OKAY, SAY YOU'VE GOT three groups of people, right?
One group has been brought up in a culture which believes that orange juice in the morning is good for you. The second group has never seen orange juice in particular, but has been brought up with various other fruit juices and believe that fruit juices in general are good for you. The third group does not know fruit juices at all.
Now we mix these people up, so that you can't tell just by looking at them which people are which.
But then you overhear me talking to a small group, and what I say to them is: "Orange juice is good for you. If it were not so, I would have told you." Which group am I talking to?
IT CANNOT, IT SEEMS TO ME, be the people who don't know fruit juices at all. The first sentence would fit that group, but the second would not. It is less likely to be the group who already know that orange juice is good for you, because then the first sentence would seem totally unnecessary and out of place.
It is most probably the middle group, isn't it? These people are used to fruit juices, but are now faced with a kind they've never seen before and have to be told that the new phenomenon fits into what they already know reassured that they can trust their generalized instincts with this new particular.
Group one sits down to breakfast and gulps down the orange juice without having to think about it; group three sits down and pretty much ignores the glasses, thinking that they must be some new kind of decoration or something; only group two picks the glasses up and looks at them suspiciously, sniffing and so on.
I come along and say "OJ is ok. If it were not so, I would've told you." It's fruit juice, Jim, but not as we know it.
THIS KIND OF THINKING leads us to believe that when Jesus says to his disciples in John 14, "In my father's house there are many rooms; if it were not so I would have told you," the disciples must have already been thinking something along the lines of there being a heaven and room for them in it.
To some extent it's new data, but it fits suspiciously nicely into what they already think. Before the disciples became followers of Jesus they were, as far as we know, pretty ordinary Jews, some perhaps followers of John the Baptist. And our best guess about what people in those days believed about heaven is that they had only vague ideas.
While they're with Jesus, they begin to glimpse a more personal God and dare to hope for a more particular hope. Sometimes they go too far, wanting to sit at Jesus' right and left hand in his future kingdom. He frequently had to tell them that they didn't know what they were talking about.
But they are not to let their hearts be troubled... there are places for them and for us at that party, in that mansion. It's OK to think that. We can dare to hope that. If it were not so, he would have told us.
Dr Conrad Gempf is a lecturer in New Testament at London Bible College. He also writes for and edits the monthly webzine there.
© Ship of Fools 2002