Thursday 27 May 2021

If you don't want resurrected eternal life in Heaven - well, then you aren't a Christian (surely?)

If you don't want resurrected eternal life in Heaven - then you aren't a Christian. That seems straightforward fact - because, if you want something else, then you don't want this. 

Yet when I have previously written on this subject, I have received comments and communication that seem to emanate from a feeling of hurt or exclusion - as if I was somehow preventing access to people who (instead of resurrection and Heaven) wanted Nirvana, to be reincarnated to further mortal lives, to become a spirit, or insensible, or have their Self/Ego annihilated. 

(Positively to be a Christian needs more than wanting resurrected life in Heaven - because Christian also requires a conviction/ faith/ trust that this can only be attained by (in some sense) following Jesus Christ - although Christians differ widely in their understanding of what 'follow' means and entails.) 

Reflecting on this strange matter - whereby, for example - people seem to want both 1.) to be resurrected with an eternal body, living as a person in Heaven, in the presence of Jesus Christ and God the Father; and simultaneously after dying to become to be a spirit (with no body); not a person - because without agency or self-awareness; and assimilated-into or absorbed-by a God who is an impersonal deity.  

How could such contradiction and confusion arise? 

I think the reason is simple - which is that people do not think seriously about what happens after biological death - and self-identified Christians do not think much about what actually happens at resurrection and in Heaven. 

Resurrection has become so uncertain, people seem afraid to think beyond it. Furthermore, by some doctrines, resurrection is delayed - perhaps to the 'second coming', day-of-judgment (something not told us by the Fourth Gospel - where both Lazarus and Jesus resurrect within a couple of days, and there is no such thing as the 'second coming'). 

At any rate, resurrection is treated as if far-off, and in some sense is regarded as not-our-concern; and indeed there is a superstitious sense that it is presumptuous (hence unlucky) even to think about it but certainly to speak or write about it. 

I sometimes feel this myself - even though I don't agree with it; that I am 'tempting fate' by 'taking for granted' my resurrection to the extent of thinking beyond it- despite that (in the Fourth Gospel) it seems clear that Jesus wants us to be confident about our salvation (in the same way a young child should be confident about the love of his parents). 

At any rate; this mental block on resurrected life has many malign effects. For one thing, it makes for this confusion as it what is, and what is Not, Christianity. For another, it has made people massively over-focused on this mortal life - as if what happened here and now was the 'main point' of Christianity; whereas exactly the opposite is told by the Fourth Gospel.

Christianity is primarily about what happens after biological death; and that is made clear in principle: resurrected, eternal life, in Heaven, as Sons of God. It is by the implications of this other-worldly fact that we may infer what Christianity means for this-world.  

The effect that Jesus Christ has on this mortal life can be imagined as a glorious light cast back from the reality of our life-beyond-death; and this means we need to regard that resurrected life as real. 

We need to expect our own personal resurrection into Heaven with maximum confidence; need to dwell upon it - including the details and specifics, as best we may. Only thus can we combat the colossal weight of totalitarian materialism that presses-down upon us; a mass and detail of this-worldly-ness - that otherwise would tend to crush us into hope-less-ness and despair.  


captOBV said...

I think the reason people seem to want both is that the Bible seems to present both and so people solve the apparent contradiction that way. It ultimately b3comes a question of what the definition of resurrection even is. Paul himself seems confused on the issue in 1 Cor 15. He insists that resurrection is the necessary hope and without it we would be of all men the most miserable. Yet, "it is sown a natural body, raised a spiritual body." (1 cor 15:44) Is his resurrection even really a resurrection? Does he mean the body turns into something spiritual, Obi Wan Kenobi style? Elsewhere (2 cor 5) he longs not to be unclothed but to be clothed upon in heaven, and we have a body or tabernacle not made with hands waiting in the heavens. Is this resurrection of the body down here or the soul flying up to enter a body sitting empty waiting for it in heaven? In this version the body in the grave down here need not rise, and there need not be any waiting for a last day; at the point of death his soul can just go up and enter that taberancle/body sitting empty in heaven waiting for it since it is "earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven" (2 cor 5:2) Then of course the idea that the soul really needs some kind of tabernacle or body in heaven logically seems unecessary, thus the idea that these are just fluffy metaphors and all is meant is just the disembodied soul going to heaven at death. People can't decide because they are trying to be consistent with Paul but he is not so clear so they have it all 3 ways at once (literal-physical resurrection of this body, clothed upon with a heavenly body, disembodied soul in heaven). That's my guess anyway.

sykes.1 said...

In the Catholic tradition of my youth (pre Vatican II) the resurrected body was physical, not spiritual, and the resurrected lived forever in a restored, physical Eden on Earth.

That restored Eden would, of course, include all the plants and animals of the first creation, including your favorite dog or cat.

Bruce Charlton said...

@cOBV - That's a coherent possibility. And it demonstrates my contention that we need to pay attention to our assumptions in reading the Bible - because different assumptions lead to very different, or hopelessly confused, conclusions.

I am pretty sure that Paul knew nothing of the Fourth Gospel (or its author) - he lacked this simple, authoritative eyewitness account of what Jesus taught.

Paul was compelled to construct a Christian theology from various second/ third-hand reports; plus (necessarily limited) intuitions and inspirations; woven together with some brilliant philosophy.

But he made things much more complex and confused than they really were (e.g. his double-negative theology of salvation) - and made some errors which were then given central prominence.

Some Guy said...

I was always under the assumption that it was a both and type situation. Genesis and the Old Testament speak pretty clearly of the body dying and the pneuma (breath) going back to God who gave it. Ecclesiastes 12:7. Genesis speaks of the building of man as a body made of the dust of the earth and breath in it, and this becomes a living soul. My thoughts on this are that the breath is made new when one becomes a Christian and it spends the rest of it's days at war with the flesh that has not been redeemed yet, which we call sanctification. When you die, you go into the grave and know nothing (cease to be) and your breath goes back to God, who holds it until His return and the resurrection. At which point He will give back your breath and place it in a new body made perfect in the image of Christ. So you have both a period of disembodiment where you may or may not know anything is happening at all, as well as an eternal condition of embodiment just as Christ experienced in His resurrection.

Bruce Charlton said...

@SG - Sounds a reasonable model, and it gives you something to think *with*.

My feeling is that everything happens in time, and that death is probably a phase of separation - when at first the soul retains much of its nature from mortal life; and I suppose that it is during this period when we are called upon to decide whether we want resurrection and all that entails.

After further time, it may be that there is a disintegration of the personality and consciousness, and agency becomes impaired leading to the witless ghost-like souls in Sheol.

Another but different idea involving a sequence of soul events after death, taking place in 'real time' (the time measured in earthly days and months), can be found in Eastern Orthodoxy.

Jim said...

I'm speaking with an abundance of ignorance, but couldn't one have a lack of desire for eternity, but also a faith and acceptance in it?

I don't know what comes after we climb the Black Hill, it is specifically hidden. But I can imagine a demoralized man that desires oblivion still holding true to Christ.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Jim - If one *really* did not (at some primary level) desire resurrected eternal life in Heaven - they why on earth would one choose it?

Demoralization is not relevant - since the final decision is made After biological death, when God provides us with the greatest possible clarity of insight.

One might choose to *defer* the decision - which I presume God would enable in some way (perhaps by reincarnation or perhaps by a kind of somewhat 'suspended' situation); but then that will bring us to the same choice sooner or later - and deferral is very much a second best, since the consequences of that deferral would be carried into any future state.

There is no guarantee that one would be in a better state to choose in the unknown future than 'Now' (that Now having been chosen by God, to a significant extent, as the best moment) and one may-well indeed be in a worse state.