Answering “Questions Christians Can’t Answer” #38 Opulence of Heaven?

This article is a continuation of the series which examines the “Top 50 Questions Christians Can’t Answer“, one question at a time.

In order to understand today’s question, it should be mentioned that the previous question, #37, essentially asks why there are wealthy Christians if Jesus said it was difficult for rich people to enter the kingdom, and said that they should give all they had to the poor. The questioner essentially says that Christianity is inconsistent if rich people are both Christians and rich. Now examine question #38:

If wealth is bad, why is Heaven opulent?

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38 – Building upon the previous question, if it is almost impossible for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven, then why would God create heaven as having pearly gates, streets of gold and many mansions?  It sounds like he wants us to be poor in life so that we will want to be rich in the afterlife, maybe? Is God using the sinful value of greed to attract humans to believe in him? Does that make any sense whatsoever? 

Firstly, it is worth stating that the passage to which this question refers in regards to “many mansions” (John 14:2-3), was a bit of a superlative on the part of some translators. Most translations render the Greek word, μοναὶ, as “rooms” or “dwelling places,” which is a more accurate translation of the word. No doubt the translators of the KJV were interested in making the statement a bit more grandiose.

In all likelihood, Jesus was referencing the chambers that occupied the temple walls which had been built for the priests serving in the temple – essentially saying that Jesus was going to prepare a “τόπον” – station of ministry – for them, and that there are chambers for them to occupy in service to God.

If the primary evangelical tool used in scripture was to lure people after God with promises of wealth, this question might have traction. However, this is not the kind of preaching seen in scripture. Jesus commands his disciples to leave everything to follow him. No promise of wealth is given in this command, rather, it is a promise of relationship.

The concepts of pearly gates and streets of gold are almost certainly metaphorical. But even if these things were literal, they belong to God, not to the people he brings into heaven. The concept of going to heaven is not one of looting and sacking those things which are rightfully God’s. Indeed, what would the glorified human do with the gold once they had it?
Jesus tells the rich young man to give all his money to the poor and then he “will have treasure in heaven.” Elsewhere, Jesus tells his followers to “lay up your treasures in heaven.” So what of these heavenly treasures? Consider the following passage:

They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”

Note that this passage says that Christ “created all things, and by [his] will they exist.” All treasure belongs to God, and whatever gifts a person receives from God are, at best, on loan from their Creator. Apparently, by this passage, those treasures are given right back to Christ. Any good work performed by a Christian on earth is entirely owing to the fact that Christ has redeemed that person. Consequently, any honor that Christian might thereby obtain is rightfully given back to Christ. Not because they are required to do so, but because they want to do so. They have obtained heaven due to their love of Christ, and so they truly desire to pay him the honor he is due. C.S. Lewis illustrates it this way: Say that a child wishes to purchase a gift for his father. In order to do so, he must borrow the money from his father, since – as a child – he has no other source of wealth. After buying the gift he gives it to his father. His father is no richer for having gained the gift, since it was his money that purchased it. The importance of this act was the love that it reflects between the father and the son.
God promises to give the resurrected Christian a single stone with “a new name” known only to him. This new name that God gives the believer is the only possession in heaven that can be said to truly belong to them, and it is a treasure of relationship – not of material wealth.

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