The King James Version of the Bible famously translated John 14:2 as, “In my Father’s house are many mansions.” Modern translations are much more mundane: “rooms” or “dwelling places,” not “mansions.” In this case, the translation makes a big difference in how Christians envision God’s kingdom.
The economic connotations of “mansions” are obvious. Mansions are for the wealthy and afford their inhabitants with status and comfort. In an earlier age, Christians with few earthly possessions earnestly sang of their “mansion just over the hilltop” on “streets of purest gold.” Those with nothing may be forgiven if they hope to have their poor condition alleviated in the age to come.
Mansions, however, also isolate their inhabitants from their neighbors. Microsoft founder Bill Gates’ 66,000 square foot mansion in Washington has a swimming pool, a library, an exercise room, a theater and a banquet hall. Why would you ever need to leave home? If I am happily ensconced in my own 66,000 square foot world, I’m probably not too concerned about what’s happening in your house or interacting with you on a daily basis.
Jesus did not describe his father’s household, however, as having mansions for everyone. “In my father’s house are many rooms,” Jesus said. Or, more literally, “many places or spaces to stay.” One house with room for many.
Everyone knows what it means to share a house. It means everyone shares common resources. We share the same bathrooms and laundry facilities and time on he telephone. We have to keep the living room clean enough for everyone else to use. We have to clear the table and clean the dishes after supper. We have to share chores. After supper, we all have to agree which television shows to watch on the big TV. And we all have to live with the choices that others make that affect us.
Yes, I know that modern technology is now isolating even people living under the same roof. Laptop computers and smart phones and iPads and microwavable dinners are letting every member of the household live in their own virtual world. Too bad. Living in one house should mean living WITH each other, sharing each other’s lives and considering each other’s needs. The household should be a practical laboratory where we truly learn to love real people, warts and all.
God has one house with many rooms. There is a room for you. But be aware, living in God’s house means living with God’s people. For good or bad, they are your family.
There is a direct connection between our ability to “play nice with others” in God’s house now and our ability to live in the eternal kingdom of God. If we are to live forever in God’s kingdom of righteousness and peace, we will ultimately have to learn to share our lives with the other members of the household. There is no room in the kingdom for selfish or isolationist people who always put themselves first.