we’re talking about, you’re right. It’s just more toxic religion. But if what we’re saying is that the entire story is actually flipping on its head what ruling even means, then we’ve got something potentially really profound and beautiful there. So we’ll talk about that. We’ll talk about heaven and what ruling means, but what I first want to see is I don’t think we can fully get to that question, essentially how Jesus and the early Christianity that formed around Jesus, how that totally subverted the ways of power and put forth a possible world in which we aren’t just racing each other to the top and taking turns ruling one another but actually envisioned a world where everyone rules by the fact that no one rules. That was actually the vision, but I think before we can get there, it’s kind of like when we’ve had the conversations and it’s like, you always push back on like, “Well doesn’t the line of good and evil run between all of us individually?” And I go, “Yes, but let’s not jump there first. Let’s get a big picture fact in place first, which is that not all evil is the same.” And one thing I think we need to get in here first is that a major part of the conception, forget the idea for instance of just Israel being appointed the ones to rule, a major part of the conception is that part of what the biblical authors believed God was committed to ultimately and in the end was reversing the power structures of this world. Now how we would keep the reversal from just becoming the next worst empire, that’s a good and important question, but I think that we should tackle that second. First we should just look at the fact that there needs to be a reversal, and I think we’ll be a little surprised at just how plain and simple we see some of these ideas of there being essentially a divine coup which overthrows the empires.
Nate: Okay, so you said a coup? So explain that a bit. When did this start, how does this work? Who’s doing the coup-ing?
Tim: [laughs] Well okay, let’s go back to a story. Let’s have a Bible study, Nate.
Nate: Let’s do it.
Tim: Let’s go back to a story that we actually just looked at recently when we were talking about hell, and I know it’s one that in your past has been super formative.
Nate: Sheep and the goats?
Tim: Not sheep and the goats, the other one. The rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16.
Nate: Oh okay. The sheep and the goat!
Tim: [laughs] Yes. So again, we talked about, when we looked at it we were talking about hell and we pointed out it’s not trying to teach us the mechanics of hell or Hades, which is really what’s talked about here, but it does reveal some of the underlying assumptions. But let’s not just focus on the idea of like, “How are bad people punished?” or whatever. And I think we’ll just notice some interesting things in the story. So let’s just go classic style and have you read it. Luke 16:19.
Nate: Alright. I do not bring a sword with me to the podcast, so I will just be jumping on the computer.
Nate: All the way to 31?
Tim: Go for it.
Nate: The Rich Man and Lazarus:
19 There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, “Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.” But Abraham replied, “Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.”
He answered, “Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.” Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.” “No, father Abraham,” he said, “but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.” He said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”
Tim: Okay, so knowing we’re talking about what we’re talking about and that I just threw out language like a coup, what… do you notice anything interesting? Or I guess do you notice anything missing I guess in terms of an explanation that you would sort of assume to be here?
Nate: Why did they go to the places they went?
Tim: Right. When we talked about it I said an implication that I think is a fair implication from the story and I think one that most of us make, but actually isn’t in this story at all, which is the idea that the rich man had unjustly neglected Lazarus.
Tim: But the story actually doesn’t say that. And the story actually doesn’t say that the rich man did anything wrong, right? So we sort of read this and we’re like, “Oh there was a good guy,” I think is the assumption we make. There was a good guy, a good Jew, named Lazarus who happened to be a beggar, and there was a bad guy who doesn’t get a name, he’s just this bad rich guy. And then I think we kind of fill in the gap in terms of why he was a bad guy, like what he did.
Nate: That’s true. Interesting.
Tim: You kind of always made that same assumption that basically?
Nate: Yeah, I preached that, man!
Tim: But what’s interesting, in the passage is an explanation for why they go where they go!
Nate: Uh, okay, 25? “Remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things.” That one?
Tim: “But now he is comforted here and you are in agony.” And nowhere in there does it talk about sin or guilt or righteousness or anything. But it gives us an explanation. This dude Lazarus had a bad life. He was poor, miserable, sick. And you had a good life. And the picture being painted here that’s just assumed that we’re all on the same page is that what God’s going to do is switch that. It’s going to be reversed. So I think we’ve been trained to think with this sort of moral compass that then fills in what this text isn’t saying, and then when we fill it in that way we ignore what the text is actually saying, which is that the rationale is simply reversal.
Nate: Yeah. I think when some of the words in there kind of trigger or send us back to other pictures we’ve heard, like “chasm,” right? There’s this great chasm between us. We picture the two cliffs, and then that whole thing comes back to us, and then we fill in all the details with all of that stuff. And I was thinking about this today, we just want so badly to, you see it on any church doctrinal statement or statement of beliefs or whatever, there’s, “Here’s what we believe and then here’s all the verses that if you put them all together you’ll come up with this belief.” And this is exactly what’s happening here. This story, if you just take it from this story and what can we learn or what were the people supposed to learn when they heard this, or why was this written, you don’t necessarily get to any of that, right? But when you combine it with a bunch of other things and get the “biblical” vision of heaven and hell, the biblical vision of salvation or whatever topic you want to go for, you pull all these verses together. And you know, you’re trying to use the context of what that verse was, but you’re pushing all these contexts together to come up with one thing, and “Here are the nine verses for why we put that in our doctrinal statement.” You know what I’m saying? And I think that’s what’s happening here.
Tim: Totally. So some of it again I think is justified because the idea in the story is that there is a warning. That’s why the rich man says he wants to send Lazarus. So I remember you just reading it and you’re like, “Well, the rich man still thinks he can boss Lazarus around. So even in the afterlife he’s treating Lazarus like a slave.” I mean, maybe. Yeah.
Nate: Oh, I never saw that one. I never heard that one. That’s interesting.
Tim: Oh, gotcha. So yeah okay. That could be a fair reading. But it’s not explicitly there. It could be implicitly written in, but there is definitely a sense, there’s an idea in which the rich man could have lived differently and then have received a different judgment. So that’s there. But then what we’re attaching to that is that he was unjust or unfaithful or unrighteous. But I think especially knowing that this story is in Luke and only in Luke, the actual assumption when you’re reading through Luke is that what was supposed to happen, remember the other rich man that Luke talks about? The rich young ruler that comes to Jesus?
Nate: Yeah. And he won’t give up all his stuff and give it to the poor.
Tim: Yeah. He asks basically, “What do I have to do to go to heaven?” Only he doesn’t think he’s going to go to heaven. He wants eternal life. “What do I have to do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus says, “Go sell all your stuff and give it to the poor.” So why do you think Luke includes these two stories? There’s a real rich man with a real command from Jesus, which doesn’t happen very often, and this story that Jesus is telling of some other unnamed rich man! And really fascinatingly, a poor man named Lazarus, and then when you compare with John, the gospel of John, Jesus’ real friend Lazarus, it’s really interesting to reflect on that. But the assumption in Luke here is that what repentance would have been is this rich man giving away all his things and selling his possessions and giving his money to the poor. What does that mean? It means that what was supposed to happen in this life is essentially willfully enacting what you believe will happen in the afterlife: a reversal of fortune and power. So the idea is that the rich in this life and the poor in this life, the poor are stuck because the rich won’t give up their riches. The beggars of the world like this man Lazarus are not effective in their begging, right? The rich and powerful don’t listen and willfully choose to lay down their own rights in order to help out their neighbor to level the playing field. And so the hope is in a higher power to enact what these biblical writers like Luke think is justice and restoration and shalom, which most modern westerners would call socialism. Divine socialism is God doing the Robin Hood thing and taking from the rich to give to the poor. So Jesus tells rich people to do that here and now and you’ll have eternal life. Then he tells a story that those who don’t do that in the here and now will have that done for them in the afterlife. Now again we talked about how this is good news for one party. It’s bad news for the other party. Luke is super fascinated, he’s super captivated especially with economics, and there’s no separation. You read through Luke’s gospel people, there’s talk about money, rich people, poor people everywhere. But this basic idea of a reversal of fortune, a reversal of power including economic power but not limited to economic power, it’s all over the place and it runs through the Old Testament, and we miss it. We miss it because we’ve in one sense spiritualized everything. So look at where else this shows up is the beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount. It’s super obvious. Actually, do you remember, Nate? We got in an argument back in the day with some of the other people we were doing ministry with about how to interpret the Beatitudes? Do you remember that at all?
Nate: Oh, was this like, “Are you supposed to try to be these things?”
Nate: Or are you just blessed if you are that? Yeah.
Tim: I just remember the argument because it was pretty typical to the argument that I think most Christians have had at some point about how to interpret the blessings which we call the Beatitudes. Which is, “Blessed are the poor, so how do we become poor?” Like, “How do we become spiritually poor? What does it mean to be meek?” One of the pastors in the church network I used to come from did a whole series on how to become all these things. There are a variety of ways that Christians have spiritualized, and usually western, wealthy compared to the rest of history and the rest of the world, that wealthy people have rationalized how the Beatitudes are not what they simply seem to be, which is Jesus saying that some portion of society is blessed and another portion of society will not be blessed. We’ve tried to spiritualize them so that we can universalize them. So that if a rich person shows up to church on Sunday that they can fit into the picture, right? Or if the ruler of the empire shows up.
Nate: Or if your entire church is rich people.
Tim: Right. Yeah. Or if Constantine becomes a Christian, he can find his place in the Beatitudes. That’s just not what it’s saying! It’s simply Jesus declaring good news, the gospel, to the poor people. To the miserables, to the oppressed, to the marginalized. Why? Because the long-awaited reversal is about to happen. So why does Jesus yell and act really angry and harsh towards some people and then tell other people, “You are blessed and you are about to receive good things”? For instance, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”
Nate: So this seems like the harshest criticism is to the people who should be enacting this now, the religious people, but are actually doing the opposite. So there’s like other people that maybe don’t even know they should be enacting this, and He’s not crazy harsh against them, there’s a warning or whatever, but then there’s the people that are the religious people who should be doing this now in preparation for, in keeping with what heaven will be like, and they’re not. They’re actually doing the opposite, and that’s who He’s the harshest with.
Tim: Yeah, and it’s the people who are actually in power within Israel, the Pharisees and the priests. So these are the leaders and the priests. They’re basically the social equivalent of the megachurch pastors and your local governor. And He scolds them constantly, and these are the people He yells to about Gehenna. And then He goes around to poor, miserable, not perfect people, prostitutes, who don’t line up with anything like our modern western Focus on the Family, so-called biblical family ethics, right? And embraces them, accepts them, and declares that they are blessed. And the whole point is that the whole thing is about to be flipped on its head. So the kingdom of God, when Jesus says, “Good news, the kingdom of God is here!” When all the gospels open up with good news that the kingdom of God has come near, how does for instance Mary, in the Magnificat, this is where I said I think this is one of the most clear and simple depictions of what the gospel was to people 2,000 years ago. You see a part of Mary’s song was praising God for, starting in verse 52, “He has brought rulers down from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.” Nowhere in there is it like, only really, really good poor people or hungry people. Or only the really, really bad rich people. Or only the really cruel, violent rulers get cast down from their thrones. Or only the really religious humble people get lifted up. Mary was a poor, marginalized woman of color who has a basic hope that God is the kind of God, that her God, YHWH, is the kind of God that will lead a revolution in which her oppressors will be cast off and the other oppressed people alongside her will be lifted up. And not only did she have that hope, she believed that that’s the entire purpose and aim of Jesus. That’s what the thing is about is accomplishing the reversal of power. So when you start to see this stuff, you see that it’s all over. I mean, it’s the whole logic, a couple ways to interpret this, but the whole idea of “the first will be last and the last will be first.” You see it in Paul’s language everywhere. When we did the gender series, I tried to keep hammering home the idea that in all of the passages where we’ve been trained to read them as Paul reinforcing patriarchal power dynamics, telling women that they need to submit even more and men that they need to be in charge even more, that in every single situation if you read more carefully, you realize he’s doing the opposite based on what he thinks is a basic ramification of the gospel, of Jesus. Is that to follow Jesus means that you are to relinquish your power over other people, and if you’re not the kind of person who wants to choose in this life right now to relinquish your power over for instance your spouse, or as he writes to Philemon, the letter to Philemon, he’s threatening a slave owner and saying, “If you won’t release essentially your right to see your slave as a slave but instead choose to treat him as an equal brother, that you’re proving ineffective in following Jesus.” It’s exactly the same idea in the rich man and Lazarus story. Or the rich young ruler. Are you willing to relinquish your economic power over the poor person standing next to you? If not, okay. Well then you’re just not willing to follow Jesus, because that’s what it means to follow Jesus in these writers’ minds, and therefore that reversal will be forced upon you. So the view is that the reversal’s going to happen. That’s the hope for most of the people in the world, the 99%. And that we either have an option, all of us have the option to opt in. It’s not like Christianity or the gospel or Jesus isn’t available to everyone. The point is that to the people with power and money, that it costs them. You see this everywhere, this is where the count the cost stuff comes. That it costs them because what it means to opt in is to opt out of your power, to opt out of your socioeconomic status and to go down the ladder. That’s the whole washing of feet and becoming a servant rather than lording over others. Again, I just think this is the basic building block of Christianity. I know it’s been, we’ve framed this as totally the opposite, where most of us have experienced Christianity that reinforces those in power and reinforces a desire for gaining and keeping power.
Nate: Give me that really quick. So what does that look like? Gaining and keeping power, reinforcing that? What do people actually experience in their church? That doesn’t seem like it’s all about power, right? It seems like it’s all about Jesus and the gospel, so what would they see there as far as what it looks like to double down on power?
Tim: I mean, I think it shows up in a thousand ways. The entire way that we have organized pastors as individuals who basically make the decisions in a church I think is… and pastors, depending on the kind of style of church, and then these elder boards where basically you have different tiers of people who have different authority to make decisions, I know everyone that’s doing that is rooting that in what they think Paul is saying about the calling of elders and all that. We did an episode back in the day trying to debunk that. I think that entire way of thinking about organizing people in a community is antithetical to Christianity. I think the entire framework of complementarianism is just this, disguised as Christianity. It’s saying that actually what God wants is one group of people, men, to be in charge; and another group of people to not be in charge. That that is the biblical ideal the norm and what we need to do is reinforce that. And then of course, we’ve seen so much of the various forms in America and Russia and so many other places where the way that the church approaches culture and politics is to try to gain power within the culture, to change the laws, to enforce its culture upon the society and essentially is kind of like a takeover. It’s like the church as kind of like an army out in the world. There are a thousand different ways, but honestly anytime you see a hierarchy, a chain of command. And I know this sounds extreme and radical and I sound like a crazy hippie liberal, but I have seen this work, and it doesn’t have to be crazy and extreme and radical. You can be a normal person with normal struggles and whatever and a job, and real life and participate in capitalism and still spend your life trying to relinquish your power over other people. It works in marriage, it works in parenting, it just… it’s actually a good and effective way to live.
Nate: Yeah, yeah. And I think we should do even more on this show about that, like practically what does that look like? Because I think there’s a lot of people that are like, “Yes, I agree, and now I have no clue what this looks like.” Because, and I think this is the other tricky part with this, as I was listening to you talk about what’s going to happen to the powerful, what’s going to happen to the weak, what the powerful should be doing right now, the powerful and the rich, I think the other confusing piece here is we often don’t know who’s what. Like who actually are the powerful and the rich and who are the weak and the poor? You know what I’m saying? It’s such, it’s so blurry sometimes. I mean I think the poor know who they are oftentimes, but I don’t know. You know what I’m saying? What does this look like?
Tim: I know… yes and no. If the way you’re approaching this is like, “Oh shoot, the rich go to hell and the poor go to heaven, how do I make sure I’m in the right category?” Well then yeah, where do you draw the line, how much of your stuff is enough to give away, you can get into all that. And honestly, I would just say if that’s where you’re at, you’re probably not thinking very—and this is going to sound cheesy or cliche—you’re probably not thinking very Christianly in the sense that the point is not, “How do you get in the right line?” The point is, “What’s the best way to live your life?” But if what your approach is, the way that you’re asking that kind of question is to try to figure out practical ways to enact the Jesus paradigm of giving away your power so that others and flourish, just look at, think about for a sec, reflect on the scene that the gospels give to us of Jesus enacting a foot washing. Many churches in many traditions every year before Easter try to remember this event and enact it by going through a kind of ceremonial foot washing to enact the service. But remember that all of Jesus’ friends were dirt poor! They had nothing, and they spent the years they were traveling with Jesus giving up whatever they had already had, which was probably like a fishing boat and a clay hut, and walking around. If they had had anything, Jesus told them to get rid of it, so they were intentionally the poorest of the poor and were dependent on their other poor neighbors for even basic provision. Within that set of poor people, Jesus saw power dynamics at play. For instance, those poor people knew which of the other poor people were supposed to wash the feet. And so what He did is He, even within a subset where these are all the poor who are being blessed, He saw a power dynamic at play where one group was tasked with the menial service because another group, the men and those men that were close to this rabbi, inherited and didn’t challenge the cultural norm which said that the women and the servants were supposed to do those jobs. And Jesus saw that one practical thing. Like, don’t get caught up in the foot washing piece of it, because we don’t do that anymore.
Nate: I don’t want anyone touching my feet.
Tim: [laughs] Yeah, right. But the point is He saw one practical way and He used that as an example that we’re still talking about 2,000 years later of how very everyday, practical situations present the possibility for totally reversing the norm. And so that’s actually where I think 90% of this takes place, is those little interactions. Which again, if you ever encounter them, they have the potential to be absolutely enormous and life-changing if someone is finally treated with equality and equity when they’re used to being treated as less than. So this is the first step, is this picture. And we’ll probably get into the book of Revelation soon, the entire book of Revelation is essentially a reflection on this basic idea, that the transition from this age to the new age, or from the current state of the world to a new restored, renewed, better state of things, is a revolution and a reversal of power. Now something that the book of Revelation is playing with is kind of the timing issues of this revelation—er, of this revolution and the process. So we’ll get into some of this later, but one thing that we’ve, one way that we’ve simplified heaven that I think has kind of kept us from seeing this is we’ve kind of thought of everything as this instantaneous change, because we’re usually thinking that we die and then we go somewhere else. The reason why you get all this crazy imagery and this whole thousand year war and all of these armies coming out, and these monsters and sea creatures and dragons and beasts and all this stuff in the book of Revelation is it’s playing with a depiction that the transition itself from this earth to the new world, call it heaven for now—
Nate: It’s like a process? An ongoing process.
Tim: It’s a literal but not literal revolution. So what the book of Revelation is playing with is that… how do real revolutions happen? How was Israel trying to enact its own revolution under Rome? We have accounts of this, of the Maccabean revolution. You raise up a militia. You find an effective leader or set of leaders. You gather arms and you eventually have the strength, or not, to overthrow the empire. The Maccabeans tried this. It failed. A bunch of Jews got killed. And this is where you get some of the apocalyptic language in Jesus’ day where He’s saying, “Don’t do that. This is going to happen again, you’ll all be destroyed again, Jerusalem’s going to get absolutely reamed.” That’s where you get the language in Matthew of “Get the heck out of here, go up to the hills, it’s going to be gnarly.” and then you get that just tear-jerking line when He’s making the triumphal entry of saying, “O Jerusalem, if you only knew. If you people only knew what would bring you peace.” And then what we know historically is thirty years later there was an attempt at a revolution and it failed, and thousands of Jews died because of it. But so the picture is that’s what it takes. Someone’s got to knock off the head honcho, right? Nebuchadnezzar’s not going to lay down his arms. Julius Caesar’s not going to give up his power. And so typically what happens is a war, and then whoever wins the war ends up in control. So whether or not the writer of the book of Revelation actually believed that Christians should be or would ever be taking up arms and participating in a real violent war or violence whatsoever, or whether he’s subverting that entire idea and trying to reenforce nonviolence, you can get into that. And there’s a good case to be made for the book of Revelation as actually making a case for nonviolence. But what it’s doing is it’s playing on the shared imagination of Jews and early Christians that the transition will be a revolution in which, it doesn’t just happen momentarily, but actually what you see in the book of Revelation is the most honored, the martyrs of the faith, the kind of heroes of early Christianity, they’re the ones who are actually chosen to be at the front of the lines in the revolution. So you have all this crazy war imagery and this weird, it seems like this weird story of a cosmic war, but the whole framework for why there would be a war is because right now the empires, the Roman empire and then it’s kind of depicted as the prototypical Babylonian empire, these are the beasts. These empires described as beasts need to be overthrown. And then you have the angels get involved and the cosmic beings get involved and humans involved and all that stuff.
Nate: Oh, we’re back. We’re back, Tim!
Tim: [laughing] Tap ‘em in! We could get into all the details. The whole point is that shared assumption in everyone’s head is somehow, some way there’s got to be an overthrow of power, and that God is on the side and committed to doing it, and that what Jesus somehow did was basically began the revolution.
Nate: Yeah, that’s super weird. I just get really uncomfortable with the idea of a war, you know it brings the holy war and all that type of stuff. Um, starts getting really strange. Unless it’s a war where you run out there and then let everyone shoot you and that’s you… like Jesus, you know? To overcome the powers of evil He succumbed to the powers of evil and let them do their worst against Him. Unless it’s like that it just sounds like, how is it not just going to turn into this other side having power and they got it through violence? Um, yeah. We can talk about that… on Utterly Heretical, maybe. You should check that out, it’s our other podcast that we have for Patreon supporters. You can find out more at patreon.com slash… what is it? Oh, almostheretical. I forgot, I forgot the name of the show for a second. We’ve got two shows now… anyways. Yeah that’s fascinating, it’s just a little uncomfortable. And… this is some Utterly Heretical stuff here, as in this is stuff we would put on that show, but I don’t know how that makes me feel about heaven. I think I feel more confused about heaven now. You know, the first half of the show when you were talking about, it’s this reversal of power, that makes a little bit more sense. I still have some questions or issues or problems or whatever, but that makes a little more sense. But then when it gets into this, the start of the revolution and they’re going to be taking over and there’s angels and demons and all this stuff, that gets kind of weird to me, honestly.
Tim: No, totally. And it is weird. And I’m not even asking anybody to get excited about it or believe it or envision it. I’m bringing it up to just point out that one of the basic assumptions shared by I think all the biblical writers and Jesus was that one of the things that is awful about this world is the way that empires rise up and crush everybody. You know? There are a few who have power and good things in this life and there are many who have bad things in this life, and that the basic hope shared by those who are oppressed with bad things is that God would change that. And the invitation, I think the basic idea is that the invitation is everyone is invited to participate in a non-scarce, universally peaceful world. But where you see, I think a decent rationale for some sense of judgment which could go down the road towards creepy ideas of hell is the idea of those who don’t want to participate in that kind of world, and who want to take advantage of others and raise up kingdoms to destroy and enslave and conquer others. And what I think is beautiful and fascinating… if you don’t understand what I’m talking about, you don’t get the book of Revelation, forget that stuff. What is beautiful, and we’ll get to this because again this is part two—part one is a socioeconomic and political overthrow where the poor are raised up and the rich are cut down. It is cosmic socialism. That is the view shared by all of the biblical authors and that is what they consider to be good news. But then what Jesus uniquely gives to the world is a vision in which every single human being, the Adam and Eve, the human, all humans, and then every Christian, no matter Jew, Gentile; male, female; slave or free, are coheirs. Right, we’ve touched on this; Paul uses this language often. Coheirs: everyone is a ruler. Everyone rules. And the only world, the only heaven possible that remains heaven is a world where everyone rules because no one will rule over a single other person. And so that world, this is what I’m saying, is the biblical authors’ view of heaven requires that, especially the Christian authors, the New Testament authors. It requires a world in which ruling ends because everyone rules. And so I know I’ll probably beat this thing to death. Complementarianism, the belief that men are to in some form, even if it’s small, rule over women, is literally anti-Christian. And complementarianism could not exist in the kingdom of God as all of the New Testament authors understand the kingdom of God. Because if anyone of us believes that we have a right—natural right, divine right, religious right—to be in even some small position of authority over the others, like to think that someone else should be washing our feet, then the whole thing falls apart. It doesn’t work. So clearly you can’t ever get to actually participating in war if you’re holding this ideal. I think you can’t even… like sexism, patriarchy, racism, none of that can even survive here, let alone holy war. So we can unpack that all, but if you take anything away from this, it is that all of this language about ruling and Israel being the chosen ones to rule, all of that has to be, however you understand it, subverted and undermined entirely by the Jesus ethic of relinquishing power over other people.
Nate: Alright. Uh, this is part 2 of the Heaven series. I think we’re calling it Hell & Heaven, and so it’s really part 5 if you count the three Hell episodes, and then this is the second of the Heaven episodes. And they’re all together on the website at almostheretical.com, you can check that out. We love hearing from you. We read and respond to every single email we receive. You can email us: email@example.com. And we do, we have extra content for Patreon supporters. That’s a whole second podcast. We’re going to be doing a conference call with one of the tiers of the Patreon supporters. We’d love you to be a part of all that and join this community. And you can do that at patreon.com/almostheretical. And we’ll continue next time with the Hell & Heaven series. Yeah. Thanks for being on this journey with us. You’re not alone. You’re not crazy, and I hope this show helps you know that and gives you some help along the way in not feeling so crazy and alone. And that’s why we keep doing this. Thanks so much for spending some with us today. We’ll see you next time.
Tim: Peace, y’all.