In my Prophecy class, one of the required readings is “Plowshares and Pruning Hooks” by Brent Sandy. Near the beginning (under the title “Streets of Gold?”), Dr. Sandy suggests that God has a dilemma communicating to us about heaven and the spirit world, and about his own attributes (pages 25-27). This dilemma makes prophecy something that we cannot always take at face value, since there are no adequate words or symbols to really tell us what God is doing and what the future will be like. Thus there’s no real way to know whether the streets of heaven will truly be made of gold.
This assertion seems to have two components. First, that the spirit world and heaven are unknowable, since things we have not experienced cannot be known by us except through our own previous experiences. And second, that God is limited in his communication with us by very inadequate words.
I tend to think that both components are in error.
First, I think that the spirit world and heaven are very knowable. As humans we are not only physical but spiritual. We “fit” in a spiritual heaven with only little adaptation. We can understand angels because we are persons as they are. We can communicate with and understand God, since we are made in his image. If God made mankind partly that we would fellowship with him (walking together and talking in the Garden of Eden) then he created us with the capacities and similarities to himself that make such communion not only possible, but full and rich.
God wants us to know about heaven and the spirit world. For instance, God purposely designed the furnishings of the tabernacle as models of the true furnishings in heaven. (See Hebrews 8:5 and 9:23-24.) I suggest that one reason is so that we will better understand heaven now, and that we will feel quite at home in heaven when we get there. (This assumes we have either experienced the tabernacle or studied its detailed descriptions in the Scriptures.)
Jesus made clear in John 14 that there was nothing of knowing God the Father that the disciples lacked, if they only knew Jesus. He rebuked them for worrying the idea that God was holding out on them, and that somehow the Scriptures, and Jesus’ presence, were inadequate in giving them a true understanding of the Father. To (over)emphasize the point, I suggest that we know MORE about the Father than we do about the Son! Why? Because Jesus continually spoke the words of the Father, not his own words, and he continually did the will and works of the Father, not following his own will and works.
I think the notion that the Father is mysterious and unknowable is foreign to Scripture. Yes, he is infinite, so our growing knowledge of him will never end, but that is a totally different idea than saying that it is difficult to know what he is “really” like.
The second component in God’s “dilemma” is that words are inadequate to communicate God’s message. Again, I disagree. I tend to think that words are quite adequate. In contrast to Sandy’s assertion that language is a human invention, it appears that God created language and fully communicated to Adam on the same day Adam was created. If God created language, then it makes sense he would have created it sufficient to its primary task, the task of communicating God’s message to man.
I love Brent Sandy’s creative communicating style. His use of “babel” on page 25 is great. It also reminds me that at Babel the many diverse languages we experience today were also the supernatural creative product of God. The subsequent degeneration and shift in languages (as any good Englishman would complain) has not taken away the inherent capacity of language to communicate about God and communicate with God. The work of Bible translators serves as a daily witness to this ability.
I think Sandy has much good for us to consider in “Plowshares” yet there needs to be some caution. If part of his foundation (God’s dilemma) is wrong, then everything that depends on that foundation may also be false.
The response to “will we walk streets of gold?” is not to question the ability of the words of Scripture to communicate to us. The response is to investigate whether the perfectly communicating words of Scripture indeed tell us those streets will be of gold.