It is comforting to know that the living Christ Himself prays for us. Indeed, He “lives to make intercession for us” (Heb. 7:25). But Jesus is not the only One who prays from the heights of heaven.
Why are you here? All of you?
We never left.
Near the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Harry finds himself standing among unexpected guests. Right before his eyes are his long-lost parents, a faithful friend, and a trusted professor. The Resurrection Stone has made their presence visible to Harry in a fresh way.
Upon the faces of James and Lily, Sirius and Remus, there is only peace. Confidence. Hope. They are not shaken by the events to come. They know, better than Harry does, that good will win in the end. The scene is powerful. This encounter seemingly gives Harry the courage and strength needed to face his ultimate test: death at the hands of Lord Voldemort.
Whether she realizes it or not, J.K. Rowling taps into a theological reality that we Christians tend to miss or ignore in our own story of redemption. Borrowing the terms “triumphant church” (the saints of the Church now in heaven) and the “militant church” (the saints of Church now on earth) from Herman Bavinck, it is my assertion that the “triumphant church” has not left the “militant church” in the rearview mirror (Reformed Dogmatics, IV.639–640).
We are right to dismiss any notion of talking to or interceding for the dead. There is no biblical support for such practices. But perhaps, in our aversion to these beliefs, we have swung the pendulum too far. We have so naturalized the Bible, adopting a “closed-system” framework for our universe, that we greet any hint of supernatural activity with suspicion.
The way we talk about those living in Everlasting Rest can convince us that an impenetrable divide exists between them and us. They have gone to be with the Lord. They have departed. Their eyes behold the King, face to face, in all His beauty—how could they turn away? This is all true. Yet it does not mean the departed saints go about their living blinded to the happenings of the earth, deaf to our murmurings and cries.
What sort of relationship might we share with “the church triumphant?” And how does it prove beneficial to the Christian life? With the help of Scripture and some key theologians (in this case, Herman Bavinck and Francis Schaeffer), we learn how our forerunners of the faith help and encourage us, even today.
On a Stage, Observed
We do not interact with the saints in Glory the way Potter did with his family and friends. But the Bible is a supernatural Word that points us to supernatural realities. Those in Heaven do not stand on a cement, soundproof floor. We are, to borrow Paul’s phrase, “a spectacle unto angels” (1 Cor. 4:9). Francis Schaeffer, in his classic work True Spirituality, draws the marrow out of this verse:
The word in the Greek which is translated as “spectacle” has nothing to do with our modern use of that word. It is the idea of theater; we are on a stage being observed. [Paul] says here that the supernatural universe is not far off, and that while the real battle is in the heavenliness, our part is not unimportant at all, because it is being observed by the unseen world. It is like a one-way mirror. We are under observation. (Francis Schaeffer, True Spirituality, 106)