December 15, 2017

Eschatology Week: The Christian Hope = Resurrection

Fall leaf brown

Eschatology Week
Part 1: The Christian Hope = Resurrection

I believe . . . in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

• The Apostles’ Creed

• • •

These days, it seems that the gold standard for eschatological teaching in the Christian world is N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. This, however, hasn’t stopped the crazies from advocating wild theories about the end times, such as the “four blood moons” teaching offered by people such as John Hagee. And since September 28 is the fourth and final in the “tetrad” of blood moons, coinciding with the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, and supposedly portending apocalyptic events, I thought maybe we should spend this last week on earth discussing a more sane and scripturally-grounded understanding of the Christian hope.

Despite what you and I and everyone else has been told in evangelical/fundamental circles since the advent of the Scofield Reference Bible, the heart and center of the Christian hope is the resurrection. For most of my adult Christian life, the resurrection (or resurrections — many believe there will be several) has served as little more than a dot on an end-times chart, mentioned but overshadowed by talk concerning things like the Rapture, the Tribulation, and the Millennium.

One of the greatest contributions of Wright’s work has been to put the resurrection back in its proper place, back where the Apostles’ Creed puts it, as the main content of our Christian hope and that which leads to “the life everlasting.”

In chapter 3 of Surprised by Hope, N.T. Wright traces various understandings about resurrection and life after death in ancient paganism and Judaism. He shows how Jesus’ teaching on the subject was not substantially different from that of the standard Jewish view.

When the ancients spoke of resurrection, whether to deny it (as all pagans did) or to affirm it (as some Jews did), they were referring to a two-step narrative in which resurrection, meaning new bodily life, would be preceded by an interim period of bodily death. (36)

Jesus’ own teaching more or less followed this narrative, with one great exception. In Judaism the resurrection was understood as something that would happen to all the righteous and unrighteous at the end of the age:

Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.

• Daniel 12:2-3

But Jesus began teaching his disciples that he himself was going to be raised from the dead after being betrayed and killed. The disciples, having a hard enough time grasping that the one they believed to be the Messiah would die, could scarcely imagine what he was saying when he spoke of resurrection in individual terms. So Jesus was adding something utterly new and unforeseen by those who followed them to the concept.

This addition, however, did not change their basic hope, it merely added elements to it that we will discuss in future posts. The Jewish and early Christian hope was focused firmly on bodily resurrection and the age to come. It wasn’t about “going to heaven when we die,” though that was one part of the process of hope that led inevitably to new bodies in a new world in a new time.

As a hospice chaplain, you might imagine that the subject of “life after death” is one I regularly discuss with people. And you would be right. Pastorally, when I get the opportunity to share the Christian hope, I think it’s important to help people get comfort from both parts of the “two-step narrative” that Wright discusses. It is important to know that their loved ones are safe in God’s care when they die. “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord,” Paul wrote, and I give thanks for that every time I pray over the body of one who has passed.

However, I will also include this in my prayer: “Lord, take care of this loved one until the day she is raised up again in a new body to live in a new creation where there will be no more sorrow, pain, death, or separation from those we love.”

Resurrection.

The last prayer I give at a graveside is the traditional committal:

In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life
through our Lord Jesus Christ, we commend to Almighty
God our brother ______, and we commit his body to the ground;
earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. May the Lord bless
him and keep him, may the Lord make his face to shine upon him
and be gracious to him, may the Lord lift up his countenance
upon him and give him peace. Now and forevermore. Amen.

Resurrection.

The Christian hope centers on this. New life, new bodies, a new creation. The material stuff of life, corrupted by sin and devastated by death, reawakened, reanimated, reinvigorated. All things made new and incorruptible. “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven,” wrote Paul in 1Cor. 15. And in Romans 8: “…the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”

Comments

  1. David Cornwell says:

    Thank you Chaplain Mike. I’m looking forward to this week.

    We desperately need to educate and teach about this hope. We have so many misconceptions that we as Christians seem to share universally about “heaven” with many other spiritualities. Watch some of the popular television programs and one can hear every type of belief that refers to a consciousness beyond the grave that is basically no different from what many Christians believe. New Agers, to those who conduct seances, and others all seem very much alike. We need to make it clear that what we believe is radically different. from the sentimental mushiness of some of our songs and poetry. And we need to do this in a way that does not disappoint, but adds a new and deeper dimension to how we stand in Christ.

    For instance, during one of our Wednesday night lectionary bible studies, an older couple came to the room and were excited to be reading a book about a young boy who was dying, taken up to “heaven,” conversed with relatives, and maybe even Jesus, and then returned home to share the story with his surprised family. Of course the family saw to it that a book was written.

    What’s the best way to go about this correction in the Church?

    When I die I want someone to speak for me, about my hope in the resurrection. And to make it clear that I do not hold to the way we hear the subject of “heaven” discussed so often in the Church. That I do not expect to be “looking down” on my family and loved ones, but look forward the the resurrection of the body that is the true Christian message and hope.

    • Eckhart Trolle says:

      Next time share with them one of the numerous books that are just like that, but about reincarnation. Tell them, “This is science–SCIENCE!!!”

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      For instance, during one of our Wednesday night lectionary bible studies, an older couple came to the room and were excited to be reading a book about a young boy who was dying, taken up to “heaven,” conversed with relatives, and maybe even Jesus, and then returned home to share the story with his surprised family. Of course the family saw to it that a book was written.

      Sounds like that Burpo kid’s recent NDE travelogue best-seller. Latest example of the “NDE Travelogue” genre, AKA “Beyond and Back” after the first NDE travelogue to hit the best-seller lists. The first of these were secular, but Christianese versions soon followed — I remember seeing several (and reading a couple) during my time in-country in the Seventies, with some pretty odd takes on Heaven. I think the first of the Christianese NDE travelogues were done as a rebuttal to the mainstream ones; they usually added “Hell Trips” in the manner of Piers Plowman, as the mainstream NDEs seemed Universalist to Spiritualist in tone.

      For previous generations’ takes on the same subject, try to scare up a copy of Arthur Conan Doyle’s novella “The Land of Mist”, Doyle’s capper to his “Professor Challenger” (Lost World) series, a puff piece for Spiritualism. It gives a snapshot of Spiritualism in the UK around the time of WW1.

      Another is an old PBS “American Experience” documentary titled “Telegrams from the Dead”, which traced the origins of American Spiritualism through the aftermath of the American Civil War. The descriptions of Heaven are shall we say interesting to bizarre. (As well as predecessors of “Metrosexuality” and Veganism, both taken at the time as a sign of spiritual superiority.)

  2. “Behold, I make all things new.”

    I read Surprised by Hope this spring, read halfway through it again this summer, and will pick it up again. What a breath of fresh air and sanity.

    In April I went for a long hike with an old friend who is a pastor, himself also frustrated about what we call evangelicalism, which seems to be largely American white conservative culture with a bible. It turned out he was reading Surprised by Hope too. It was a very good hike.

  3. “Despite what you and I and everyone else has been told in evangelical/fundamental circles since the advent of the Scofield Reference Bible, the heart and center of the Christian hope is the resurrection.”

    do k = 1 to 144000*666*7*7*7*(4+20);

    This.

    end;

  4. My Dad passed away unexpectedly two weeks ago. He was a teacher and a Baptist pastor, and a wonderful father and friend to many. I had the sad, but honored duty of preaching his funeral. While I did mention that he is now in the care of God, I focused on Christ destroying death and rising again and the Christian hope of the resurrection.

    While I am very grateful for everyone who has been there to support my mother and I through this time, I do find it interesting that basically no one mentions the hope of the resurrection when they speak of Dad dying. It is always something to the effect of “He is better off, now that he is in heaven.” A year or two ago I lent Dad my copy of “Surprised by Hope” and although, he said he didn’t agree with everything, he really appreciated the main thrust of the book. I am grateful for Wright’s work on this topic as it has given me much hope for the future and shown me a new way to live in the present.

    Thanks Chaplain Mike for bringing this book to everyone’s attention – and of course, for reminding us of the hope of the resurrection.

  5. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    And since September 28 is the fourth and final in the “tetrad” of blood moons, coinciding with the Jewish holiday of Sukkot…

    Anyone remember Rosh Hashanah 1975? The Jewish calendar year beginning on that Rosh Hashanah transliterated number-to-letter as “Messiah”. The Jehovah’s Witnesses first picked up on that and next thing you know, it was all over the Born-Again Set, preached from every pulpit. SCRIPTURE! SCRIPTURE! SCRIPTURE! SCRIPTURE! RAPTURE! RAPTURE! RAPTURE! RAPTURE! With everything scheduled and timed literally down to the minute. IT’S PROPHESIED! IT’S PROPHESIED!

    That was 1975. It’s now 2015.

    • Eckhart Trolle says:

      And according to the principles of gematria, 2015 is equivalent to “MISSED IT SUCKAZ”

    • I remember Rosh Hashanah 1988 – ‘Eight-Eight Reasons Why the Rapture Will Happen in 1988’ by Edgar Wiesenant. I still have that book. It’s in my ‘failed prophecies’ collection.

      • I guess I should by Hagee’s book to add to my collection, but I’ll wait until Sept 29 just in case (can’t be too careful about these things).

      • Wasn’t there then a sequel? 89 Reasons the Rapture Will Happen in ’89? Only took ’em two go-rounds that time to figure it out… not bad.

  6. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Actually, I’m curious as to how Fluffy Cloud Heaven replaced Resurrection as the Christian Afterlife. I suspect Victorian Romantic Sentimentalism had a lot to do with it. Now death is permanent and your best hope is to float around as a “soul” in Fluffy Cloud Heaven like a shade in Hades. Nothing physical, only SPIRITUAL.

    • David Cornwell says:

      “your best hope is to float around as a “soul” in Fluffy Cloud Heaven ”

      Or, if you happen to be a baby or young child, then you become an angel fluttering around with wings. I’ve heard this so often.

      • Brianthedad says:

        Yep. Everyone, even family members, was all talking about their new guardian angel watching over them from heaven when our daughter died some years back. I tired of correcting. Especially with the horrified looks we got when we tried.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Actually the cute pudgy “baby angel with wings” is an artistic convention called a “Putti”.

        Makes you wonder how much of “what everybody knows” about the subject DID start as artistic conventions.

    • I think it was the influence of neo-Platonism. As the church moved away from its Jewish roots in the 2nd century it seemed to lose the Jewish hope of resurrection/new creation and replaced it with disembodied eternal souls.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        JMJ over at Christian Monist has said much the same thing. Over and over.

        And as a result it lost the “earthiness” of Judaism, going from physical reality and living your life to Spiritual unreality and Prepping for Fluffy Cloud Heaven. From Desert Hermits to Medieval Contemplatives to Full Time Christian Work behind held up as the Only Holiness; from the here-and-now to The Hereafter, “It’s All Gonna Burn.”

      • Greg, (et al)

        the Church did move away from its Jewish roots, but the Eastern Church held tightly to the resurrection/new creation aspect. Orthodox sing about it every Sunday in hymn verses that occur just before the reading of the Epistle. And if you really want to be bowled over by it, go to an Orthodox Pascha (Easter service) some time! (You will have to stay up until about 2:30 a.m. – this is our midnight service in most parishes, rather than Christmas.)

        Neo-Platonism and Aristotelianism had more consequences in the West, but not so much to do with fluffy cloud heaven. That, and a hell of eternal conscious torment, were imports from the mythology of the Germanic tribes, who were late to Christianity. Christian missionaries (many of whom were actually from the Irish monastic tradition, both in Ireland and N. England) were being martyred by the northern Germanics into the 700s. Christian missionaries did not get to Scandinavia until the early 900s, and those lands weren’t solidly converted until into the 1100s.

        Charlemagne (c. 800) and then his successors sent military help to the Pope, consisting largely of those relatively newly-converted Germanic/Frankish soldiers. They had not lost the memory of pagan cosmology, which involved several worlds. We commonly know about Valhalla; there was also a world for those who did not die in battle, but were still to be rewarded. Another was like our hell of ECT, and would be the source of the final fiery destruction of both gods and mankind, the Ragnarok. It’s easy to see how these ideas could have cross-pollinated with Christian ideas about the afterlife, especially with the large cohort of Germanic soldiers in Rome. I think this is plausible.

        Remember, Christianity was one until the mid-11th century, but the cultural/theological/political issues had been brewing for a couple of centuries before that. “Hell” as a “place” of ECT is one o of those things that was brewing in the West. It was never thought of that way in the East. In the East, whatever torment happens is an interior experience, in proportion to not only rejection of God’s love, but also a person’s own ability to love, experienced in the face of the fullness of the presence of Christ when he comes again. Think about how you feel when you realize that you have done something to injure love between you and a loved one – no external torture by little devils need be applied, or could exceed the “psychic pain” you feel.

        Though most Eastern teaching carries the prospect of that torment into “eternity,” it is not something that has been dogmatically expressed, largely because the Eastern Church recognizes the ambiguity of the Greek words for “eternal.” (Yes, there are two.) Therefore, an end to this torment, along with universal reconciliation, is a possibility in Orthodox understanding. It’s the minority view, but those who have held this view have not been condemned by the Eastern Church (except for Origen, but that was only because a small number of his ideas, and what some of his fanboys made of them).

        Dana

        • David Cornwell says:

          Dana, thanks for this; very helpful. I”d love to attend this Easter Service you speak of, and worship with other Christians celebrating the Resurrection of our Lord until 2:30 a.m.

          • David, what’s your closest large city?

            D.

          • David Cornwell says:

            Dana, Fort Wayne IN., medium size.

          • Okay. Here’s the deal. The dates for Orthodox Pascha and western Easter will some years coincide, some years be 1 week apart, and some years be 5 weeks apart. In 2016, it’s the 5-week difference – Pascha will be on May 1. Which is good for you (or anyone else) who wants to experience the Orthodox celebration, because it will in no way interrupt your attending your own church services in April.

            Looking at the choices in Ft. Wayne, I would recommend St Nicholas Church:
            http://www.stnicholasonline.org
            Each parish arranges things according to their own needs and traditions; St Nicholas’ schedule is different than my parish’s, but the same things will be done, just at different times. When it gets closer, you can check their calendar on line at their web site, or contact Fr Andrew.

            If they keep the same daily schedule next year, and if you are physically able to do it, to get the whole flavor of Holy Week leading into Pascha I would recommend attending one of the Bridegroom services on Mon or Tues evening. (The Holy Thursday service is very long, and is mainly the reading of all the Passion accounts, which you can do prayerfully at home.) The most moving services for me are the Holy Friday burial vespers (when we give the Lord a Christian burial) which is in the afternoon, and the Vesperal Liturgy on Holy Saturday, which is full of scripture readings on the prefigurations and types of the Resurrection. Our parish does this on Sat afternoon, but St Nicholas does this late at night – which was also the tradition of the early Church, when people got baptized – so this is the one where you’ll be up ’til the wee hours of the morning. Our Resurrection Liturgy goes in this time slot; St Nicholas’ is later Sunday morning.

            The Lamentations is a service of mourning for the Lord, but also chanting of much verse based on the OT prefigurations of the Resurrection, especially the Jews being delivered from Pharaoh – the congregation repeatedly chants “For he has triumphed gloriously!” If you are fatigued, this one can be skipped. If you’re beat after the Paschal Liturgy and Vigil, as a visitor you could skip the Sunday morning Liturgy. BUT do make an effort to get to Agape Vespers on Sun afternoon, because all the Paschal resurrectional hymns are repeated together, pretty much as they are sung at the Liturgy but in a shorter service. I never fail to weep at several moments during this whole time, and the end of the Agape Vespers is one of them.

            I’m really glad to be able to recommend a local Orthodox Church for your exploration of Pascha, and really hope you will be up for it when the time comes. (The Greeks can be very hospitable but still wonder why the heck you’re there if you’re not Greek. The Antiochian schedule and flavor are different; if you’re really curious about it you can email me. I prefer the Slavic side of things.) You might want to take a motel room, at least for Saturday night. I’m sure Fr Andrew would be happy to converse with you about theological points, if you’re so inclined. In any case, the opportunity is there for you.

            Love in Christ-
            D.

        • Excellent summary of so many things, Dana! I think some of the ideas you mention as Eastern did linger in Western Europe for a while, but were ultimately eclipsed. My own thought is that the Eastern churches are absolutely right on this, and i wish it would start to percolate into Western xtian thought. (I am also down with ultimate reconciliation, as ECT seems very unlike God.)

        • The Irish had their own version of the Elysian Fields – Tir Na Og (sp?)

          I know for certain that Chinese popular beliefs post many different hells, aka “earth prisons.” Punishment in the afterlife seems to be present in many religions, along with a place of eternal reward and peace.

        • David Cornwell says:

          Dana, thank you very much; am very inclined toward this and will await the season to see what it brings.

    • A good study of this phenomenon is Philip Lee’s book “Against the Protestant Gnostics”.

  7. from the 14th Century, England’s great mystic Julian of Norwich, this:

    “…All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well”
    (Julian of Norwich)

    “And in this He showed me a little thing, the quantity of a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand, it seemed, and it was as round as any ball. I looked thereupon with the eye of my understanding, and I thought, ‘What may this be?’ And it was answered generally thus: ‘It is all that is made.’ I wondered how it could last, for I thought it might suddenly fall to nothing for little cause. And I was answered in my understanding: ‘It lasts and ever shall, for God loves it; and so everything has its beginning by the love of God.’ In this little thing I saw three properties; the first is that God made it; the second is that God loves it; and the third is that God keeps it.” (from a private revelation of Julian of Norwich)

  8. One thing that has fascinated me about Jesus’ resurrection is that his resurrected body was apparently not identical to his pre-death body in all ways. Though he carried the scars of his crucifixion, the apostles did not immediately recognize him. Some thing or things were very different. I’ve always wondered what that was all about and what it means. I don’t recall if Wright addresses that in his book, I read it long ago.

  9. Richard Rohr today sez: “Jesus sought to create a deep sense of personal choice, responsibility, and freedom right now, and not just disconnected payoffs in the afterlife. But we have understood much of the Gospel in terms of divine threats and artificial rewards–a delayed schedule of merits and demerits. . . . Threats of punishment or promises of candy later create perpetual adolescents and very well-disguised narcissism at every level of Christianity.”

    I’m with Christiane and Julian, all will be well. My hope is that my old girl dog doesn’t get so crippled up she can no longer make it outside to pee and that she goes gently in the night. I hope the same for myself, tho not holding my breath on that one. I wake up in the night to pain management and I think about how Tom Wright just can’t wait to get back here and do it some more and I think, are you crazy? I believe life on the other side is far more complex than our dualistic thinking can handle, and that most of the theological speculation over the past two thousand years has pretty much been a bunch of blather.

    I do see this life on Earth as the best school in Creation but it sure doesn’t seem to be much fun. I don’t think Jesus had a lot of fun while he walked the planet, nor the apostles. But maybe enough to keep on keeping on. My old dog runs for a few steps on warm sunny days when she doesn’t hurt so bad. That makes us both happy. I probably ought to try it myself.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I believe life on the other side is far more complex than our dualistic thinking can handle, and that most of the theological speculation over the past two thousand years has pretty much been a bunch of blather.

      My type example of that is Medieval Angelology and Demonology, where each generation mistook the previous generation’s speculation as not only Established Precedent but FACT, and built their generation’s speculations on that foundation. Lather/Rinse/Repeat for a couple centuries and you have this HUGE hyper-detailed edifice of Theological Dogma built on minimal source documentation. Like the cartoon I saw once (not from Ham of AIG but a parody of how YECs view paleontology) of a detailed protohuman Missing Link “reconstructed” from a single microscopic fossil bone fragment.

  10. People in the church have gotten VERY angry at me when I’ve talked about the resurrection of the dead, about people being dead and “sleeping”, and not in some fluffy cloud heaven.

    VERY angry.

    They don’t like the Bible much.

  11. David Cornwell says:

    Oscar Cullman was a Lutheran theologian who wrote a short book entitled “Immortality of the Soul or Resurrection of the Dead?” in the mid 1950’s. It is available in used book stores, or a PDF version of it can be found online for the downloading.

    Cullman was a very astute student of the early church. The purpose of the little book is to compare the Greek attitude toward immortality of the soul to the early Christian conviction as to the resurrection of the dead. In the Introduction he speaks of the anger this stirred up among some of those who read it. He says “No other publication of mine has provoked such enthusiasm or such violent hostility.” After giving examples of some the distress he has caused he states

    “This remarkable agreement seems to me to show how widespread is the mistake of attributing to primitive Christianity the Greek belief in the immortality of the soul. Further, people with such different attitudes as those I have mentioned are united in a common inability to listen with complete objectivity to what the texts teach us about the faith and hope of primitive Christianity, without mixing their own opinions and the views that are so dear to them with their interpretation of the texts. This inability to listen is equally surprising on the part of intelligent people committed to the principles of sound, scientific exegesis and on the part of believers who profess to rely on the revelation in Holy Scripture.”

    In a general summation of his reasons for writing he says “The fact is that, according to the first Christians the full, genuine life of the resurrection is inconceivable apart from the new body, the ‘spiritual body’, with which the dead will be clothed when heaven and earth are re-created.”

    Much of the objection given by those who complain about this doctrine, is the idea that the interim state of the dead is that of sleep. Cullman talks about it in a very complete way in Chapter 4: Those Who Sleep. His ends it as follows:

    “We wait, and the dead wait. Of course the rhythm of time may be different for them than for the living; and in this way the interim-time may be shortened for them. This does not,indeed, go beyond the New Testament texts and their exegesis, (Here I follow R. Mehl’s suggestion, Der letzte Feind, p. 56.) because this expression to sleep, which is the customary designation in the New Testament of the ‘interim condition’, draws us to the view that for the dead another time-consciousness exists, that of ‘those who sleep’. But that does not mean that the dead are not still in time. Therefore once again we see that the New Testament resurrection hope is different from the Greek belief in immortality.”

    Last year Russell E. Saltzman wrote an article for “First Things” entitled RESURRECTION VS. IMMORTALITY which is basically a review of Cullman’s book. I recommend this, and it can be found on the web at the First Things website of 30 January 2014. Russell E. Saltzman is a former Lutheran pastor, transitioning to the Roman Catholic Church.

    • I think that the “soul sleep” thing is difficult to reconcile with Paul’s statements about departing to be with Christ, being absent from the body but present with the Lord,etc. Besides, the OT posits a variety of neliefs about Sheol.

      I have difficulty believing that God puts people into some sort of suspended animation when they die. It seems, at best, unkind.

      • Jesus told the penitent thief, “Today you shall be with me in paradise.”

        I think there’s mre going on than we know, and that the small hints we get are just that – probably because it is not possible to express much of it in words.

        My .02. …

        • I’m with you, numo. I don’t even think we understand what the body itself really is in our present state; even less do I trust that we know what it will be, or how our spirits will relate to it, or the relationship between time and eternity as it touches on death and resurrection. It’s probably wise to say as little about it as possible.

        • In the gospels, Jesus is depicted as treating each person he encounters as an individual, and relating to them in their uniqueness and particularity. If God treats us the same way in death (my faith that the character of God is the character of Jesus leads me to believe that this will be so), then I think we are barking up the wrong tree when we imagine the new life as some sort of cookie cutter pattern into which God will pour us like so much batter.

      • I entirely agree, and I’m glad you said this, Numo.

        Jesus also told the priests that He [God] “is not God of the dead but of the living,” including Abraham and Moses.

        “The hope of the resurrection” seems pretty thin gruel if it consists of the concept that when you die you’re just plain dead, but maybe in a couple more millennia or another hundred thousand years you might be brought to some kind of life again somehow, somewhere.

        I’m pretty sure that’s not the faith for which the saints have died.

      • David Cornwell says:

        Cullman has much more to say about this than I quoted here. And, as you say, there is plenty of room for disagreement. He has also written a book entitled “Christ and Time: The Primitive Christian Conception of Time and History’ that is now out of print.

        He is attempting to relate how the early church looked at resurrection and death, and how that differs in so many ways from the interpretations and practices that have developed over time.

        On the idea of “sleep” after death, I’m not convinced one way or the other yet. What I am sure of is that we are safe with Christ however it turns out to be.

        • David,
          The Catholic and Orthodox practice of asking the deceased faithful (not just canonized Saints, but any deceased believer may be invoked) for prayer requires that they be conscious and aware to respond. Since this practice started pretty early in Church history, the belief that the deceased are conscious and aware not only of heavenly things but of events on earth as well must have existed from pretty early in the life of the Church, too.

          • Aside from the exact antiquity of the practice, there’ no question that the practice of invoking the departed faithful, Saints and saints alike, is integral to Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox spirituality today, and the practice assumes that the deceased exist in a conscious state “now”. I mean, what would be the point of praying “Hail, Mary…” if you didn’t think you could hail Mary.

        • David, the “soul sleep” thing greatly antedates Cullman’s writing, and was controversial during the Reformation. (Likely far earlier, too.) I have heard it from various people over the years, and always found it a bit creepy.

          I’m also puzzled by xtian denominations that frown on cremstion, because i canmot see how or why God needs intact or semi-intact remains in order to raise the dead. In many climates, interred remains don’t ladt very long, and why would the God who created the universe need a skeleton in order to resurrect someone? The whole subject is too mind-boggling to contemplate, for me, at least – but limiting God in the way i just described is, to me, confusing at best. Seems more lkke “we’ve always done it this way” than anything else.

          • In some places there are cultural factors involved. For example, in India, where Hindus build funeral pyres, Christians distinguish themselves by practicing burial.

            I don’t think many Christian groups here have fully thought through the practice of cremation. There are many factors to be considered. Perhaps we’ll have a post on this in the future.

          • David Cornwell says:

            Robert, Numo, thanks for your comments. I’m in investigative/research mode as far as the intermediate state of the dead is concerned. It takes a full reading of Cullman’s remarks to understand his position. I’m not convinced at the present time one way or the other. Since there is so little said about this in the Bible, it really isn’t of paramount concern.

          • I wonder if xtians in India also practice burial simply due to the fact that most are either Catholic or Eastern Orthodox, though… because tradition and those specific churches really disapprove of cremation. I have ahunch that there would be Indian xtians who would choose it were it not so frowned upon. I don’t believe that it’s simply because Hindus do it, and so xtians must create a clear line of demarcation. Muslims also bury their dead, and India still has a large Muslim population.

          • In the EO realm, it is a way of expressing our hope of resurrection in a substantial way.

        • David, during the Reformation, it was at least partly about an alternative to belief in Purgatory. Don’t know if that helps, but i think it explains quite a lot, for me, anyway.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        I remember from long-ago reading that Seventh Day Adventists and Armstrong’s Worldwide Church of God both teach “soul sleep”, and I’ve run across it occasionally in other contexts.

  12. Good post. Very encouraging.

    One of my favorite lines of hope in the Bible is “It is finished.” I’m trying to figure out how that fits in with this idea of the resurrection.

    • Rick,

      the word Jesus says is recorded as “Telestetai.” Often Protestants will say that in saying it, Jesus meant that his work of redemption was finished on the cross. (No place for the Resurrection in this, except as the Father’s acceptance or “stamp of approval” on the sacrifice – a very transactional, legalistic view.)
      The semantic range of that word includes the idea of completion and fulfillment, so is larger than simply the end of some sort of list of things that must be done.

      Shortly before Jesus’ crucifixion, Pilate presents him to the crowd and says, “Behold, the human being!” The word in Greek is anthropos – not the word for a male/man (that’s andros), but for human being – where we get the word anthropology, the study of humanity.

      The two sayings, first by Pilate, and then by Jesus from the cross, are connected. Fr John Behr explains this beautifully in his book, “Becoming Human.” It is a small book, but one to be read slowly and carefully, more than once, especially since we have been saturated in (what is to me) very thin, and very negative, Evangelical Protestant understanding of what human beings are and what we were created to be.. Being an aural learner, it helped me to watch a few of his videos in which he talks about the book, giving an overview of it. If you have time, the most complete is the 4-part version, part 1 here:
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jaZmvyzOj04
      A one-video version is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NaoobiSG8Ws

      To me this is breathtaking – full of depth, the love of God, and the integration and coherence of a beautiful Christ-centered theology.

      Dana

  13. Idumea: a shape-note hymn describing the Resurrection:

    “https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bGq_JLYLxIc

  14. Noticed that a recent article by DB Hart – God, Creation, and Evil – is referenced in the Recommended Reading. One of the many excerpts from that article that stuck with me:

    “In the end of all things is their beginning, and only from the perspective of the end can one know what they are, why they have been made, and who the God is who has called them forth from nothingness.”

    IMO, nothing forces us to look at the character of God and the purpose of humanity and of all creation as eschatology. The end of a story has a way of providing the meaning of the whole thing.

    As far as “resurrection” (not to be confused with mere re-animation of dead tissue) I don’t get too caught up in what it’ll look like, intermediary states, if we have souls or not, etc. If it ends bad then no amount of metaphysical gymnastics changes that – regardless of if it’s “here and physical” or “there and spiritual”. Yes, it’s important to say that we aren’t just looking for an escape from slavery to a physical world, but that in and of itself only says so much.

    It seems to me that Jesus’s answer to death and evil isn’t to explain it or how it eternally trumps his purposes in creating, or demonstrate how it’s necessary to bring about some great end that couldn’t have been possible unless there was something to save people from, or that it’s just all our fault and we’re disgusting and so God is super pissed, or that a few billion people NEED to burn to make the elect thankful that they AREN’T “those people”. The ultimate response the way that I read it (when I’m not horribly depressed by the typical eschatology) is…..resurrection.

  15. The supposed conflict between resurrection of the body and immortal soul seems like a useless argument to me. I am personally convinced that we continue on consciously without pause when we leave our body behind, but if turned out that contrary to Jesus and Paul and a host of witnesses we do in fact “sleep” until woken, this would make absolutely no difference to my awareness. It’s all going to be new either way.

    The Apostle’s Creed says that I believe in the resurrection of the body. I have no idea what this actually means and please don’t bother trying to explain it to me because I don’t believe you know what it means either. Something happens when our body dies, and I’m quite content to wait and find out what it is, if in fact I am conscious and able to observe what’s going on.

    If it turned out that I just winked out, I wouldn’t know it anyway. And if I somehow knew that this was true, I can’t think how that would change the way I am living in the slightest. That may not be entirely so, because I am so convinced that I will go on living come what may, I probably can’t imagine an alternative. The older I get, the less eschatology seems relevant to anything, and the more I mistrust anyone trying to say exactly what’s ahead. I’m more than willing to take it like it comes, and the sooner the better, tho I think I probably have to hang out here longer than I would like. I’ll sure be glad to lay this body down.

  16. I see the Resurrection as an outcome of the Incarnation itself.

    Our Lord took on (assumed) a human nature, but He was still God in the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, which makes Mary the ‘Theotokos’ indeed. So having assumed this human nature, Our Lord was then able to be crucified and to die, however because of Who He Is as a Person, death could not hold Him . . . hence, the Resurrection.

    It was said by St. Anselm, concerning the Incarnation, that “from the moment of her fiat Mary began to carry all of us in her womb”

    At the moment of Resurrection, what had been assumed could then be saved from death: “What has not been assumed has not been healed; it is what is united to his divinity that is saved. . .”
    (Gregory of Nazianzus, Epistle 101)

    For the people of Our Lord’s time, hope was born when the proclamation came: “He Is Risen”
    They were not used to hearing about ‘Resurrection’, so the proclamation brought many into the Church.
    But to understand the ‘hope’ we have, we do have to go back . . . how far? to the Incarnation? to the Fall and the Promise ? perhaps to Creation itself . . . because without Christ as the ‘context’, we cannot begin to fathom the meaning of this great mystery and how it relates to us through Him.