Evangelical Christianity now offers heaven on the installment plan. Through a magical kind of faith we can take advantage of a spiritual lay-away plan. We can sell the gospel on a 90-day payment system. The future can be ours, now.
How does this legerdemain work? With the proper formula, the new magic brings the rabbit out of the hat without the use of mirrors. It is the “name it and claim it” gambit, a ploy that even Houdini failed to grasp. If we name it and claim it we can have heaven and all its benefits now. Before we die. Before Christ comes. Before the kingdom is consummated.
Recently I went to my orthopedic surgeon armed with the hope that somehow I could find relief from degenerative arthritis. He checked my knees, my shoulders, and my spine and concluded, “All you need is . . . a brand new body!” I thought to myself, “Where can I go to get a new body?” I almost said to my doctor, “You know, I have an appointment in heaven. When I get there I will receive a new body. A glorified body. A body with no arthritis. No bones spurs. No aching joints and creaking bones. My new body will be like Jesus’ resurrected body.”
Until then, however, I must endure the daily disintegration of the body I have. In heaven I will be able to walk to the first tee, take out a ball and club, and swing with a fluid motion without spending several minutes stretching and bending to limber up. In heaven (which surely has beautiful golf courses), I won’t have to carry a bottle of Absorbine Junior in by golf bag.
In the meantime I race the clock in this mortal body that seems unable defeat the curse of the Fall. I age. I ache. I move inexorably toward the graveyard where these arthritic bones will someday be laid to rest.
Every Christian who has lived on the earth for the first 1,800 years of Christian history has died. St. Augustine’s body wore out. Thomas Aquinas succumbed to disease. Martin Luther endured countless physical infirmities before he died. Calvin was stricken. Edwards was afflicted. None of the saints of history ever managed to “name it and claim it” until they got to heaven.
Some TV preachers offer the secret the saints all missed. They tell us that God always wills healing. Instant cures for all diseases, all sin, all poverty can be ours for the asking and the claiming. All we have to do is claim the promises. Buy now. Pay later.
They tell us that God never takes anyone’s life. He helplessly wrings his celestial hand while his faithless servants succumb to the ravages of Mother Nature. Mother Nature is nasty. She kills everybody. She is the most ruthless murderer of all time. She kills men, women, and children. She strikes with accidents, wars, and diseases. And Satan is her chief henchman. Nature coupled with the devil makes Murder, Inc. seem like a benevolent charity.
But, we hear, “healing is in the atonement.” And of curse it is. So is sanctification. The final result of our Lord’s atonement will be total freedom from sin and its consequences. In heaven we are promised no pain, no suffering, no death, no sin. God will wipe away our tears once and for all.
I remember the tender moments in my childhood when I scraped my knee and went bawling to my mother. I clutched her apron as she stooped over and kissed away my tears. Her touch on my cheeks ended my sobs.
Now, when my grandson gets hurt, he cries and says, “I need ice-cube.” A cold cube of ice on the sore spot makes everything better. Until the next time. Then another ice cube is required. I made many trips to my mother’s apron. She could stop my tears, but not forever. I still cry. My tears will not cease until God wipes them away in heaven. Then they will vanish. My tear ducts will find use only for the tears of ecstasy.
God promises me a new body. He guarantees a life without pain. But not now. Now he promises me the opposite. He tells me that in the world I will have tribulation. God promises no man freedom from pain and suffering in this world. There is no way to grasp heaven in advance. There is no “buy now, pay later” plan of salvation.
God promises us his presence in the midst of pain. He promises us his comfort. But until the last enemy is finally and fully destroyed, we must walk in faith. We have hope. We have the certainty of a glorious future. But there is no magic.
There is a reason why God forbids the consultation of wizards and fortunetellers. He abhors ungodly magic. We have a future. But it is not ours until the time he has appointed comes to pass. The wizards promise the future now. It is grasping at the promise of God before its time.
Faith without patience is an insult to the Lord of history. I’ll get my new body, but not yet.
This article was originally published in Eternity Magazine, January 1987.