‘FANTASY RELIGION’ or ‘BIBLICAL REALITY’?

Several years ago there was a programme on television called ‘Fantasy Football’ [for Australian and American readers that is ‘football’ as in the ‘soccer’ variety’]. I never did personally watch the programme so I can only surmise that with its title it contained a large proportion of ‘make-believe’content and the intent would have been for it not to be identified with the real world of ‘football’.

On Saturday 3rd December 2005, in a funeral that was watched by millions around the world, Northern Ireland said farewell to George Best who was without doubt the most naturally gifted football player ever to have represented us on the stage of world soccer. Following his tragically early death at the age of 59 when he lost a long-running battle with alcoholism multitudes of articles were written about him in scores of newspapers.

One article in particular caught my eye. It was published in the local Belfast Telegraph on Friday 2nd December and the author of it was Eddie McIlwaine. Mr McIlwaine is best known for his weekly column in Saturday’s Belfast Telegraph called ‘The Ulster Log’ in which he recounts and reminisces about often unusual and interesting items from the Province’s relatively recent past history. However in this article he ventured into the field of ‘theology’ as his article was titled ‘Why I believe that George is now resting in Heaven’.

Please let me make it clear at the outset that what I will now write is not to be viewed in any way as a commentary upon the eternal destiny of George Best. That is known for certain only by the God of Heaven. This article is intended only to be a Biblical critique of some of the views expressed by Mr McIlwaine that in my view conjure up a ‘religion’ that is in reality certainly much more ‘fantasy’ than ‘biblical’.

To begin with I want to set out Mr McIlwaine’s article as it appeared in the Belfast Telegraph.

‘Why I believe George is now resting in Heaven’ by Eddie McIlwaine

On the day George Best passed away I met an assistant called Brendan in an ironmonger’s, who, in between serving customers, was reading a book called ‘What You Need to Know When You Die’. “I want to find out what I’m doing here on earth” he explained to me over the counter. “This little paperback by a lady called Betty J Eddie who almost lost her life in a routine operation that went wrong and had an out-of-body experience is helping me answer certain questions. I’m 30 and it’s time to ask about Eternity”.

George Best at 59 should have had no doubt what he was doing here on earth. His purpose was to make people happy as they watched him play the beautiful game with an almost poetic grace.

Even folk who knew nothing about football forgot the cares and woes of everyday, ordinary life as they feasted their eyes on his silky trickery and then indulged themselves in the glitter of his crazy life-style.

If there is a heaven beyond this mortal coil then that’s where George is today. If it’s any consolation to his elderly father Dick, and his grieving sisters and brother, I am as certain of this fact as I ever have been sure of anything, never mind his impetuous, often selfish ways and the battle he lost with drink.

George’s soul is now under Divine orders in a better place and let no ecclesiastical gentleman of the cloth try to tell me something different.

If that thought is too celestial for the soccer faithful to take in, they should think about it deeply as they prepare to line the streets of Belfast to mourn their idol at his funeral. Perhaps George didn’t read the Holy Book all that often, if at all, and I doubt if he had much time for church-going as we know it. His problem was he simply wasn’t aware of what an essential commodity – I almost said saviour – to everyday folk that he was and allowed himself to fall into a nightmare existence that ended in his premature passing.

But George’s star must be shining bright in Paradise today and for evermore for the way he brought such pleasure and joy to millions – and especially to his troubled homeland – with his God-given gifts. Sure, the Almighty has already given him a dressing down and reminded him of the parable of the man who buried and wasted his talent and the other one who nourished and expanded his.

However, the All-Seeing-One has also recognised that this deeply complex, self-indulgent, lonely personality was only weak and human after all and ordered him to take his place on the Mercy Seat. In spite of the fact, mind you, that George made little effort in his adult years to take some kind of courageous stand against his demons. If only he had shown the same kind of bravery he displayed in riding a tackle on the pitch in his social and private life he might still be with us today. Alcohol addiction is a fearful enemy, but it is there to be conquered and it has been on occasions with rigid determination and resolve. “I don’t feel sorry for George,” says Brendan the shop assistant. “He craved a certain lifestyle and he managed to do most things he wanted to do and to some extent was content with his lot”.

Mr McIlwaine is clearly in do doubt concerning two issues; firstly that George Best is without any shadow of doubt in Heaven or Paradise and secondly of the basis upon which he believes that George has been granted admittance. These certainties as far as Mr McIlwaine is concerned are evident when he wrote ‘If there is a heaven beyond this mortal coil then that’s where George is today… I am as certain of this fact as I ever have been sure of anything… George’s soul is now under Divine orders in a better place and let no ecclesiastical gentleman of the cloth try to tell me something different… George’s star must be shining bright in Paradise today and for evermore for the way he brought such pleasure and joy to millions… the Almighty has already given him a dressing down and reminded him of the parable of the man who buried and wasted his talent and the other one who nourished and expanded his. However, the All-Seeing-One has also recognised that this deeply complex, self-indulgent, lonely personality was only weak and human after all and ordered him to take his place on the Mercy Seat.

Let me emphasise once more that I am not here to speculate upon the personal eternal destiny of George Best but rather I want to biblically analyse the basis upon which Eddie McIlwaine bases his own dogmatic conclusion on the matter. For Mr McIlwaine, George’s basis for entrance was ‘for the way he brought such pleasure and joy to millions’. Mr McIlwaine believes that the entertainment and pleasure value of George’s footballing skills have earned him entrance to Heaven. God’s salvation, which assures a person entrance into Heaven, is not, according to the Bible, based upon a person’s own works – the familiar words of Ephesians 2: 8-9 make that very plain “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God. Not of works lest any man should boast”. Those already in Heaven have a song of praise on their lips and it points to the One whose work gained them entrance into Heaven – “Thou (The Lamb of God – Jesus Christ) art worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals; for thou wast slain and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood” [Revelation 5:9]. Peter likewise stated that our going to be in the presence of God is based upon the work of Christ at Calvary when he wrote “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God” [1 Peter 3:18]. To believe, as Mr McIlwaine clearly does, that someone can gain entrance to heaven on the basis of the pleasure that some earthly talent has brought to millions is pure ‘fantasy religion’ and a million miles away from ‘biblical reality’.

Mr McIlwaine then believes that God will have examined the book of George’s life and in Mr McIlwaine’s own words the Almighty has already given him a dressing down and reminded him of the parable of the man who buried and wasted his talent and the other one who nourished and expanded his’. I myself am not privy to conversations between God and those who die [other than those that we read of in the Bible] but Mr McIlwaine’s application here of ‘the parable of the talents’ [Matthew 25:27-29] certainly does not back up his case. In the first place the word “talent” as used in the parable refers to ‘a weight of money’ and not to ‘natural ability’ as Mr McIlwaine wrongly construes it.  In the second place the man in the parable who wastes his one “talent” is clearly not a believer.

Pastor John MacArthur writes in his Study Bible notes  ‘His characterisation of the master maligns the man as a cruel and ruthless opportunist “reaping and gathering” what he had no right to claim as his own. This slothful servant does not represent a genuine believer, for it is obvious that this man had no true knowledge of the master’.

Mr McIlwaine’s understanding and application of this parable again fall into the category of ‘fantasy religion’ rather than ‘biblical reality’.

My final observation on Mr McIlwaine’s article concerns this segment where he wrote – the All-Seeing-One has also recognised that this deeply complex, self-indulgent, lonely personality was only weak and human after all and ordered him to take his place on the Mercy Seat’.

The ‘Mercy Seat’ was a very important item that was located within ‘The Holy of Holies’ in both The Tabernacle and The Temple of the Old Testament. ‘The Holy of Holies’ identified the location of The Presence of God.

In his book ‘The Tabernacle in the Wilderness’ [pages 79-113] John Ritchie wrote ‘The Tabernacle or Tent was divided into two distinct apartments, differing in size and name. The first and largest of these is called the Holy Place, the second, the “Holy of Holies” or “Holiest of All”.’…The Veil divided between the Holiest of All – the immediate presence-chamber of Jehovah – and the Holy Place, the place of priestly worship and service…The only vessel within the circle of the Holiest was the Ark with its Mercy Seat…Within this ark lay the two tables of the law…The unbroken tables within the Ark remind us of the perfect obedience of Christ…[Man’s] rebellious heart is estranged from God – it is not subject to His law, nor can it be. The tables are broken, and, with fallen man can never be renewed. How foolish, then, for men to think that by observing fragments of a broken law they can satisfy God or justify themselves…The sinner has broken the law of God and thus forfeited every claim to righteousness on that ground…But there was one – different from all others – and He was “Jesus Christ the righteous”…The word for Mercy Seat signifies “to atone” or “cover” and in the New Testament it is rendered “propitiation” (see Romans 3:25). God’s mercy can only be known in Christ, and on the ground of atonement…And to this the Cross of Christ is the all-sufficient answer…On the great day of atonement…Aaron the priest, robed in linen garments, entered within the veil, with the blood of a sin-offering. This was sprinkled on the Mercy Seat…The importance of this act cannot be over-estimated…It was there, on the blood stained Mercy seat…that Jehovah said “There I will meet with thee, and commune with thee”…And at the blood stained Mercy Seat we commune with God…The cherubim looked down upon the blood stained Mercy Seat…At Eden’s gate they stand connected with the sword of justice to bar the way. But here, at the Mercy Seat, they welcome the sinner’s approach. There is no sword now. It has been sheathed in the victim [Christ crucified} and they gaze upon the blood’.

Just as the High Priest in Old Testament days could only approach the ‘Mercy Seat’ on the grounds of suitable and acceptable [to God] sacrificially shed blood so today’s ‘priests’ [genuine Christian believers who according to Peter are “a royal priesthood” 1 Peter 2:9] can only enter the very presence of God [signified by the Old Testament ‘Mercy Seat’] on the grounds of what Christ has done at Calvary and not on the grounds of their exercising some earthly ‘talent’ which brings delight and pleasure to countless millions. Such a view again belongs in the realm of ‘fantasy religion’and is totally divorced from ‘biblical reality’. God’s mercy is only extended to repentant sinners on the merits of “the precious blood of Christ” [1 Peter 1:19].

Returning to the eternal destiny of George Best I have no doubt that Christians within his own family circle and amongst their friends and also Christians who perhaps only knew of him by name and reputation would have been praying for his salvation. Most will never know what personal dealings George had with the God of Heaven in his last days here on earth but it was interesting that when most had given up all hope he did rally for a few days before finally succumbing to death.

If George in those last few days was smitten by Holy Ghost conviction with “a broken and contrite heart” and cried out to the Lord, on the sole merits of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross of Calvary, for forgiveness and salvation, then such a cry God “will not despise” [Psalm 51:17]. That precious truth in God’s Word was penned by King David who had not only been guilty of the sin of adultery but also of organising the murder of the husband of his mistress – how wonderful the truth of the words expressed in the final verse of a hymn by Fanny Crosby that read –

O perfect redemption, the purchase of blood

To every believer, the promise of God

The vilest offender who truly believes

That moment from Jesus a pardon receives

That beautiful verse encapsulates ‘biblical reality’ and puts to flight all ‘fantasy religion’. Just one final thought, I have good reason to believe that the Gospel-Honouring message of Pastor Roy Gordon at the funeral of George Best has already reaped eternal blessings in the lives of a number of people and with him I would echo the words of the opening line of the same Fanny Crosby hymn –

To God be the glory, great things He hath done!

In response to Mr McIlwaine’s article, the following letter has been sent to the Editor of the Belfast telegraph for possible publication.

Cecil Andrews – ‘Take Heed’ Ministries – 7 December 2005

Dear Editor,

Eddie McIlwaine in his article about the death of George Best [2 December] made reference to a book called ‘What you need to know when you die’ by a lady called Betty J Eddie. I would suspect that  the book is actually called ‘Embraced by the light’ and is written by Betty J Eadie. Much of Mr McIlwaine’s article certainly reflected sentiments expressed in that book.

In her book, Betty Eadie, who is a Mormon, sets forth teachings that are a combination of Mormon and New Age views. A summary of four of her teachings would be that God and death are not to be feared for any reason; that there is no hell or punishment in the afterlife; that people have no ultimate responsibility before God for any wrongdoing; that heaven is everyone’s eternal home no matter what.

Mr McIlwaine also makes reference to ‘the Holy Book’, the Bible, and in response to Betty Eadie’s views, ‘the Holy Book’  states “it is appointed unto men once to die but after this the judgment” [Hebrews 9:27]. The judge is Jesus Christ and to some He will say “Come ye blessed of my father, inherit the kingdom (heaven)” [Matthew 25:34] but to others He will say “Depart from  me ye cursed into everlasting fire (hell)” [Matthews 25:41].

Mr McIlwaine referred to God’s ‘Mercy Seat’. Those who embrace Betty Eadie’s teachings will never be able to approach God’s ‘Mercy Seat’ but those who embrace alone for their soul’s salvation “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” can in the words of John Newton’s hymn ‘Approach my soul the mercy seat, where Jesus answers prayer, there humbly fall before his feet, for none can perish there’.

Cecil Andrews – ‘Take Heed’ Ministries – Ballynahinch

 

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