Thursday, October 27, 2011

Spearfishing in Heaven?

I recently enjoyed reading John Eldredge's latest book, Beautiful Outlaw—Experiencing the Playful, Disruptive, Extravagant Personality of Jesus.

Those who have read Eldredge's previous books—especially Wild at Heart—know his perspective on spirituality to be muscular, aggressive, and humanistic in a good way—using Jesus' perfect humanity as a template for Christian spirituality, especially for men. For Eldredge, Jesus seems to be Sir Lancelot, William Wallace (Braveheart), and Tristan Ludlow (Legends of the Fall) rolled into one.

Eldredge has done us a favor in his books by reminding us that Jesus was a man and helping to restore an image of what it meant to be the Second Adam. Beautiful Outlaw spotlights the extravagant, disruptive, scandalous, cunning (Eldredge's words) nature of Jesus, along with His more familiar virtues of humility, honest, and beauty. So far, so good—until the end of the book.

In the last four pages of the book, Eldredge recounts an interview in which he was asked a question for which he wasn't prepared:

"What are you looking forward to with Jesus?"

He realized that, for all the thought he had put into his present experience with Jesus, he hadn't given a lot of thought to his future with Jesus. The question made him remember that a day is coming when he will see Jesus face-to-face and share life with Him.

For my part, when I read the interviewer's question, my first thought was, "Do you mean 'looking forward to' in the sense of the rest of my life here on earth?" or "Do you mean 'looking forward to' in the sense of the future as eternity?"

Eldredge obviously understood the question as referring to eternity, to heaven, because he cites the passage from Matthew 19:28-29 in which Jesus tells His disciples,

"In the re-creation of the world, when the Son of Man will
rule gloriously, you who have followed me will also rule,
starting with the twelve tribes of Israel."
(The Message)

He goes on to emphasize the "re-creation of the world," calling it "a renewed heavens, a renewed earth":
"My friends, I hope you understand that we get the entire glorious kingdom back. Sunlight on water, songbirds in a forest; desert sands under moonlight; vineyards just before harvest—Jesus fully intends to restore the glorious world he gave us. Paradise lost; paradise regained. A hundred times over." (pp. 217-218)
In his eloquent way, Eldredge paints a picture of Eden reborn, the anticipation of which is hard to deny. But typical of Eldredge, he tends to read back into Eden romantic aspects of our fallen world, both in human and non-human dimensions. For example, will there really be deserts—"desert sands under moonlight"—in the new earth? Aren't deserts a sign of environmental disruption, hardly typical of "paradise regained"?

Quibbles aside, I was with him as he built a case for the joy of knowing, and being known by, Jesus in the "re-creation of the world." Only after painting the picture of what raced through his mind as he pondered the interviewer's question does Eldredge give us his answer—what he is looking forward to with Jesus when the world is restored to its created glory:

"Spearfishing." (p. 218)


He explained:
"I know this beautiful world will be ours again and so will Jesus, and all the time imaginable to play together. Beauty. Intimacy. Adventure. The very things we were given at the dawn of time. But honestly, more than all that, I'm just looking forward to seeing him, looking into his eyes, hugging him as Peter did on the beach and not letting go for a very long time." (p. 218, italics added)
First, credit is due for his priority of simply seeing Jesus rather than playing together. But his dream of "spearfishing" with Jesus in heaven, reflective of "the very things we were given at the dawn of time," is hugely problematic, biblically speaking.

Before saying why, I'm going to cut Eldredge some slack. The man is a hiker, a hunter, a high-mountain man—think William Wallace in High Sierra instead of Highlands plaid and Tristan Ludlow in Merrills instead of moccasins. His meal of choice is fresh meat on the bone and trout in the pan—preferably killed and cleaned with his own hands. So, not surprisingly, his idea of how to spend a day with Jesus in heaven is "spearfishing."

And that's where Eldredge gets into trouble biblically—reading the proclivities of fallen human beings back into an unfallen Eden ("the dawn of time") or forward into a recreated new earth ("the restored glorious world").

Where, in Genesis, does one find the image or idea of Adam spearing a fish, leaving a trail of blood in the water, for his food? God's prescribed diet for humankind was plants (Genesis 1:29). Yes, after the fall of humanity into sin and Eden into disrepair, a concession was made to allow man to consume animals for food (Genesis 9:1-6). But such a practice was not present at "the dawn of time."

And from where does the idea of Jesus being an enthusiast of killing animals for sport come? Jesus entered human history thousands of years past "the dawn of time" when concessionary practices were well established, such as raising animals for their by-products and pulling nets of fish from the sea. In fact, He facilitated such cultural practices by advising His disciples where to cast their nets to find a bountiful catch. He even ate a piece of fish Himself as a demonstration of His physical resurrection (and perhaps ate flesh foods on other occasions as well).

Jesus chose not to try to restore Eden in three years of ministry. Rather, He introduced the present-and-future kingdom of God in which all things (as Eldredge rightly notes) will be ultimately restored, ultimately recreated. But even though Jesus lived in the concessionary parenthesis in which we ourselves live, we don't see Him in Scripture as the blood-and-bone adventurer that Eldredge and those in the "Christian sportsman" movement want Him to be—taking pleasure in spilling the blood of animals for sport or even for food when such killing for food is neither original (Genesis 1:29) or necessary (as in today's world where plant foods are abundant).

How does the idea of "spearfishing with Jesus" fit with Isaiah's image of the future recreation?

The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lied down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the hole of the cobra,
and the young child put his hand into the viper's nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
(Isaiah 11:6-9)

That sounds like an Edenic setting, something to be found at the "dawn of time." And Isaiah says it will happen in the future—at least until John Eldredge and Jesus show up with their spears, bows and arrows, and guns and knives and start recreating the fall all over again on the new earth, staining soil and water with the blood of animals who were created to trust man, not fear him (Genesis 2:19-20).

Really? Something tells me Jesus won't be part of that adventure, nor will He sanction Eldredge or any other citizen of the New Jerusalem marring the eternal kingdom with behavior that is characteristic of fallen humanity.

Here's where I'll cut Eldredge a second portion of slack. What if he used "spearfishing" as a metaphor for "guys hanging out doing what guys do"? What if he used "spearfishing" as a way to say "spending time around the campfire with Jesus and a PBR, talking about life in guy terms"?

If that's what Eldredge meant, that's what he should have said. In Beautiful Outlaw and his previous books, he has established himself as a man's man who likes to hunt and fish and live in the great outdoors. So when he says he looks forward to spearfishing with Jesus in heaven, one can only assume he means shooting a barbed arrow through a defenseless fish, mortally wounding it, spilling its blood in the ocean simply because it's possible to do so.

In either case—whether Eldredge is speaking literally or metaphorically about spearfishing—it's an example of mature, thinking Christians not having a biblical theology of animals. Whether one uses hunting as a metaphor for "fun and fellowship" or a reference to a literal act, in neither case is there biblical grounds for doing so. The Bible gives no indication that animals were treated with anything less than complete respect at "the dawn of time" or will be in the restoration of all things. The fact that we treat them otherwise during the concessionary parenthesis of this age is a sign of our fallenness, not our maturity. (What Christian could be called mature who uses the concession of divorce as a way to casually and without cause dishonor the Edenic, permanent institution of marriage? The same question applies to animals. Concession does not equal creed; permission does not equal prescription.)

If you want a thought-provoking, biblically-based book on the humanity of Jesus (that doesn't diminish His divinity at the same time), read Beautiful Outlaw. Just don't make the mistake Eldredge makes of reading into your present or future life with Jesus everything that fallen man has invented for pleasure or entertainment—like the killing of animals.

God is in the process of conforming us to the true image of Jesus (Romans 8:29). We only distort and delay the process when we imagine Jesus looking in a mirror and seeing us.

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