November 22, 2017

If Only I Could See the Shore

The_Wizard_of_Oz_4

“No matter how dreary and gray our homes are, we people of flesh and blood would rather live there than in any other country, be it ever so beautiful. There is no place like home.”

 ― L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

* * *

I was listening to an interview with someone the other day discussing high level achievement in athletic endeavors. She was telling the story of a woman who was trying to swim a channel between the coast and an island offshore. The athlete had attempted this several times without success. On this particular day, the weather was extremely foggy and as she swam she felt herself flagging. She finally gave up and climbed into the boat that was following her. Shortly thereafter, the murkiness lifted somewhat and the swimmer saw that she had given up her crossing with only about a mile left.

Her reaction? “If only I could have seen the shore, I would have made it.”

This story reminds us that people need hope, a hope we can envision, to help us keep going through life.

That same day I participated in a funeral service. Another pastor officiated it, and I must say he did a terrific job bringing personal comfort and encouragement to the family and friends of the one who had died. He was great at telling stories, celebrating the life and character of the person, eliciting both laughter and tears. I was very impressed, and I complimented him and praised him to others for the ministry he provided.

However, there was one nagging problem in the midst of all the good: the theology of hope, of eschatology, of “heaven” that was presented, was hopelessly deficient. Thankfully, it wasn’t the dominant emphasis, but it was sprinkled throughout the service in readings, comments, and songs like discordant notes (to my ears, at least) in a beautiful melody.

And for the first time it became emotionally and personally evident to me, that if this is the Christian hope, I don’t want any part of it.

As presented, it was so vapid, so cartoonish, so discontinuous with any experience we humans have in this life, that I can’t imagine how it could offer real incentive for anyone to follow Jesus or embrace Christian faith. I don’t understand how any thoughtful person could see any of it as “promise” to be welcomed with any sort of eagerness or anticipation. It is no shore I would want to swim toward, even if I could actually see it through the fogginess of the teaching.

First of all, there was no hope given for human beings as we know human beings.

We are embodied creatures, but I kept hearing talk about “spirit” not “body.” The deceased was “spiritually” with God in heaven, and no destiny beyond that “spiritual” state was ever mentioned. The body in front of the audience was essentially ignored. There was no mention of resurrection (except in a quote from scripture), no sense that the life to come has any embodied aspect to it. The pastor referenced 1Corinthians 15, but only to cite the brief passage affirming that death has no sting. The very point of Paul’s teaching — the resurrection of the actual body — was completely absent. I don’t know what anyone else was envisioning about the deceased while sitting in that service, but it was all a fog to me.

I find this confusing dichotomy in a lot of popular Christian teaching about heaven. There is often talk of a “reunion” with loved ones, of being with Jesus, of no more sickness or death, of falling down in worship before God, but no talk of resurrection. And all the while the body of the deceased is lying right in front of us, ready to be carried to the cemetery and lowered into the ground! If “heaven” is our hope, and we will be with God “spiritually,” how then shall we embrace our loved ones, bow our knee or sing praise? This can’t be our hope. If Christ redeemed me — all of me — then my body itself will one day be transformed. The fleshly “shell” (a word I’ve heard used often at time of death) is not something we simply cast off in trade for a “spiritual” existence. The life of the age to come is an embodied life, a life that is congruous with this life we live now. And it won’t come in “heaven” — but more on that in a moment.

We need to make this clear. The mourning and grieving need to envision this. Our deceased loved ones will walk and talk and move and dance in new bodies, new material bodies. Flesh transformed but still material, substantial, human flesh. Help us see it, funeral preachers! Fill not only our hearts but also our bodies with the longing to touch, to embrace, to see, to hear, to smell, to taste physical realities beyond any we have known in this age.

Second, there was no hope given for this world, for creation, or for life in this world with which we as humans are familiar.

This world is not my home
I’m just a-passin’ through.
My treasures are laid up
somewhere beyond the blue.

Beyond. Totally discontinuous from life in this world, from actual living in the here and now. The pastor quoted that song. And in the service, the only activities that were mentioned taking place in “heaven” involved having a “reunion” with loved ones and falling on one’s knees to worship God. Add a few architectural details about gates and golden streets and shining “mansions” and an All-Powerful Ruler who welcomes us and protects us, and what you end up with is an “Oz,” somewhere “over the rainbow,” in a dream, that bears little relation to anything we’ve ever known in daily experience.

But the Bible doesn’t say we’re leaving Kansas to go to some Oz out there where all is colorful and magical. The Bible says Oz is coming to Kansas, and it also says that it is not God’s intention to replace Kansas but to transform it into the best Kansas there could ever be. God will make his home among us, and then we will truly know what it means to be “home.” The end game is for all creation to be reconciled to God, that all things will be “gathered up” in him (Eph. 1:10). God’s plan is not to discard Kansas and replace it with Oz, but to reconcile Oz and Kansas and transform all creation in Christ.

Our Christian hope is terrestrial, material, physical, and fully in line with what we have experienced in this world. There is continuity as well as discontinuity between this age and the age to come.

Christian preachers must be very careful to give us real hope, hope that we can see and grasp after, rather than foggy, cartoonish pictures to which none can relate.

We’re swimming to shore, we’re tired, and we need to see clearly where we’re bound.

“Spiritual” promises are no promises at all.

Comments

  1. Steve Snead says:

    Columns such as this at once fill me with hope ( I don’t see God as a meglomanic demanding we heap words of praise and call ourselves unworthy worms for eternity.) But, also with the hope of this type posting is the disappointment that I can never really share the biblical literalism. Virgins don’t have babies. Bodies don’t decay or burn up in fires or decompose in the ocean and magically come back to life. Sexually and identical to which age? Which pattern of molecules? So, if and I believe there is. But, if there is reason to hope. Then the reason in my opinion, is that we truly are at our core pure consciousness that transends these few short years here on earth. I do still call myself a Christian. But, these days it’s harder for me to just “hush” and trust scripture. Not because I don’t have a solid hope. I pray certain verses back to God in times of trouble and times of joy. I lean on my faith. But, I can’t pretend. Not anymore.
    Peace.

    • Steve, if it weren’t for the witnesses (reliable in my opinion) who told us Jesus was raised from the dead, I would be right there with you.

    • In my mind, it all boils down to whether God actually exists… or not. If God as depicted in the Bible exists, none of these things (Virgin birth, resurrection, etc) would pose any real difficulty for Him.

      If God doesn’t exist… well, the Bible doesn’t really pose that option as a possibility, but it *is* interesting to me that the very passage under discussion, 1 Corinthians 15, says that if there is no *bodily resurrection *, then the only meaning in life is to grab as much pleasure as we can before we die…

      • Robert F says:

        That text from Corinthians is an overstatement, filled with theological assumptions. In fact, God may not be exactly as depicted in the Bible or New Testament, or as the 1 Corinthians text assumes him to be, but still exist; there may be no bodily resurrection, but there still may be an afterlife, and this life may still have more meaning than to get all the pleasure out of it that we can before we die. The 1 Corinthians text presents a false dichotomy.

        I, like Steve Snead, find myself increasingly agnostic about the details of what’s to come in the afterlife, and what awaits us, while continuing to believe in the existence and love of God.

        • Robert, this word “afterlife” is one of those terms that I find most unhelpful. The Bible doesn’t speak of an “afterlife,” it talks about life “in the age to come.” The first word leads immediately to thoughts of what happens after we die. The second looks beyond that to a new creation after the resurrection.

          • Robert F says:

            But the mainstreams of Catholic and Orthodox belief teach that there is a state after death, but before the general resurrection, in which the dead are very much alive, and alive now; in fact, they are believed to be so alive that they can hear and respond to prayer directed to them. Upper case S Saints are canonized on the basis of this belief. The idea that there is no afterlife immediately following on death is something that developed in Lutheran and Reformed theology; it’s a very Protestant idea, though large numbers of evangelicals do not affirm it. That’s not to say that Catholic theology does not recognize that life immediately following death is penultimate, awaiting the ultimate completion of the general resurrection; it does. But in Catholic teaching, the dead are even now very much alive and active.

        • OR this whole “God” enterprise COULD be a sham. There is no end to the doubt cycle once you start walking that path.

          Where does your doubt end? IS there an end? And, if there IS, then who is to say that YOUR ending spot is not just some arbitrary decision to salve your OWN conscience and soften the terror of death and non-existence?

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Brights(TM) are fond of pointing out that all afterlife beliefs are fantasies to avoid the FACT that we WILL cease to exist.

            “THERE IS NOTHING!”
            — creepy video on YouTube

          • StuartB says:

            It more than likely is.

            How do you go back to believing in the Wizard after you’ve seen behind the curtain? Move on to the next Wizard? And the next? And the next?

          • Robert F says:

            Being shrill or strident does not settle any matter of truth.

          • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

            Why would anyone be terrified of death or non-existance? I’m not just saying this because I ain’t – I’ve never met a single person who was terrified of death or non-existence.

          • Robert F says:

            As of this moment you can consider yourself to have met someone who is terrified of dying. I can’t be terrified of death because I know nothing of it; dying, however, I’ve experienced quite a bit, both my own and that of others. It’s ugly and painful.

      • Rick Ro. says:

        If we believers trust there is a God, then how powerful do we think He is? And how loving?

        I have to rest firmly on His boundless grace. Several months back, the Holy Spirit (or so I think) told me to way this to an agnostic friend:

        “If God exists, He wants to have a relationship with you. If He exists, He wants to show you He loves you.”

        I love that idea now, and use it quite often (even with myself)! It puts the onus on God to show Himself, and it allows my friend to explore that concept on his own.

        • Rick Ro. says:

          *way* = *say*

          • no it doesn’t

          • Rick Ro. says:

            “no it doesn’t”

            Ben, Is that in response to my comment that the onus is on God to show Himself? Because I don’t know of any possible way that I, as a human, can convince someone of His existence.

            If you think the onus is on someone/something else, I’d be curious to hear it.

        • StuartB says:

          If we believers trust there is a God, then how powerful do we think He is? And how loving?

          Which God? From which book? What type of loving? How long from loving til “and just”?

          No easy answers.

          I kind of like this Jesus guy, but he seems nothing like the Father I read about in the Bible. Almost seems like Jesus is describing a different Father too.

          • Rick Ro. says:

            I keep dwelling on Hebrews 1:3, Stuart…

            “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being…”

            So Jesus is the exact representation of the Father, eh? This means I (we) must “camp out” in the four gospel accounts to better understand Jesus (and thus the Father).

            As I’ve done that, I’ve discovered much of what we make the Father out to be is nothing like He really is.

          • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

            It also means, by extension, that the Hebrews got God completely, entirely wrong.

          • Danielle says:

            Entirely wrong? I don’t know, there’s a fair amount of tension and richness in the OT; it doesn’t really reduce well to a single picture, does it?

      • StuartB says:

        then the only meaning in life is to grab as much pleasure as we can before we die…

        Isn’t this the conclusion of Ecclesiastes? But more than that, to do good and help others.

  2. Christiane says:

    I get it that ‘hope’ is different things to different people in a very personal way. I’ve always found the following to be an interesting perspective:

    “Hope is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons . . . It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”
    (Vaclav Havel)

  3. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    We are embodied creatures, but I kept hearing talk about “spirit” not “body.” The deceased was “spiritually” with God in heaven, and no destiny beyond that “spiritual” state was ever mentioned.

    Like a shade in Hades.

    And in the service, the only activities that were mentioned taking place in “heaven” involved having a “reunion” with loved ones and falling on one’s knees to worship God.

    Like a never-ending compulsory church service. That “worship bot” image from my time in-country (more specifically, a never-ending compulsory Bible study) has made me leery to this day.

    • Suzanne says:

      Similar to a friend of mine who told me years ago that if all we did in heaven was sing, she wasn’t sure it was for her. She did not like to sing at all and thought that would be a painful way to spend eternity.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        As I remarked some years ago,
        “Heaven’s supposted to be better than Hell, but not by much.”

      • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

        Personally, I’d rather go to Valhalla, or even Helheim. Why do the heathens get the cool afterlife?

  4. Robert F says:

    Perhaps, Mike, when people talk about embracing their loved ones in an afterlife, they are speaking poetically, even without knowing it, of a communion that transcends the limits of both spirit and physicality as we know it in this life. Perhaps you are holding them to too stringent an interpretation of their words, which are really tokens of their hope rather than literal descriptors. It seems to me that there is just too much literalism all around, including in talk about resurrection of the body.

    • I find very little actual literalism, and I do think you’re correct – people probably are speaking poetically. However, I think the scriptures give us reason to anticipate a future with God that is not poetic in that sentimental way I hear so often. Peter says we are looking for a new heavens and a new earth in which justice dwells. A world made right. Bodies made right. Nations made right. People and human institutions made right. That’s a far different kind of “poetry” than what I usually hear, a much better poetry I think, and one that actually gives me hope and makes me want to live now in preparation for the age to come.

      • A eulogy is given to celebrate the life of the deceased and to comfort the bereaved. Correct doctrine, although important, takes a second seat in these instances.

        You didn’t mention the church affiliation of this group, so if they were, by and large, unchurched or nominal Christians and the deceased was ALSO in this camp, then the preacher took the correct path, imo.

        • Don’t get me wrong, Oscar. I praised the pastor for an excellent ministry of comfort.

          But, maybe for the first time, I had an almost visceral reaction to the doctrine of heaven stated and implied throughout the service. I’m not blaming this particular pastor; this is rampant in almost every Christian setting in which I find myself.

          • I attended a service for an infant that died at 3 days old recently. The pastor (a Baptist) tried to comfort the parents by finding meaning (‘God’s plan’) in this child’s short life (it rang rather hollow to me). He also went on about how this child was experiencing pleasures and joy beyond anything we can imagine. He really failed to give the family permission to mourn at tragic, senseless death. It was all I could do to sit through it. The Bible says very little about ‘heaven’ (the intermediate state), and the picture we get from Rev. 7:9-11 (understanding it is apocalyptic literature) is somewhat disturbing. There the martyred saints cry out to be avenged (a rather un-christian attitude, and they are in the very presence of God) and appear to be very much aware that things are not yet what they should be. Doesn’t quite sound like endless bliss to me.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            The Bible says very little about ‘heaven’ (the intermediate state), and the picture we get from Rev. 7:9-11 (understanding it is apocalyptic literature) is somewhat disturbing.

            So how did the Intermediate State end up taking over the Final State?

          • Robert F says:

            So how did the Intermediate State end up taking over the Final State?

            Perhaps you should ask Dante, and many others who preceded him…

    • It’s all fine and dandy to speak poetically. That kind of speech is one of my favorites, and the Bible is full of it.

      But hopefully not everything is ONLY poetry. People do well to be poetic about their hope for dead loved ones. They don’t do well to ignore literalism or historicity, or embodiment as if bodies are somehow “unpoetic” or “unspiritual.”

      I don’t want to jump down people’s throats or anything about correcting their language. But when you’re talking about a trained pastor offering hope, in an explicitly Christian context, to loved ones, you’re well within bounds to complain about hyper-spiritualizing. The gnostic tendency really is a scourge on the modern church.

  5. Suzanne says:

    To be honest, I think we put too much emphasis on the afterlife, to the detriment of the here & now. I see too many instances of people doing little or nothing to help others (me included) because it’ll all be over soon enough & we’ll get our good times in heaven. If one of my kids dies before I do, yes, I will want to be with them again, but I don’t care much how that happens, in the body or not. I don’t think even now, we really understand consciousness or the relationship between body & soul. We want to make a clear delineation between the two, but maybe there isn’t. We don’t know.
    An elderly man from my church was all in a dither after his wife died because she was buried in a casket inside a vault and he feared that at the last days, the vault would be too secure and she would be unable to rise up. I’ve known people who have feared the same over people that have been cremated. How will God put them back together? Our earthly view of life is so incomplete…

    • Suzanne, I only think we put too much emphasis on the “afterlife” insofar as we miss the whole point of the age to come. See my comment above to Robert. Our little sentimental vision of “heaven” is not worth the emphasis, I agree. But a robust vision of a world made right can’t be stressed enough.

    • Mr. Ski says:

      ….to the detriment of the here and now….

      Indeed. I have a hard enough time trying to understand what does it mean to love God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength? Much less that love your neighbor and enemies bit.

  6. The series I’m doing on Science and the Bible, particularly the evolution part has gotten me thinking on the nature of our biologic life. What is the soul, what is the spirit, is their a difference between us and other animal life and what might that difference entail. I’ve come to the conclusion that biologic life is an emergent property. The soul then is also an emergent property. This is the error of the reductionist tendency we see today in many neuro-biologists who are asserting there is no free will at all. They are looking at the assemblage of parts and failing to see we are more than just the sum of our physical parts. Something new has emerged- personhood. Our consciousness, although it is sourced in the physical brain with neurons firing and electro-chemical synapses occuring is MORE than just those physical phenomena. And so our resurrected bodies, although sourced from this realm, will be an emergent property of the next level of existence. Think C.S. Lewis in the Great Divorce and how the spiritual realm was more real and more solid than this realm. My $0.02.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I’ve come to the conclusion that biologic life is an emergent property. The soul then is also an emergent property.

      “Emergent property”?
      Not familiar with that term.

      This is the error of the reductionist tendency we see today in many neuro-biologists who are asserting there is no free will at all.

      Calvinism for Brights.

      Think C.S. Lewis in the Great Divorce and how the spiritual realm was more real and more solid than this realm.

      Which is just the opposite of the conventional image, where “the spiritual realm” is all unreal woo-woo. Like the George Carlin monologue about “Growing up Catholic” where he goes “WELCOME TO LIMMMMMBOOOOO..” in this distorted voice changing back and forth in pitch.

    • >>The series I’m doing on Science and the Bible, particularly the evolution part has gotten me thinking on the nature of our biologic life.

      Mike, I know you have put a lot of time and effort into doing your series. Much of my response in reading your work has been trying to figure out just why you were doing it. Most of the questions you raise and answer in the series are just not part of the world I live in except as I run across them here or in reading history, and mostly seem to me like issues from the last century if not the one before. But the questions and issues you say you are thinking about now as a result of writing the series, those I can relate to and would say they are important and relevant to understanding life on Planet Earth today. Emergent property is a good term for this.

      • Danielle says:

        “Most of the questions you raise and answer in the series are just not part of the world I live in except as I run across them here or in reading history, and mostly seem to me like issues from the last century if not the one before.”

        Well, there is a grain of truth to your assessment: evangelicalism’s conversation about earth science and evolution began in the nineteenth century, and in many respects the underpinnings of the dialog have not changed a great deal. They are live-wire and hot to those engaged in them, and much less so to those who are not.

  7. I understand the resurrection to be “a new heaven and a new earth,” whatever that means.

    Dylan Thomas describes it about as well as anyone:

    And death shall have no dominion.
    Dead man naked they shall be one
    With the man in the wind and the west moon;
    When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
    They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
    Though they go mad they shall be sane,
    Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
    Though lovers be lost love shall not;
    And death shall have no dominion.

    And death shall have no dominion.
    Under the windings of the sea
    They lying long shall not die windily;
    Twisting on racks when sinews give way,
    Strapped to a wheel, yet they shall not break;
    Faith in their hands shall snap in two,
    And the unicorn evils run them through;
    Split all ends up they shan’t crack;
    And death shall have no dominion.

    And death shall have no dominion.
    No more may gulls cry at their ears
    Or waves break loud on the seashores;
    Where blew a flower may a flower no more
    Lift its head to the blows of the rain;
    Though they be mad and dead as nails,
    Heads of the characters hammer through daisies;
    Break in the sun till the sun breaks down,
    And death shall have no dominion.

  8. There is still a strong stream of contempt for the material and bodily in American evangelicalism. It finds expression in a variety of ways both subtle and overt.

    One of the most overt in my experience was a pastor who insisted that your body was not saved yet; only your soul/spirit was. And because of this he also taught that all sin was rooted in and came from our body; none from our spirit/soul. It was some pretty serious error, but not surprising given the cultural and historical background from which that church came and the lack of formal theological training. There was really no talk of the kingdom breaking into the here and now of this world, and no discussion of the resurrection as anything other than a distant future event.

    I also think this stream lies behind a lot of the overemphasis on sexual ethics and culture war issues involving bodily and sexual stuff. Notably, our European fellow believers, even relatively conservative evangelicals, seem to have a much more balanced approach to such issues.

    • …and their numbers continue to shrink.

      • So if only they engaged in the culture wars, bathroom wars, etc., their numbers would grow? Somehow, I doubt.

        • That was YOUR assumption, not MINE.

          My question is: If their view is superior then why is the EU Church shrinking? Correct thinking doesn’t necessarily equate to growth, so something else is at play here…

          • Sorry, but you lost me. What assumption do you think I was making? All I said was our brothers and sisters in the EU tend to have a more balanced approach to issues of human sexuality. That has been my experience.

            The church in the EU has been shrinking for a while, mainly because Europe has been growing increasingly secular. I’m sure the causes are complex and multifaceted.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      One of the most overt in my experience was a pastor who insisted that your body was not saved yet; only your soul/spirit was. And because of this he also taught that all sin was rooted in and came from our body; none from our spirit/soul.

      Isn’t this the Manichean side effect of Platonic Dualism?
      Where since all the sins are in your Flesh(TM) not your Soul(TM), you can be as depraved as you want physically and still be Spiritually Superior? Spritiual Pride plus Physical Degeneracy — Win-Win situation.

      • That would have been the logical end of it, but the pastor was oblivious to dualism he was heading toward, much less the consequences and side effects.

  9. Ronald Avra says:

    The impulse to move everything of importance over the horizon and into the realm of ‘spirit and heaven,’ is in my opinion, a major contributing factor to the failure to ‘love our brother as ourselves.’ Schisms, backbiting, and slander, even though Paul speaks explicitly against such things, are of no consequence, because they are in the here and now. This present time will not continue in or contribute to the age to come, so no need to apologize, forgive, reconcile, or recompense. Put your head down, elbows out, full speed ahead, and don’t look back. Christians have killed the church, not any external cultural entity

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      This present time will not continue in or contribute to the age to come, so no need to apologize, forgive, reconcile, or recompense. Put your head down, elbows out, full speed ahead, and don’t look back.

      In four words:
      “IT’S ALL GONNA BURN.”
      (so why bother?)

    • Suzanne says:

      Exactly why, I’d say, the Messiah had to be human. To show us that God is in the here and now not the then and later out there somewhere. He is part of us, the physical realm, making the physical divine as much as the spiritual, but we seem to make God only in the spiritual Netherlands and we have to pray to conjure him up when needed. The problem is that when our conjuring fails, we are left with the notion that God’s not there at all.

  10. Burro [Mule] says:

    There is outside my house a tree of some kind that lies dormant all winter and comes suddenly to vibrant life during the spring. It has broad flat leaves that you can practically see growing, and the whole engine seems marvelously engineered for photosynthesis, that most basic transubstantiation of sunlight and rain into starches and sugars.

    I am not a botanist. Everything I know about plants comes from a very well taught public high school biology course, the likes of which you probably couldn’t find these days. Nevertheless, I spend hours contemplating this plant, trying to imagine where its rapid growth comes from, and where the energy comes from for such vigor. I soon find myself thinking very pagan thoughts about vegetable spirits and the language of plants, but I am certain that

    Oh Heavenly King, Comforter
    Spirit of Truth and Giver of Life
    You who are everywhere and fillest all things
    Come and abide with us and cleanse us from every stain
    And save our souls, Oh Good One!

    Honestly, when a post like this gets on IMonk, I don’t know why all of you don’t just drop what you are doing and run to the nearest Orthodox parish. Everything in this post sounds so…Orthodox, and big-O not little o-. I don’t think Protestantism can give you what you want. It was born in anger, suckled on Nominalism, and rationalism, reductionism, analysis, and secularism are, if not its children, then certainly its stepchildren.

    Why torment yourselves further?

    • Beakerj says:

      I hear you, I just may be on that journey.

    • “Why torment yourselves further?”

      Suffering brings virtue

    • Robert F says:

      Mule,
      I thought that Orthodoxy, like Catholicism, teaches that the faithful after death, but before the general resurrection, are in a state that is very much alive, so alive that they can hear and respond to prayer. This can be seen especially in Catholic and Orthodox beliefs about the canonized Saints; in Catholic iconography, the Saints are depicted as residing above in Heaven, where they hear and respond to the prayers of those on earth below. How does this square with this post, which implies that the state between death and the general resurrection is not a living, aware one?

      • Burro [Mule] says:

        Yes, very much alive, but in a state like that of the angels, “the honorable bodiless powers of Heaven”

        The state of a man after death divided into corpse and spook, is not something unknown to our Lord. He has been there before, and He will support us in it.

      • Robert, I do not mean to imply anything about the “intermediate state” with this post. That’s a different subject.

        • Robert F says:

          Yes. I was confusing subjects, by picking up on the wrong things in the post. Apologies.

        • Robert F says:

          But, if the saints are very much alive in an intermediate state between death and the general resurrection, as both Mule and you are acknowledging here, then an afterlife, despite its partiality and awaiting completion in the resurrection, continues immediately upon death, and despite your objection earlier in the comments above to my use of the word “afterlife”.

      • Here’s a post we ran on the intermediate state:

        http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/nt-wright-on-the-intermediate-state

  11. Rick Ro. says:

    I just recently noticed I’m walking in a spiritual desert again. Dang. This thought occurred to me while walking my dog this morning:

    Why is living this life necessary for an eternal life?

    (And no, I don’t expect any answers, at least none that aren’t trite Christian cliche.)

    • Exactly. When I hear someone say he’s ‘just passing through’ because ‘this is not my home’ I’m tempted to tell him to just shoot himself now so he can get to heaven that much sooner. Very poor ‘creational theology’ (not ‘creation science’ theology!).

      But then there’s the stupid explanation I’ve heard WAY too many times (almost always from a Baptist preacher): ‘The only reason God didn’t take you to heaven the minute you were saved is so you could lead other people to Jesus. That’s the only reason you’re still here.’ To which I always want to say, ‘Show me just ONE verse in the whole Bible that says anything close to that!’

    • “Why is living this life necessary for an eternal life?”

      Good question, and one I’ve asked myself. I think the answer is a few levels above my pay grade, but this is where I have landed (though I can’t prove it by scripture). I tend to think that the choices we make in this life in some way define the nature of our experience in the resurrected body. Could this be vaguely what Jesus and Paul mean when they talk about “rewards”? Not that we get stickers on our charts or jewels in our crown, but become a different type of eternal person than we would be otherwise.

    • Stephen says:

      “Why is living this life necessary for an eternal life?”

      Respectfully, perhaps the wrong question?

      Why is eternal life necessary for living this life?

    • The one question I will never forget being asked in preparation for my confirmation, by three or four older missionaries (I was an MK) all of whom were wise and incredibly spiritually grounded was this: When does eternal life begin. My answer was that for we who believe it has already begun.It is one continuum.

      It was immediately clear that this was the answer they had hoped to hear, and only as I saw that did I begin to realize what it meant. I’m not sure I have it all figured out, but in the many years sense it has made more and more sense to see this life as part of our eternal life.

    • Robert F says:

      Why is living this life necessary for an eternal life?

      Why is being born necessary for this life?

    • My own pet theology is a bit metaphorical: God is building a ‘temple’ of living stones ‘up there’, and we’re ‘down here’ to get our rough edges knocked off so that we’re some use for building.

      (The practically minded are kindly requested to refrain from asking how one could possibly build anything with round stones)

  12. StuartB says:

    There was no mention of resurrection (except in a quote from scripture), no sense that the life to come has any embodied aspect to it.

    I remember getting very sternly rebuked by many people when I mentioned once that scripture seems to really say we are asleep until we are resurrected. No no, that is “soul sleep” and unbiblical, it can’t be, we die and are immediately with Jesus, none of this sleeping nonsense until some body resurrection.

    Yet…I disagree. We will sleep. We will be resurrected. That’s the only hope.

  13. Thank you so much for this post, Chaplain Mike.

  14. Robert F says:

    If the intermediate state between death and the general resurrection has assumed a prominence in the life of the Church that can’t be justified on the basis of Biblical texts, it’s because down through the ages the Church has had the visceral experience that the deceased faithful are very much alive, that they can hear and respond to prayer, and that they can even be very powerfully and directly involved on the affairs of our world. These features are very prominent in Catholic and Orthodox theology and belief.

  15. “And I don’t want a never ending life
    I just want to be alive while I’m here
    And I don’t want a never ending life
    I just want to be alive while I’m here
    And I don’t want to see another night
    Lost inside a lonely life while I’m here”
    – From “Spirits” by the Strumbellas

  16. “But endless future is without a final aim; it repeats itself and could well be described as an image of hell. This is not the Christian way of dealing with the end. The Christian message says that the eternal stands above past and future. ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.’ ”
    – Paul Tillich, from “The Eternal Now”.

  17. Robert F says:

    …new heavens and earth —
    red rosebush along sidewalk,
    and eyes to see it…

  18. I used to not think about this too much one way or the other. But ever since watching my loved one waste away in body day after day, the hope of a bodily resurrection means so much to me. I can’t pray the Apostles’ Creed without feeling a surge of joy at the words, “the resurrection of the body.”

  19. I’m late for this one, but I still want to comment, for my own sake at least. It seems to me that there is a question lingering in the air around this whole discussion, and that is whether a good outcome to reality as we know it is even possible or desirable. Our imaginations go so easily to visions of the future that are anti-climactic, be it the oblivion of secular death or the lifelessness of certain pictures of heaven. I’m naturally a pretty pessimistic, depressed person, so it’s sometimes hard for me to imaging anything other than oblivion as realistic or desirable; I can’t perform the act of imagination (required when speculating about the these things) without some sense of the exhausting quality of my experience of life seeping in. I suspect the same is true for many who have commented on this article, especially those of us who generally suffer from “theological fatigue” due to the frustration and anxiety that all these conundrums have caused us over the years. Life as we know it is largely consists of boredom and disappointment at best and horrible suffering at worst. I think it’s hard for us to imaging anything worth doing or experiencing for an eternity, and it’s likewise difficult to imagine doing / experiencing it in anything like our current or “natural” form. Still, there are some things (beauty, for example) that suspend my normal cynicism and pessimism long enough for me to imagine that a good outcome to all of this is possible. And, as I grow in love, I get a sense that intimacy with God and with others is worth experiencing for an eternity, whether in bodily form or otherwise. I get the sense that eternity is more about peace than it is about “doing” anything. I imagine heaven as a place where you could do absolutely nothing and still feel content; I think that’s one of the things we mean when we talk about eternal life as being a “quality” rather than a merely a duration, and how desire for heaven or for eternity can be something more than just a fear of death.

  20. This post made me think of the song “Pie in the sky by-and-by when you die”.

    I heard a Christian neurologist once pondering the nature of the soul in the context of his research. He came down pretty firmly on the side of ‘we are bodies’: which interestingly meant that for him only bodily resurrection made any sense.

    Still leaves ME boggling the icky question cited above: how all those rotted/incinerated bits get back together, and where ‘we’ are in the interim: backed-up someone on a hard disk? 🙂