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I wrote this in response to one of the craziest arguments I’ve heard for building more walls (and it’s not even political. . .or is it?).

Dreaming of a heavenly city?

I read that a famous pastor believes there will be walls in heaven. In fact, the thought of that excites him. He quoted from the final chapters of the Bible, in The Revelation to John, where it’s written, “[The angel] carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven … . It has a great, high wall with twelve gates” (see chapter 21).

Someone seems to be having a “great, high.”

The angel takes a golden tape-measure (seriously) and shows John, the dazzled visionary, that the walls are one-hundred forty-four cubits high (about 75 yards, or 225 feet, high). A very tall wall. The city itself is 1500 miles square, so that’s a Great Wall indeed.

This tremendously tall wall is no ordinary wall. It’s made of jasper (crystallized quartz) with a foundation of “every jewel,” gates made of pearls (remember “pearly gates”?) and the streets—we all know—are made of pure gold.

If you, like the writer of The Revelation, are bedazzled by opulence and ostentatious ornamentation that makes the Biltmore look like a shack, you’ll love this place.

As the scripture says, and I once believed, “the time is near” for believers to go behind the great, high walls of the City in the Sky. Of course, the story was written 2000 years ago.

I’ve often wondered how churchgoing countryfolk feel about these verses. If heaven is a big, wealthy city with a lot of light and singing going on, it seems strange that anyone who loves a quieter rural life would think that was heavenly. Here in the mountains that sounds rather hellish.

Those who take the Bible literally—word-for-word perfect, autographed by the Author—might explain why the Lord of the Universe would sit on a throne for-EVER in a relatively small walled-in city made of gold and precious jewels or why the Lord would desire a “new heaven and new earth” in the first place. Is the old earth really all that bad?

There are other views of this mystical manuscript we call The Revelation. I seem to remember the historical context for the book was a period of brutal persecution in the Roman empire under the mad Emperor Nero (some scholars say the number 666 was a secret code for Nero). “The Beast,” dragons and other mythological images were used by early Christians to explain their suffering. In that horrible context, a sparkling and safe home in another world sounded pretty good.

Apparently some, like the famous preacher who loves walls, neglect to read their holy book very carefully. There will be no church in the Sky City. “The temple is the Lord God the Almighty.” And no sun either—“the Lord God will be the light.” Here’s a surprising thing: “it’s gates will never be shut.” Walls with gates that are never closed. I guess that part is overlooked.

Who is not allowed to enter those “open” gates in the City of the Lord of Love and Prince of Peace? “The cowardly, the faithless (non-Christians and seculars), the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolaters, and all liars” (those who “practice falsehood” are singled out at least three times here).

So, what happens to all those lying nonbelievers? “Their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulphur.” Makes you wonder: Why would anyone believe their Lord of Love would create such a place of torture? Do you suppose those 225-foot walls are meant to muffle the screams from the lake?

Sorry, but don’t you think it’s time we “get real” about these things?

Like the aforementioned preacher, millions of people have read these sections of sacred scriptures or heard them preached for many a year. Large numbers of the world, many living in extreme poverty outside the walled cities or walled minds, are dreaming of an eternity behind the high walls of the New Jerusalem (sorry, no Jews this time) with its gold, glitter, glory and gleaming God.

Is this a vivacious vision, a positive promise, or a cruel tool for conversion?

In my Baptist youth group days we would sing loud and proud, “I’ve got a mansion just over the hilltop, in that bright land where we’ll never grow old; and someday yonder, we’ll never more wander, but walk on streets that are purest gold!”

Now I would sigh and say: let’s wander freely, enjoying the shadows on the hilltops, growing old gracefully, even if we live in a shack without jewels or gold. Let’s not live for promises of exclusive and expensive, guarded and gated cities in the “sweet by and by.

A walk in the forest would feel heavenly right about now. A real old-earth revelation. And no walls.

Chris Highland
2019

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