Christian movies can sometimes get a little theologically unsound in the quest for satisfying family entertainment. In one I just saw (spoiler alert) the resolution is that the intervention of the main character’s unborn and un-concieved baby brother in Heaven somehow saved her life because it was established that adults cannot interfere with divine directives, the suggestion is that non-adults do have some sway with what decisions are made in Heaven. That’s problematic from every way you look at it.
I could talk about the idea that people exist as spiritually masculine or spiritually feminine entities prior to being born. I could talk about the idea that unborn and never-born souls are both portrayed as people with personalities in Heaven. I could talk about the mysterious intervention that allowed an unborn-spirit to affect change in heaven when adult-spirits are forbidden from doing so. But ultimately the movie is just a fiction.
What is not a fiction is our tendency to evolve our theology as our understanding increases over the centuries. Think about the theology of life. Ancient cultures knew the reality of death in that it could take anyone at any time and the most vulnerable were taken most frequently. Some cultures wouldn’t bother to name newborn until they had lived at least a week. Even then, it was written that should an infant that died before being a month old, it was to be treated as if it hadn’t lived at all and ought not be mourned. It would be buried in an unmarked grave by someone who wasn’t related to the family so that not even the parents would know where it was located. Their theology of life and death fit their understanding for the world they lived in. But through our medical knowledge and technology, we have managed to fight back death and to rescue souls from it’s clutches quite successfully. So our theology about life and death reflects that change. The loss of an infant is rare, so we encourage the grieving process to take fully. But this has opened us up to a theology of life that more than a little confusing when we try to explain it out fully where is where the idea that the spirits of the unborn exist as boys or girls in heaven comes from – which Scripture doesn’t plainly suggest because I’m not even certain that the ancient culture it was written to would have believed something like that.
So too, has the theology of Heaven and Hell been altered as people changed their understanding and beliefs regarding it. Back when I did a Bible Study called Erasing Hell, I happened to find one of those Old Testament Bible verses that was referring to life after death, but it wasn’t like Heaven and it wasn’t like Hell. I had discovered one of the passages describing Sheol. The belief in Sheol was common up until the time of the second temple. It was basically the understanding that there was a huge underground cavern where the souls of all of the dead would reside – righteous and unrighteous alike. King David likely believed this to be the case – that when he died he would go down to Sheol and reunite with the first son he had with Bathsheba. By the time Jesus was preaching, Sheol had been divided into a an unrighteous section and a righteous section known as Abraham’s Bosom. By then, contact with other cultures had influenced the unrighteous section sometimes referred to as Gehenna to have something of a resemblance to Hades. Abraham’s Bosom eventually became Heaven and Hades/Gehenna became Hell. By the middle ages, the theology about Purgatory developed as a temporary punishment zone while un-confessed sin was being payed for and the soul was being refined with fire before moving onto it’s final destination. Sheol, Abraham’s Bosom, Gehenna, Hades, Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory are different understandings of the same concept: that our souls exist in an eternal state of some form, somewhere, doing something. And it’s also proof of the human tendency to pile it on thick with regard to how we punish ourselves for the mistakes we make and imagine what the eternal consequences will be.
Regarding matters of life and death, we believe differently than the generations before us, and so shall the generations after us continue to modify their beliefs to be different than ours when looked at them from a span of time of centuries. I think the point is to recognize that no one belief has the monopoly of being ‘correct’ for in their own time each belief was right – just as for us right now what we believe is what’s best. Some of our most dearly held beliefs today will be irrelevant tomorrow. That’s the mystery of faith – to accept the unknown and the unknowable to be true. It seems that pretending that we know how everything works from eternity past to eternity future to be short-sighted and almost a lack of faith altogether. But I think that’s why Jesus pointed to the children as our example – they just believe. They don’t need a complicated explanation about being created in eternity-past and pre-destined to be among the elect. They don’t need a thought-out description of delights of Heaven or the horrors of Hell. That’s what real faith is like – just believing, which admittedly is easier to do without annoying facts or cultural information. But I’d rather know what I know and try my best to believe even if it’s difficult than to not know and have an easy time of believing things.There’s no going back for me, but I just have to believe that whatever the enduring truths of Scripture are, it’ll all work itself out in eternity somehow and that is going to take some serious faith.