I love humor and enjoy a good joke. Religious topics are a great source of material for comedians, and for the most part I don’t mind that. But there is a danger if we take the jokes too seriously and allow them to define our faith and perception of the truth. Truth is true, whether we like it or not.
Satan portrays himself as an angel of light to mimic Jesus who is the Light of the World. The Devil is a master at imitation and likes to bend our minds by subtly altering the truth to destroy our faith in God.
Two examples of this are found in Noah’s (or God’s) Ark, and in the perennial jokes about St. Peter and the Pearly Gates.
We all know the comical pictures in children’s picture books. A wooden plank boat teeters at an awkward angle with oversize animals on the deck, giraffes stretch their necks out the windows, animals intertwine and Noah stands by looking puzzled. Or animals neatly line up two by two by the ramp ready to board, with a clear impression that they won’t all fit.
They might be fun pictures, but it is a dangerous thing to mix a little truth with a heap of imagination and pass it off as reality.
So, what is wrong with this imagery? The main problem is the false impression it gives to people who don’t know the true story or understand the dimensions of the ark and its meaning.
Ha, they say. The flood story must be a myth because there is no way all those animals could fit on that little boat.
So how big was the ark? The Bible says it was 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high (140 meters long, 23 meters wide and 13.5 meters high). It was three stories high with lower, middle and upper decks. It had room for all the animals and birds, a huge food store, and a half meter opening between the roof and the sides for light and ventilation. It didn’t need pointed ends as it wasn’t going to sail anywhere, it just needed to float.
Only eight people went on the ark, Noah and his wife, their three sons and the wives of their three sons. Many more could have fitted on, but chose not to believe Noah.
We are told that while Noah was building the ark, which took about one hundred years, he was preaching to the people around him to tell them of impending judgment and urging them to join him on the ark. Did they listen to him? No, they mocked and scorned, and when the flood came they perished.
Ark model in modern setting on rugby field to show scale:
Model and photo by Dean Farrow
Today, as then, the world is in a mess and judgment is coming. But God has made a way of escape, and no one needs to perish. Jesus is our Ark, our refuge, our way of escape. Jesus says “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father except by me.”
God doesn’t want us to perish. His son Jesus Christ died in our place to bring salvation and provide our escape from judgment. Don’t let the caricature cloud your perception but read the Bible to find the whole story. Accept Jesus and live.
St. Peter and the Pearly Gates.
Where did this image come from? Nowhere in the Bible are we told that Peter is standing at the gates of heaven deciding who should come in and who should be rejected.
The common theme of St. Peter jokes is that the criteria for entry into heaven is the good things we have done. If we have done right we’ll get in, but if we’ve done bad things we won’t. It is all by works.
What a coincidence that this is a common theme of most religions. But the Bible says that our entry to heaven is not by works, but by the grace and mercy of God.
God’s heaven is a sinless place. Nothing impure can enter in. And that means you and me in our natural state because we can’t cleanse ourselves to God’s standard.
That is why Jesus came – to be the sacrifice for our sins. He took our sin on himself, and exchanged it for his purity. He makes us clean and spotless and fit for his presence.
Jesus said “I am the door.” He is the only way to heaven, and it is nothing to do with Peter or the pearly gates.
Laugh at St. Peter jokes if you want, some of them are really funny. But don’t take them seriously or believe that our good works are the way to heaven.
Here is another misconception – that in heaven we sit around on fluffy clouds playing harps all day and it is totally boring. Where did that image come from?
We are not told a lot about heaven, and some of what we are told is in figurative language. The main thing about heaven is that it is the dwelling place of God. Remember the saying – it’s the people who make a place? We travel through this life and if we choose to follow God, when we die we go to be WITH God, which is heaven. If we reject God, we go to eternity WITHOUT God, which is hell.
It is our choice. God has provided the way to heaven – his son Jesus Christ. Don’t blame God for ratifying your choice if you find yourself in hell.