Monday, January 13, 2014

It's about Resurrection, not "Going to Heaven"

Aside from being a fellow New Englander (raised in Arlington, Massachusetts -not too far away from where I grew up), Dane Cook is one funny dude.  Some of his humor is a bit too crass for me, but some of it is spot on.  A friend of mine shared this video because they thought it was pretty funny.  Of course, what struck me from it was not at all what struck them.  What really grabbed my attention was his basic explanation of his religious beliefs, having been "raised Catholic" (as I was, too).  He says that he believes that when you die you hope you have lived a "good enough life" and your soul goes up to heaven. 
This is basically what I believed when I was younger, and this, I think, is what many, many people believe.  In fact, this actually has nothing to do with Dane Cook or Roman Catholicism.  It has to do with a sort of nominal theistic and supernatural belief that is very common in our country and in probably other parts of Western civilization, and it is usually passed off as some kind of basic "Christian" belief.
There is a big problem with this, however.  It isn't actually Christian at all.  It does not resemble the historic Christian faith, and it offers us a watered down hope, if you can call it a hope at all.  The first way in which it falls short is that it is a savior-less moralism.  It operates on the premise that there is some sort of "curve" by which God decides if you lived "good enough."  Life is viewed essentially as one long test, and if your good outweighs your bad and you weren't like Hitler and did your best, well then you can probably hope to find "heaven" when you die.  The Christian faith teaches that we are born corrupt, just as this world is tainted with corruption.  It may be good, but it will always fall short of what it was meant to be.  Likewise, we all fall short, but this corruption is not something that can be "taught" out of us.  It is built into who we are, into our spiritual makeup.  What we need is a death in us and a new birth, a new beginning in us that is brought about by God Himself.
And that raises the next way in which it falls short: It offers us a sub-Christian view of afterlife.  This is what I really want to focus on.  The belief that we die and our souls go off to "heaven", "up there", or to another place that functions almost like a retirement community for those who did well in their test of life is not really a Christian belief at all.  It is much more in line with Greek philosophical beliefs and perhaps some gnostic beliefs.
The Christian tradition (and some like scholar N.T. Wright would argue a main stream of Judaic tradition as well) has taught resurrection.  While, yes, our bodies do decay and we may "be with the Lord" when we die, ultimately there will be a resurrection of the dead and a resurrection of creation itself.  By "resurrection" we do not merely mean that in some way we live on -our memories or spirit or whatever- as our bodies turn to dust.  Resurrection means the redemption and restoration of the physical creation with the physical and spiritual intertwined into one, as we were intended to be.
In the Old Testament book of Daniel, there is talk of a resurrection of the dead with some raising to everlasting life and others to everlasting contempt (Dan 12:2).  This idea of resurrection is brought to its full meaning and zenith in the person of Jesus Christ who, according to his own word and action, is "the resurrection and the life."  His resurrection from the dead sparks the first-fruits, the beginning, of a new creation.  His resurrection is the inauguration of the resurrected, renewed state, the "Kingdom of God."  And in all those who are his by faith, this reality grows within us until the day when we will be physically raised from the dead by him to be with him in the renewed heavens and earth.

The implications of this are manifold.  For one, it means that not only is God going to "judge" the world in righteousness, which everyone who sees the atrocities of the Nazi death camps inwardly yearns for, for all of those victims.  It means that He is also going to make things right.  He is not abandoning the world for a "heaven" that comes after we all die.  He is going to renew and make the world right, and it will endure forever in righteousness and peace and love.

See the world is not able to be improved into being something it will never be.  Because of all the sin and corruption and distortion in this world and in this age, it must die.  But it won't be thrown away, either.  It will be raised anew just like Jesus was raised anew and just like we will be raised anew.  Jesus died in order to be our death, for us, and then to be the beginning of a new destiny for us, so that we would be raised with him to the new creation, to His Kingdom.

And so, with that hope, we can yearn and groan with the rest of creation, awaiting that day...

"For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience." (Romans 8:22-25)

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