This will be the first of an ongoing series on the blog dealing with biblical texts that I repeatedly hear ripped out of context and misused. I have previously dealt with Jesus’ words, ‘Judge not, lest ye be judged‘ (though I had not conceived of a series at that point).
In this installment we consider 1 Corinthians 2:9:
- But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.
Some years ago this verse, by itself, was our theme verse for a semester at chapel at a school I attended. And it was used, as it is typically used, to encourage Christians that they cannot imagine the things that God has prepared for them in heaven. Perhaps you’ve used it that way. So, what’s the problem?
Perhaps it is the ripping of this verse out of context that has led to the recent slough of bestselling books dealing with the afterlife. People are just dying, yes that’s a pun, to know what heaven is like. They want to know if the family pet will be there. They want to know what giant pearls look like. They want to know that everything really will be alright in the end. And so you get small children going to heaven and coming back to tell the story. You get ‘Close Encounters of the God Kind.’ You get guys with no interest in the Bible coming into my workplace telling me that he died and rose from the dead and wants to tell me what Jesus is really like.
The problem is that 1 Corinthians 2:9 should never be quoted without including 1 Corinthians 2:10. This is the reason the ESV actually inserts a hyphen at the end of 2:9:
- 9 But, as it is written,’What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined,what God has prepared for those who love him’ —
So what does verse 10 say?
- 10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.
The glories of heaven will be just that – glorious. Human imagination could not truly conceive of the majesty of life in the immediate presence of God. But, this reality, and many of its actual elements, have be revealed to us by the Holy Spirit through Scripture.
Do you remember the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus from Luke 16? The Rich Man heads to Hades and gets to have a conversation with Abraham. He asks to be sent back to the earth so that he can declare the truth of the afterlife to his family. If someone rose from the dead to tell them, surely then they would believe! Abraham’s reply, told by Jesus himself in Luke 16:29, is:
- But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’
These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. We need to fix our minds on things above. And God has given us one means of doing so – his own revelation – the Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.