This is the third installment of my review on Mike Gantt’s Jesus and His Kingdom: The Biblical Case for Everyone Going to Heaven.
I’d like to note that thus far, I haven’t actually responded to universalism in this series, at all. Like any worthwhile writer, Mike has simply been laying the groundwork for his case–laying more bricks for our wall of understanding, as he eloquently put it–and I think he’s doing an excellent job. So, please don’t be let down if some or all of today’s post is hardly related to universalism. I assure you we’ll get there. I have faith that Mike will explain the “who-what-when-where-why” of his beliefs as the chapters proceed.
That said, the following jumped out as directly relevant to the recent discussions on NDE around here, and specifically, a comment from Christopher:
The third idea is that at death the spirit of the person leaves the body and departs to a place the Bible calls Sheol.
This partly answers Christopher’s question of how demonstrating disembodied consciousness can be considered strong evidence for various forms of theism, specifically Christianity and Judaism. Of course, the apparent problem for Christianity and Judaism is that the vast majority of NDE accounts report enlightening, loving encounters with a divine being, not the cold, dense, dark atmosphere of Sheol. Is this evidence Christianity and Judaism got it wrong? I don’t think it is. That’s a topic for the thread if anybody’s interested.
Mike gives us a battery of verses indicating the general direction of Sheol as “down” from the Earth. He notes that the “nether” in netherworld comes from neoþera, a word meaning down. As he explains later in the chapter, this lends understanding and a literal meaning to the phrase, raised from the dead. He illustrates how the Bible is internally consistent in this regard, and I wholeheartedly agree:
According to these Scriptures, and the many like them elsewhere in the New Testament, Jesus was to be “raised up.” Therefore, He was said to be “risen.” The event was called a “resurrection” from the dead. He had been “brought up from the dead.” Kind of consistent, huh?
Mike takes special care to highlight the fact that Sheol–though perhaps an unfamiliar word in an ancient book–actually denotes something that finds expression in many cultures from antiquity to today. It seems to me he’s trying to demystify the word. He uses this to illustrate that the Bible speaks a language with which we are all familiar.
Next, Mike turns to the story of Saul and the medium, and I don’t have much to say about it save for one question. Mike wrote,
Samuel does not like being disturbed. (Now we know why all those grave markers say “R.I.P.”: rest in peace.) Notice also that he blames the disturbance on Saul for “bringing me up.”
From that, I got the impression Mike thinks the medium actually brought Samuel up [Mike, can you clarify for me there?]
Next, Mike makes a comment that had previously eluded my attention, and that I suspect is the first real anchor for his argument that will follow:
Let me pause to emphasize the point that the Bible that Jesus read is consistently portraying everyone as going to Sheol. Not just the wicked, not just the rebellious Korah and his co-conspirators, not just the enemies of God, but the friends of God: Rachel, Jacob, Job, David, David’s innocent infant, Jonathan, Samuel. Throughout what we call the Old Testament, the portrayal is consistent and clear: all human beings go down to Sheol at death.
This never occurred to me, and I suspect Mike might reason that the new promise is just a reversal of the old curse: whereas everyone went to Sheol before, everyone goes to heaven now, on account of Jesus’ provision. While I don’t endorse this position, I’m certainly not closed off to it, nor would I mock it or imply that Mike is some sort of heathen who can’t read his Bible right. Rather, I’m genuinely interested in hearing the rest of his case.
Although, I can’t help but wonder: why does Mike spend any time witnessing to people or trying to convince them of Jesus’ gospel at all?
All in all, I found the chapter edifying, and I’d like to end on what I think is a very forceful argument. Mike writes:
If we had found the Bible to be painting unclear and inconsistent pictures of what happens to the dead, we might be justified in rejecting its explanation. Since, however, it paints one clear and uncomplicated picture, and gives us hope about those who have died, why would we not embrace it quickly and gladly?