Monday, April 17, 2017

Disembodied Soul? I don't think so.

"He is risen.  He is risen indeed."  Our church resounded over and again with this phrase on Easter morning, as did many churches around the world.  It is indeed a glorious thing.  But it can also be a confusing thing.  What does it mean to be resurrected and to live with Jesus for eternity? 

Yesterday at our Easter service, I heard the worship leader say this, following the end of singing a favorite hymn:  "Can you imagine the day when that is all you will hear?"

I shuddered and involuntarily shook my head.  I remembered when my daughter Hannah told me at a young age that she was afraid of going to heaven.  I was surprised (as most people are afraid of going to hell not heaven), and when I asked her why she said, "I can't stand to think of a worship service that lasts an eternity - an eternity of sitting on a cloud, playing a harp, and singing worship songs."  In response to her comment, our family had many discussions of what the new heavens and new earth would look like, and we ended up painting a mural on one of the walls in our home reflecting Isaiah 65, regarding the new heavens and the new earth.  I wish I had a picture of that wall.

This is a discussion that I often get into in my work with Discipling Marketplace Leaders as well:  what is the purpose of work and is there any relevance to the afterlife regarding the work that we now do?  We often reflect on the meaning of the Lord's prayer where Jesus says, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."  I ask, "What do we know of what it will be like in heaven?  What does this phrase really mean?"  For that, we can go to Isaiah 65 which says the following in reference to the new heavens and new earth:
  • "I will create Jerusalem to be a delight." (v.18)  God starts with a garden but ends with a city.  A city with all of its systems and complexities.  In the parable of the minas (Luke 19) the reward for those who use their talents well is to be governor over many cities.  Cities seem to be in our future.
  • "They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.  No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat." (v. 21) Sounds like we will be building and farming and enjoying the fruit of our own labor. 
  • "My chosen ones will long enjoy the work of their hands.  They will not labor in vain."  (v. 22b-23a)  We will do what we were created to do, as seen in Genesis 1 and 2 in a redeemed earth.  And we will enjoy it!
This past week I started reading N.T. Wright's book Surprised by Hope.  He has a great section in which he says that if we are only saved to be disembodied souls floating on clouds in heaven, then there really is no point.  He says, "To snatch saved souls away to a disembodied heaven would destroy the whole point."  The redemption has to involve what was created in the first place.  God is to become King of the whole world at last.  He isn't going to give up on the original idea of creation and mandate of work.  He doesn't want to rescue us from His creation - creation was not a mistake or a failure.  He wants to (and is able to) redeem all things.  When we work and reflect His image and His glory, it gives Him great delight.

N.T. Wright says this:
This brings us back to 1 Corinthians 15:58 once more:  what you do in the Lord is not in vain.  You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that is about to roll over a cliff.  You are not restoring a great painting that's shortly going to be thrown on the fire.  You are not planting roses in a garden that's about to be dug up for a building site.  You are - strange though it may seem, almost as hard to believe as the resurrection itself - accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God's new world.  Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one's fellow human beings and for that matter one's fellow nonhuman creators; and of course every prayer, al Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in the word - all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make.  That is the logic of the mission of God.  (pg. 208)
He goes on to say, "I have no idea what precisely this will mean in practice.  I am putting up a signpost, not offering a photograph of what we shall find once we get to there the signpost is

What we do now matters.  And eternity will be spent in joyous celebration of what we have been created to do.  The Hebrew word "Avodah" means both work and worship.  We will spend eternity in worship, but not as many think (or maybe fear, as Hannah did).  It will the act of worship that we were uniquely created to do, made in the image of an incredibly creative God, where we will reflect that creativity through our work.  Some of us may be governors.  Some of us may be farmers.  Some of us may be builders.  Some of us may be song-writers and musicians.  Some of us may be artists.  Just as we are here. 

It is believed that Martin Luther said this:  "If I knew that the world would end tomorrow, I would plant a tree today."  Something to think about.  And something to rejoice in, in light of the resurrection. 

He is risen.  He is risen indeed.  "And behold, I am making everything new."  (Revelation 21:5)