Some Implications of Our Afterlife Beliefs

“What role does a belief in life beyond the grave play within the larger issues that face us in Christian life and thought?

“Karl Marx famously spoke of religion as the opium of the people. He supposed that oppressive rulers would use the promise of a joyful future life to try to stop the masses from rising in revolt. That has indeed often been the case. But my impression is that religion is an ‘opium’ when the religion in question includes the Platonic downgrading of bodies and of the created order in general, regarding them as the ‘vain shadows’ of earth, which we happily leave behind at death. Why try to improve the present prison if release is at hand? Why oil the wheels of a machine that will soon plunge over a cliff? That is precisely the effect created to this day by some devout Christians who genuinely believer that ‘salvation’ has nothing to do with the way the present world is ordered.

“By contrast, it has often been observed that the robust Jewish and Christian doctrine of the resurrection, as part of God’s new creation, gives more value, not less, to the present world and to our present bodies. What these doctrines give, both in classic Judaism and in classic Christianity, is a sense of continuity as well as discontinuity between the present world (and the present state), and the future, whatever it shall be, with the result that what we do in the present matters enormously. Paul speaks of the future resurrection as a major motive for treating our bodies properly in the present time (1 Corinthians 6:14), and as the reason not for sitting back and waiting for it all to happen but for working hard in the present, knowing that nothing done in the Lord, in the power of the Spirit, in the present time will be wasted in God’s future (1 Corinthians 15:58). To this we shall return.

“The classic Christian doctrine, therefore, is actually far more powerful and revolutionary than the Platonic one. It was people who believed robustly in the resurrection, not people who compromised and went in for a mere spiritualized survival, who stood up against Caesar in the first centuries of the Christian era. A piety that sees death as the moment of ‘going home at last,’ the time when we are ‘called to God’s eternal peace,’ has no quarrel with power-mongers who want to carve up the world to suit their own ends. Resurrection, by contrast, has always gone with a strong view of God’s justice and of God as the good creator. Those twin beliefs give rise not to a meek acquiescence to injustice in the world but to a robust determination to oppose it.”
– N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (New York: HarperOne, 2008), pgs. 25-27

Published in: on 7 PMpWed, 27 Jan 2016 17:21:11 -040021Wednesday 2016 at 5:21 pm  Leave a Comment  

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