February 22, 2018

I Refuse to Remain Unastonished: On Resurrection and Eternal Life (1)

I have a fear. It is expressed well by Gerhard Lohfink in his new book, Is This All There Is?: On Resurrection and Eternal Life

Because everything in this book is about my own questions, I have constantly struggled to find the right words. How can we speak responsibly today about death and resurrection, judgment and purgatory, hell and eternal life, and ultimately about the perfection of creation? What kind of language can the people of today understand? What words would come across as neither sanctimonious nor sappy?

As a hospice chaplain, my work revolves around supporting the dying and their families. I officiate many funerals. I deal with questions about death and what happens after people die. I am asked regularly about mysteries beyond our human experience in this life.

As a Christian, I heartily affirm the Apostles’ Creed: I believe in the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting. But I do not want to fall into the trap of speaking about such things lightly, superficially, relying upon repeated formulae and illustrations and metaphors that inevitably come across as trite and unsatisfying.

If we are dealing with incomprehensible mysteries here, I don’t want my thinking and language about them to become stale, pedestrian, and unremarkable. I fear getting stuck peddling theological bromides that will leave my listeners and me unastonished.

I don’t want to stop exploring the mystery, delving ever deeper into possibilities that spark the imagination and spirit. I don’t want those who hear me to nod knowingly, with a banal sense of doctrinal agreement but without feeling the awesome pull of something unexplainable but real.

After all, we are not just talking about religious dogma or creedal statements to be memorized. We are talking about the most existential question we as human beings have, a question which encapsulates our deepest longings, hopes, and fears. Each one of us is moving toward the door of death. Each one of us will pass through it. And then what?

How can such a reality not get our most focused attention?

This is why I will be trying to grow in my exploration of these matters and asking you to join me. On Mondays at least until Easter Sunday I will be recording my thoughts and responses to books like Lohfink’s and others that I will be accessing in an attempt to blow the sides out of the boxes I’ve built around the subject of resurrection and eternal life.

There. Fuse lit. I can’t wait to see the fireworks.

Comments

  1. I think that only poetry, and a poetic perspective, can blow the sides out of theological and doctrinal boxes so that the mystery can get in…

    a little light
    goes a long way
    in the swirling snow

    • Ronald Avra says:

      Other than your own haiku, where do you generally find your personal poetry fix?

      • I prefer epigrammatic poems, so I read haiku and other short poetry in the multitude of on-line collections that are available. Here’s one: http://www.hsa-haiku.org/haikucollections.htm. I also love Gary Snyder, William Carlos Williams, William Blake, Saint John of the Cross, the haiku of Jack Kerouac, T.S. Eliot, and of course many others. I tend to revisit poetry that I’ve loved over the years, rather than reading a lot of new poems, with the exception of haiku.

      • Zoe S. Myers says:

        Malcolm Guite is an Christian poet, Anglican priest, and professor at Cambridge. His poetry does just what Robert F says poetry should do. The insights he shares on other poets & their poetry is also instructive and amazing. He also has a good sense of fun.

  2. flatrocker says:

    At the heart of our human experience, I’ve heard there are four great questions we all have. In the unique expressions of our lives, these questions make take slightly different forms. But in their essence, all questions distill to these four great questions. There’s also an easy to remember acronym for the questions – OPID.

    O – Origin. The question of where I come from?
    P – Purpose. The question of why am I here?
    I – Intent. The question of what am I supposed to do?
    D – Destiny. The question of where am I headed?

    The answers to these questions profoundly shape our individual world views. And what I like about these four questions is they do not presuppose or preordain any “right or wrong” answer. There is great freedom in the answers. And that provides the excitement of the dialog as we explore together.

    As a long term Imonk reader, this site has provided a unique experience in exploring these questions. As I look back at the heft of the topics explored here, they’re heavily weighted toward the first three questions – which btw has provided enormous insight. Thanks CM.

    Looking forward to the discussion on the final question.

    • john barry says:

      flatrocker, I have the answers

      O Origin, Where do I come from? Cleveland Ohio per the answer given to Rob Petrie son on the old Dick Van Dyke show, he thought he was from New York. We can all find out where we come from if you can get official state birth certificate .

      P Purpose The question of why we are here was proffered by Admiral Stockton during the 1992 presidential election, he was Perot’s VP running mate. His famous quote during first speech was “Who am I and why am I here.” He was a great man, Medal of Honor, honest brave but the press hung that around his neck . He certainly was not a politician . You are there for whatever thing you are doing

      Intent What Am I Suppose to Do–That is the question I always ask my wife and she has something for me to do.

      D Destiny That is a manifest question but I would say head west. No one is a child of Destiny except for maybe Beyoncé who is so well known even an old guy like me knows who she is.

      I do not think my answers are right or even coherent .

    • Gauguin- What are we? Whence come we? Wither go we?

    • I’ve always considered our life experience to be like building a bridge while crossing it. Living is asking these questions, continually. Death is required to provide the answers.

  3. With the understanding that everything is conjecture, I wade in. From what I have gleaned, we are becoming what we will be through eternity. The growth of consciousness while our feet are planted in earth is of great consequence to our eternal life. They say you can’t take it with you but that’s not entirely correct. We, astonishingly, unbelievably, add our knowledge and experience to the collective body. Each of us brings something worth eternity to the table. That is how God values each one. The Army says, “Be all you can be.” This is our germination period and we will bring with us unique contributions to eternity if we allow Christ to be all while we are here. It is all about fullness of union here.

  4. Iain Lovejoy says:

    A thought: if creation did not create itself, but is created by God, and its continued existence is through God, not through some inherent power of its own apart from God, then it cannot destroy itself either: only God sustains our existence, and only God can end it. That I wake up each morning, or indeed that I (or everything else that God has made) simply persist from second to second is as much a free gift from God as any future resurrection, and no more or less likely or a miracle. In this respect death is an irrelevance. Nothing can be lost with God unless God chooses to destroy it.
    I can believe those I have loved and lost are not lost because they are creatures of God, and God loves everything that he has made, and will not turn round and destroy them.
    I can believe I will be reunited with them because I love them, and I can’t see how God, who is love, would act to thwart my love for them by keeping them from me for ever.

  5. I like what you are doing with photography. Slow down. Take a long walk in the woods. Look and listen. Not a substitute for reading and study, but a close look at nature is a good reminder of Who we are discussing. The walk is also good cardio.. (bonus).

  6. Dana Ames says:

    Ch Mike, if you have time, Fr John Behr is worth listening to on this topic. There are 2 lectures of his on YouTube that speak directly to the subject. Do a search for “Father John Behr” and add “Death the final frontier” (this is actually audio only) and “Behold dying we live” – you should come right to them. They’re about 1 1/2 hours each. You’ll hear mostly the same things, but with every audience he comes at his topic from a different angle, so it’s worth listening to both.

    Dana

  7. Ch Mike, both yesterday and today’s posts resonate, look forward to these posts each week.
    Very encouraging for my own journey.