Ask a Pastor Ep. 29 - Praying to Mary, Jesus going to Hell, Seeing God
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This episode our Senior Pastor, Dr. Kurt Bjorklund, talks with Director of Ministries, Rick Iglesias, about praying to Mary, what happened when Jesus died on the cross, and seeing God.
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Kurt Bjorklund: Hi. Welcome to Ask a Pastor. This is a time where we just take some questions that people send in, so if you would like to send any questions in to Ask a Pastor, feel free to do so. You can send it to email@example.com, and we'll be happy to deal with that in coming weeks. I'm joined today by Rick Iglesias. Welcome, Rick.
Rick Iglesias: Good to be here.
Kurt Bjorklund: Rick's one of our pastors here and has long experience as a pastor, and so therefore is uber wise. And we are going to ask him for some insights today on some different things, and we're going to start with a question that somebody sent in, and it says this, "A reading prayer at a Catholic service I recently attended was asking Mary in heaven to pray for us."
Rick Iglesias: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-
Kurt Bjorklund: "Can you pray to someone other than God in heaven? Can someone in heaven pray to God on behalf of us?"
Rick Iglesias: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-
Kurt Bjorklund: And I thought, when I saw this question, I thought you might be an especially apt person to help address this because I know that you grew up in the Catholic school and attending Catholic church-
Rick Iglesias: Yep-
Kurt Bjorklund: Before kind of morphing a little bit in your views, or whatever, I'm not sure how to say that.
Rick Iglesias: Oh, that's okay.
Kurt Bjorklund: But so how do you handle the Mary issue?
Rick Iglesias: You know, I appreciate that, and I appreciate you laying it out that way because, for 18 years, I had the opportunity to, you know, I grew up in the Catholic church, appreciated my schooling, I appreciated what we experienced at home. This was not sort of a fly-by Catholicism. This was strong devotion, and I appreciated what my parents instilled in us about God's word, surely about God, about Jesus. But we also had a very strong Marian devotion in our home. If you were to go to our home at the time, lots of statues that were there, different songs that we would sing. I think some of that maybe has waned a little bit in the United States, for sure, but if you go to Africa, if you go to South America, if you go to the Philippines especially, heavy, heavy Catholic country ... You're going to see this lived out pretty strongly.
Rick Iglesias: Now, it's interesting, when you talk about that question because it's a bit of confusion. The official Catholic doctrine would be, no, we don't pray to Mary, and we don't pray to the saints. We do not pray to them. But we pray to them so that they can sort of speak to God. So we're not asking them to do anything, but we're asking them to say something on our behalf to God. That is probably not how it's lived out.
Kurt Bjorklund: Really?
Rick Iglesias: That's official Catholic teaching, but I think if you were to talk to most people, how they live it out is probably very different. You know, we would pray the rosary. You know, we'd have the rosary beads. There's 50 Hail Marys in there, and every time. And we did that every day. We did it at school. We did it at home, whatever it was. That's 50. So you're praying to Mary, asking for her help, and when people say, no, no, you don't pray to Mary ... Well, even if just the very simple thing which is part, a strong part, the rosary ... 50 prayers to Mary are offered every time you pray the rosary.
Rick Iglesias: So, to say no, it is ... I think that the practice is very different than the official position on it. When you look at that, what I would say is several things. Let me give you some verses here. In Hebrews, chapter 4, verse 16, it says that we can freely approach the throne of grace. And so as a believer, as somebody who follows Jesus Christ, we're taught many places in the scriptures that you can just go to God. And in fact, that's who you really should be praying to. You should go to God, and you can freely approach His throne, and we have assurance over and over again that if we come, we pray in His will, we're walking with the Lord, all those things ... That God will answer our prayers, that God loves, delights to answer the prayers of His children.
Rick Iglesias: There's another verse, and that's in 1 Timothy, chapter 2, verse 5, which speaks about that there's only one mediator, and that mediator is Jesus Christ. So when we're being told, let's say in the Catholic religion, they're being told that Mary is the mediator, that the saints are mediators. In fact, she's seen as co-redemptress. And so you begin to see that it's really not lining up with what the scriptures say. If there's only one mediator, if that mediator is Jesus Christ, then first of all, we can't and we shouldn't go to somebody else in heaven or wherever it is ... Let's say in heaven. It'd be Mary or the saints. We're never taught in the scriptures anywhere that we should pray to anyone other, you have no example of that, other than God Himself. The Holy Spirit intercedes for us. Jesus intercedes for us. That's pretty big, you know, when you start looking at two of the members of the Trinity, we're being taught and told specifically that they're interceding for us. That's a great comfort that I find.
Rick Iglesias: We have no example in the scriptures of anyone praying to someone who is dead. We don't have that. Now, in fact, anytime we see someone that's dead, that's always a negative thing. Be careful of witchcraft. Be careful of the occult, all those type of things. That's usually where it's seen, where there's anybody who's talking to the dead, praying to the dead. So when you look at it, I appreciate people's devotion. I appreciate that they take things very seriously. That's very sincere. I grew up with that. But you can be sincere and really sincerely incorrect, and so I think this is one of those places where we're taught repeatedly we're to pray to the Father, we're to pray through Jesus Christ. He will intercede for us, the Spirit intercedes for us when we don't have the words. All of that, I would say that's biblical, but when you start praying to Mary or when you start praying to saints, the thought really there is our prayers aren't good enough. They have something else that they can do.
Kurt Bjorklund: So, if somebody were to say, okay, I get this, and maybe that's even the biblically correct view, but what's the big deal? So I pray to Mary, I pray to saint so-and-so or whatever to get my house to sell ... You know, all those kinds of things. It can't be that big a deal. What would be your word of caution or warning or reason for somebody to say, okay, like we're not told expressly not to pray to Mary. You just cited the example of praying to Jesus, so can it really be that bad? What would be your-
Rick Iglesias: Well, again, I would go back to what I said, that there's one mediator. And so we're not told anywhere that people, that God is going to answer the prayers offered to Mary, that God is going to answer the prayer that are offered to saints. We're not told anything in the scriptures-
Kurt Bjorklund: So, at the most, it's a waste of time.
Rick Iglesias: I would say, you know, again, I don't doubt people's devotion. I don't doubt people's sincerity. But I would say we're not given any example in the scriptures. I would say this is what you should do.
Kurt Bjorklund: Okay. Is it a big enough issue that somebody who comes to that understanding, the understanding you just put forward-
Rick Iglesias: Right-
Kurt Bjorklund: Should distance themselves from the church that teaches that?
Rick Iglesias: Again, I appreciate that there's a lot of very good things. I look at ... I have really good friends that are priests. Really good friends. And as we talk about their understanding of God's word and their understanding of a lot of things that I would say, well, that's pretty similar to what we believe in the Trinity, we believe in God's word is God's word for us. All those things. But I do think that you need to be very, very careful, I would say. If you're following certain things, sort of manmade rules, somehow you're trying to approach God in a way that scripture doesn't encourage us at any point to encourage it.
Rick Iglesias: I would say, then look at that. I had to really look at all those things when I really came to faith in Christ and said okay, well, I appreciate these things about that religion, the Catholic religion. It did not line up at times with biblical teaching as I was being taught. And so for me, I had to make that decision. I had to move away from that.
Kurt Bjorklund: Okay. Thank you. Here's a second question. This is somebody writes in and says: The Apostles' Creed reads that He, speaking of Jesus, descended into hell on the third day, and He rose again. Christ having descended into the underworld is alluded to in the New Testament in 1 Peter 4:6, which states, "The good tidings were proclaimed to the dead, the Son of God going to hell." I've never heard anything on this. Can you please comment? So comment.
Rick Iglesias: This is not an easy one. In fact, it's one of the ... A difficult verse. It's really a very difficult verse in the scriptures. Now, the Apostles' Creed sort of has a murky, and I would use that word, murky background. Up until about the 200s A.D., we didn't see it. We did not see anything, as it dealt with He descended into hell. Okay?
Rick Iglesias: The first few times that we start hearing about it, they looked at it. The person that was writing about it, different church fathers, and they would say, "No, this isn't about that. It's about descending into the grave." That was a huge understanding. Up until about 750 A.D., it was all over the place. I mean, it really, really was. This was a very late addition to-
Kurt Bjorklund: To the Apostles' Creed-
Rick Iglesias: To the Apostles' Creed. So you begin to ask yourself, okay, what was it? I would say almost for those, probably from 200 to about 750, there were some different viewpoints, but the viewpoint really was He just descended into the grave. That's what most people understood it as. Since then, I find it interesting that it's called the Apostles' Creed, but there's no apostle that wrote that. And so if you look at it, okay, this was ... If it started coming around, it was added in, a couple of, 200 A.D. or whatever it is, you would start looking at it and saying, "Okay, well that's really late. I mean, that's like 150 years, whatever from when the apostles died." So, it's interesting, at best, to call it the Apostles' Creed when there's nothing apostolic about it.
Rick Iglesias: I think when you start looking at that whole issue of did, He descend into the grave or into the dead, did He not descend? You know, we have to be careful that when we interpret a verse that is difficult to interpret, we don't just interpret it by itself. We have to sort of understand how does it line up with the other scriptures. We are told, and the thought there is, well, there's a second chance. That's really what is being taught there. That Jesus descended into the grave, into hell, these people, they were there, and so all of a sudden, He's giving them a second chance to come to faith. We are not taught that anywhere in the scriptures, that there's a second chance that you can have.
Rick Iglesias: And so, what could it mean? You know, different scholars believe in many, many different things. Some people believe, yeah, he literally went and preached and preached the second salvation, or you know, can have salvation with folks that were down there in hell. Some people say, no, that there's no way, that's that. Many people would look at it and say, well, you know, it's one of those that Jesus was in the grave for three days. Who did He preach to? Many good scholars would tell you there was an understanding that He had or He was speaking to or sharing to or whatever, those Christians that had already died. So there are a lot of different ways to look at it.
Rick Iglesias: I guess I would look at it and say we're not given an opportunity to come to Christ a second time or any other time. This is it. When you're dead, then you're dead. You don't have that opportunity again. So we need to do everything we can to share the gospel with people. Having said that, I would ... Someone asked me, not long ago, why do we say this if we don't believe that he descended into hell? Why don't we just take that out of it? I think, at this stage, we're never going to take "He descended into hell" out of it. I think that's just the way how people look at it. But I do believe that there's other ... You know, the Nicene Creed. Not saying there's anything wrong with the Apostles' Creed, but I would be careful-
Kurt Bjorklund: Actually, when we say it here at Orchard Hill, we do take "He descended into hell" out.
Rick Iglesias: Yep.
Kurt Bjorklund: And usually say "He descended into the grave."
Rick Iglesias: Yep.
Kurt Bjorklund: Which might be an earlier rendition-
Rick Iglesias: Exactly, exactly.
Kurt Bjorklund: And we usually change the Holy Catholic Church to holy universal church-
Rick Iglesias: Right.
Kurt Bjorklund: Catholic means universal, and just because we don't believe it was referring to what we know today as the Catholic church.
Rick Iglesias: Exactly.
Kurt Bjorklund: But it's the universal church. So we make those tweaks when we recite the creed. Still feel like there's some benefit in saying it, but so let me just clarify here ... So if I'm hearing you correctly, you would say that you don't believe that Jesus descended into hell, and that that's a wrong affirmation based on your understanding of 1 Peter 4:6.
Rick Iglesias: Correct. And other scriptures.
Kurt Bjorklund: Right. And for those then looking at 1 Peter 4:6, what does it mean that He proclaimed good news to the captives in that period of time. Like how, then, do you explain that if it isn't Jesus in hell?
Rick Iglesias: Again, I would say you look at it not from those that are unsaved in hell, but I would say if there is any sort of speaking during those three days, between Friday and Sunday, that the scriptures seem to indicate something was there. I would say it was not to those to give them a second chance. I would say it was to those who have already come to faith in Christ.
Kurt Bjorklund: Okay.
Rick Iglesias: You know, there's different ways to look at it.
Kurt Bjorklund: So, somebody who would read "glad tidings to the dead" then, would be those who've already trusted and saying, "I have now done that." And that would certainly make sense of that passage.
Rick Iglesias: Yeah, and I don't think it-
Kurt Bjorklund: And it would make sense of your broader understanding of the text-
Rick Iglesias: Yeah, and exactly, and it doesn't really contradict anything else we have in the scriptures where we're given a second chance to come to faith.
Kurt Bjorklund: Right. Yeah. Well, and it is incumbent, I think, on pastors, worship leaders, to try to, if you recite something like the Apostles' Creed, to not say something that's doctrinally wrong, to not sing things that are doctrinally wrong.
Rick Iglesias: Or pray things.
Kurt Bjorklund: Or pray things that are doctrinally wrong because then you, even if it doesn't seem like a big deal, you start to introduce wrong thoughts as being acceptable. So even in something like the Apostles' Creed, to say, hey, we're going to change that word-
Rick Iglesias: It's important.
Kurt Bjorklund: In order to change some things so that it's correct to our understanding, rather than something, I think is an important-
Rick Iglesias: And I appreciate that we've done that here at Orchard Hill. That's very important.
Kurt Bjorklund: Third question here, Rick, for you is this, and that is: Is there a difference that matters if I see God's hand in everything, or if I see God as letting things basically run by natural causes and occasionally stepping in to human affairs? And my guess is that kind of what's behind this question is the idea of some people teach the idea of exhaustive sovereignty, that God is behind everything that happens. Others would say God has set the world in motion and can step in, but often lets things unravel ... That probably isn't the right word ... Let things unfold-
Rick Iglesias: Unfold, that's a good word.
Kurt Bjorklund: That would be a better word. That was the word I was looking for. Unfold by natural causes, but sometimes chooses to step in, and I think the question is which is a better understanding of scripture. What's the cost or consequence of believing the other?
Rick Iglesias: Again, that's a great question. I appreciate that there are people, good people, that are sincere people, as they read the scriptures, they would say, oh, it's definitely more God set everything in motion and then he sort of, every so often, maybe steps in. You can go to the other side, as you said, and then you have that situation where God really is involved in all of the affairs that are going on.
Rick Iglesias: There's a verse that I wanted to share, Colossians, actually it's two verses, Colossians 1:15-17. "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created in heaven and on earth, invisible and visible, whether thrones or dominions or rules or authorities; all things were created through Him and for Him, and He is before all things, and in Him, all things hold together.
Rick Iglesias: Now, I look at that, and I guess I would, if I'm going to take one side, I would say I believe God is actively, intimately, not only appointed, but involved in what's going on in the world. I believe that he is sovereign. I believe that God isn't just, didn't just sort of start it whenever it started, whenever he chose to call it into being, and then all of a sudden it's like, well, when it gets really bad, I'll sort of step in here and there. I'm not trying to minimize it, but I just think that's not how I read scripture.
Rick Iglesias: He will work through natural revelation. The world, what's going on in the events of the world, things around us. He also works through special revelation, which we have. We have the scriptures, we have the Spirit of God, we have Jesus Christ especially. Hebrews 1:1, long ago, in many times, in many ways, God spoke to us through our fathers by the prophets and by these ... But in these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son, who he appointed heir of all things through whom He created the world.
Rick Iglesias: So, you have a situation where, you know, God is actively involved. Jesus is actively involved. The Spirit of God, I believe, is actively involved in what's going on today. God is there, and so I would look at it and would say is God sovereign? Absolutely, he's sovereign. Do things sort of, oh my gosh, I didn't see that coming! No, I don't think that's how God operates at all. I think He is actively ... I think scripture teaches that, that He started it, He continues it, He sustains it, and it is His world. Now, do we have freedom? Absolutely we have freedom of choice. Sadly, what we see around the world is a result of that freedom of choice, but I would say God is actively involved, sovereign in the affairs of each one of us.
Kurt Bjorklund: So, somebody may push back on that.
Rick Iglesias: Absolutely.
Kurt Bjorklund: And say, so you know, this horrible thing happened. Does that make God the author of that thing?
Rick Iglesias: Right.
Kurt Bjorklund: And in their mind, they may say, well, if God simply allows, then He's not the author.
Rick Iglesias: Right.
Kurt Bjorklund: Although He could intervene, like they still would say, I'm in a swath of sovereignty because God can, but He chooses not to, but by not insisting on exhaustive sovereignty, then I don't make God the author of the horrible things that happen.
Rick Iglesias: Yeah.
Kurt Bjorklund: Whereas otherwise, I see God as somehow being culpable in that. How would you respond?
Rick Iglesias: I don't. I really do believe that there is ... And it's a tension that I think we have in the scriptures, and I think we see that tension in life, where it's like, okay, something happens, something terrible happens, and you know, how could God allow this? How could God allow it? Well, we also have a choice in that situation. We have a choice as to what has happened there, let's say if somebody kills a whole bunch of people or whatever. You look at that, and I think you begin to say, okay, is God the creator of evil? No. At no point would I affirm at all that God is a creator of evil. Does God allow certain things, sometimes, for reasons we do not even understand?
Kurt Bjorklund: Right, but there even, your choice of words was allow-
Rick Iglesias: I know.
Kurt Bjorklund: Exhaustive sovereignty would say cause, right?
Rick Iglesias: Yeah, yes.
Kurt Bjorklund: And so, I'm just, I'm just trying to-
Rick Iglesias: No, no, I know.
Kurt Bjorklund: To press into that a little bit because if you affirm the one, and I'm not saying that you are-
Rick Iglesias: I know, I know.
Kurt Bjorklund: Of exhaustive sovereignty, then the allow word isn't really the right word.
Rick Iglesias: Right. It's not a word that-
Kurt Bjorklund: Because what you would be saying is God has, indeed, authored and caused every event, and again, where some people want to back off of that is they say, I just, I can't wrap my head around how a good and loving God would cause, not just allow, but cause a random death. Somebody gets in a car accident that we love, and it just seems so random, and you say, how would God, why would God author that, or you know, somebody breaks into a house and kills somebody ... You say why would God not just allow it, but cause that to be, and I think that's the tension that I think is behind this, of saying which one's really a better overall view, and what are the problems of each? And we are running out of time now, so now you have about 30 seconds to answer that.
Rick Iglesias: And I'm not sure I can in a way that everybody is going to agree with. I mean, that's why there's a tension there. I believe that God is not the author of sin, and so when you see something that is evil and oh my gosh, God caused this to happen, God caused that whatever, you fill in the blank, I would say I struggle more with that view. What I would say is God allows certain things that sometimes I don't even understand. I don't understand why. Someday I will, and it all fits into God's plan for what's going on in this world. But I believe I trust God enough, I believe in God that He is a good God, that He is a fair God, that He doesn't sort of, he's not capricious in any way. So I believe with all my heart that, maybe I may not understand this side of eternity, but I know that at some point, it's okay. Now that is why that happened. I may not understand it right now.
Rick Iglesias: I believe that God is engaged and involved in all of that, even though I'm not sure that I would hold to the extremes of either one of those.
Kurt Bjorklund: Well, and one of the challenges here, and I think this is what you're alluding to when you say a tension, is scripture seems to affirm both God as being exhaustively sovereign and God allowing things to happen-
Rick Iglesias: Yes, He does. He does.
Kurt Bjorklund: Humans to make choices and saying I allow, and so when you read scripture, if you emphasize one or the other, you end up at either one of those poles, and both of them have some problems if followed to their logical conclusion and applied universally.
Rick Iglesias: That's good.
Kurt Bjorklund: And so, what I think we need to do if we want to have a mature view of faith is say I don't want to fall into a complete either-or thinking. Sometimes there can be a both-and.
Rick Iglesias: Yep.
Kurt Bjorklund: And I can say there are situations that I want to say God was completely exhaustively sovereign, and then there are some where because scripture gives me the latitude, I can say God allowed. And that's probably why I picked up on that is because even as you affirm the one, you affirm the other, and that's part of the tension.
Rick Iglesias: That's very good.
Kurt Bjorklund: Here is you say, you know what? There are times where, even as you read through the scriptures, you have to say, okay, God wasn't active in that. He allowed it. He didn't intervene.
Rick Iglesias: Right.
Kurt Bjorklund: And so, I think we have to use some wisdom to say which situation is this, and which way am I going to apply that-
Rick Iglesias: That's very good.
Kurt Bjorklund: Rather than simply saying it's always one or the other.
Rick Iglesias: That's very good.
Kurt Bjorklund: So, with that, again, thank you for joining us here today on Ask a Pastor. If you have questions, send them along to firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll be happy to address them in a coming episode of Ask a Pastor.