Rules Against Knowing

Some things are dangerously over our heads.

Revelation 21:18-21 (NKJV)

The construction of its wall was of jasper; and the city was pure gold, like clear glass. The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all kinds of precious stones: the first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, the fifth sardonyx, the sixth sardius, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. The twelve gates were twelve pearls: each individual gate was of one pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.

Of all the things that are hard to comprehend, those things outside of our world—heaven and hell—are the most difficult. Scripture includes many images of heaven but, like the quote above, they are partial and analogical. Another passage in Revelation describes the fallen angels getting kicked out of heaven.

And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great, fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. … And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. — Revelation 12:3–4a, 7–9 (NKJV)

We learn from another reference that heaven is paradise, and that its language is on a level we’re not even allowed to understand. (Note: “the third heaven” refers to the modern concept of heaven—as opposed to the sky or to space. Greek doesn’t have separate words for them; “ou-ra-nos” covers them all.)

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a one was caught up to the third heaven. And I know such a man—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows—how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. — 2 Corinthians 12:2–4 (NKJV)

“Not lawful” implies that there are rules against knowing (or practicing) some aspects of heaven. Wow.

So, as wonderful as heaven is, our foretaste of it is strictly regulated. You’d think God would want us to know a lot about heaven so that we’d be more motivated to get there.

But no. He leaves the door wide open for people to disbelieve—or even to be cynical. To wit:

There is no need to be worried by facetious people who try to make the Christian hope of “Heaven” ridiculous by saying they do not want “to spend eternity playing harps.” The answer to such people is that if they cannot understand books written for grown-ups, they should not talk about them. All the scriptural imagery (harps, crowns, gold, etc.) is, of course, merely a symbolical attempt to express the inexpressible. … People who take the symbols literally might as well think that when Jesus told us to be like doves, He meant that we were to lay eggs. — CS Lewis

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Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.

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