July 14, 2014


Once upon a time even good Christians could not understand God’s interest in documentation. People said sophisticated sounding things about multiplied generations of data crowding out the space the angels needed to spread their wings. Celestial museums, of course, would be even more cumbersome, requiring all kinds of space-demanding artifacts. In those eras of our scientific backwardness, and our surprisingly pathetic sense of heaven’s dimensions, those thoughts could seem quite enlightened. Besides, God’s respect for His creatures’ decisions was too much for us, given our naturally greater pride in our own opinions and our naturally greater contempt for anybody else’s. We especially could not see the Judge of all the earth caring that His judgments be seen by all, especially those condemned as guilty, to be “true and righteous” (see Ps. 19:9; Rev. 16:7; 19:2). We cherished a fairly feeble sense of fairness in those days.

Things are much different now. Much better, thank God, now that high-power broadband requires 11 trillion years to download the data on humanity’s World Wide Web. Now we wonder about the recording genius of real clouds. We still don’t know about the celestial museums, though.31 3

Museums promote specific reflection—on items (historic aircraft at the National Air and Space Museum), or events (Yad Vashem on the Holocaust), or periods, perhaps (the Field Museum of Natural History). The artifacts they preserve, the way these are highlighted, and the subjects of their focus may inspire varied emotion.

My driver guessed pathetically wrong about the content of my reflections as we drove away from Soweto. He based his effort to console my grief on sadly simple, superficial thoughts about ethnic violence, economic injustice, and humanity’s abuse of humanity; thoughts about fairness and discrimination, goodness and evil quickly understood and explained by reference to the color of one’s skin. He could, without the benefit of dialogue, know the place my tears came from. He could see it was the place of right that he could see I occupied. He could tell because his sight was good.

Museum depictions of history can move us to tears; hopefully, to truth: In a cathedral in Lima, where the Peruvian Inquisition reigned and waned between 1570 and 1820, I saw contorted wax figures representing the heretics and suspects of witchcraft and blasphemy who were detained there during those years. I saw, too, some of the methods of physical persuasion used to bring souls to their senses, and the stubborn to confession, among them the stocks, the rack, and waterboarding—an interrogation procedure that claimed new fame during the years of the war in Afghanistan. The Inquisition, I learned, used waterboarding in Lima, Peru, hundreds of years ago, not for the torture of enemy combatants, but in the name of God.

God, it turns out, has often been implicated in humanity’s brutality. The bones the Museum of the Inquisition once displayed are now no longer accessible to public view. But God knows where and whose they are. He hears the cry of souls under the altar: “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge . . . and avenge our blood?” (Rev. 6:10).

Maybe during our millennium of judgment, as a complement to the testimony of the martyrs of the ages, there will be holograms that move us to tears, that sober and shock the innocent saved into some clearer appreciation for sin’s hideousness, Satan’s rage against the truth, and the evil brutality meted out to millions of God’s earnest and faithful daughters and sons. And maybe there’ll be artifacts too, which say how God is love.

Or maybe Jesus, His head and hands, feet and side, His lovely face, will be quite enough for everything.