Monday, June 13

A Heretical Confession

I don't believe in life after death.

I know, I know. Heretic. Before you start stacking cordwood for your Jack-flambee' though, hear me out.

Though I do not believe in life after death, I do believe in the resurrection of the dead. "What's the dif", you may ask. The difference is that the whole "life after death" thing requires that I leave my body upon death. That whole notion implies the very Greek and entirely unscriptural idea that "my body" and "me" are not the same, that my body is a prison from which I must escape if I am to experience existence as I was meant to. But if that is true, then I should seek to die as quickly as possible so that I can enter into the fullness of my existence. If being "stuck" in this body means I am barricaded from "real life", then Death is the friend that sets me free from my prison and should be welcomed as a liberator.

But Death is my enemy - a vanquished enemy, certainly - but an enemy nonetheless. I hate to draw attention to the obvious, but when we die, we quit living. Else what does it mean to say that we die? Death is The End, The Grand Finale, the Last Chapter, the Final Enemy.

Or at least that is what Death meant until Christ defeated it and broke its grip on mankind. The promise of Christ's resurrection is that though Death will claim us all at some point, Death will no longer have the last word.

Christ as the firstborn from among the dead has become the first fruits of the New Order of Creation; He is not a disembodied spirit but an embodied man. If Christ rose bodily from the dead, then we too shall be so raised. If Christ is now clothed in immortality then we too shall be so clothed.

But if that is so, what happens between the time of our death and the time of our resurrection? No one really knows, but I think we must simply cease to exist. We are dead. And though we are gone, we still maintain a kind of life in the memory of those who knew us on this earth. Those on earth who remember us after we are gone will not have known us perfectly, nor will they remember us perfectly, and - worse for us - they too will one day cease to exist.
But God knows us perfectly and will remember us perfectly.

Our bodies decay and return to the dust from which we were made, but the memory of us will remain incorruptible and in perfect safety and integrity in the mind of Him who first imagined us. Though our friends may wish to reanimate their memory of us, they are powerless to do so, but the God who loves us perfectly is not. When they time comes, He will restore us to life by His great power, His infinite knowledge and His perfect love.

He will raise us from the dead just as Christ Himself was raised.

The first time God imagined man, He made us from the dust of the ground and breathed the breath of life – His life - into us. The second time He creates us, He promises that the life He breathes into us will never end.

The ancient creed affirms the Christian belief in "...the resurrection of the body..." Paul reminded the early church that "if there is no resurrection of the dead, then we are to be pitied above all men". Christ appeared to the disciples after His resurrection and He made an explicit point of showing them that He was physically present. He was not just an ethereal concept or a substance-less spirit but a real person with real scars who ate real food. He occupied space, but was not constrained by space.

God seems to like the physical realm. He must get a charge out of His creation, or He wouldn't make such a big deal over it. When we treat death as if it were a friend and act as if this physical creation is somehow a lesser expression of God’s goodness than the spiritual realm, we are guilty of devaluing that which God highly values.

Life is good. Resurrection life will be even better.


A Course In Miracles said...
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GGB said...

It's July 15. Time for your next post. :)

Dreamspinner said...

I don't feel like burning you at the stake. ;)
I think that our spirit goes to God at death and we receive our glorified (perfect, new and improved body) at the resurrection.
Not to argue but just to express my opinion.

Denny Burk said...

You sound like N. T. Wright!

A benign and boring Baptist

(Nice alliteration, by the way)

bloodypapist said...

So, how do you reconcile the harrowing of Hell and Paul's competing desires to serve God on earth and be with Him via death? (Not to mention some of the promises made and visions seen in Revelations.)

Atticus said...

I see no conflict whatsoever.

As for Paul's competing desires:

If, when we die we really cease to exist, then we will have no consciousness until we are resurrected. At the moment of resurrection, it will seem as if our death occurred but a moment ago, even if it was 10,000 years previously. I must ask, do you believe that Paul is currently resurrected? I don't think there are many who will claim that he is *now*, but he most certainly *will* be resurrected at the resurrection of the dead. It will seem to Paul, as it will to me, that he died just moments before, the he made just a small step between his life on the mortal side of death and life on the immortal side.

If man possesses a disembodied life after death, why is the resurrection of the dead so important to Paul?

As for the "harrowing of Hell":

I do not for moment deny the reality of the eternal judgment of the damned and the eternal blessing of the elect. What I deny is that the human creature exists outside of the body after death anywhere except in the mind of God. I recognize that such a position plays havoc with the doctine of Purgatory, but I have no problem with that.

Dan Nicholls said...

The idea isn't that he's resurrected now, it's that his body is the only thing to die, not his spirit. Resurrection pertains to the body, which is why it's essential--man is spirit and body, so the body will be restored and glorified. The resurrection completes the defeat of death, since it doesn't even reach to the body, eternally.

As a side note, I had a very good Catholic teacher who hinted that we exist in the mind of God after death and before the resurrection. I think he'd say it isn't categorically opposed to Purgatory. Of course, you two might disagree on a few particulars, like what it means to exist in the mind of God.

In any case, I don't see how this squares with Scripture. I was just reading the epistles today, and thought about this post quite often. The references to the spirit are blatant, and are definitely as distinct from the body.

As for the harrowing, that refers to the descent of Christ to those who had died before His coming, and the proclomation of the Gospel to those spirits. If Christ preached to the dead, did He preach to their dust? That's not the testament of the Bible.