I think we have too many theological questions. We want to know if Mary was a virgin, before, during and after the birth of Jesus? We ask about the physical/spiritual resurrection of Jesus. We stumble over questions about the inerrancy of the bible, trying to avoid the inconsistencies and blatant errors we find in the scriptural texts. We could spend a lifetime asking these questions and thousands more, but only one question deserves our time and energy: Eternal life.
Is there an after-life, and if there is — how do I get there? Long before Jesus, the Egyptians said “Yes!” At least, the Egyptian kings and their concubines would enjoy it; the pyramids prove that point. The Hebrews were not that definite; they invented a shadowy place called Sheol which later became the river Styx due to Greek influence, but neither place included God and neither place was very heavenly.
Gradually, the Jewish group called the Pharisees, promoted a “general resurrection” where people (we don’t know how many) would come back from the dead and live again in Jerusalem. Many scholars think Jesus belonged to this group and even preached the time was coming soon (Matt. 24:36). We know Paul was convinced it would take place before he died, and he taught this to his early Christian converts. (1 Thess. 5:1)
When it didn’t happen, the Christian communities (all of them Catholic) began looking for other explanations. This is when Heaven, Hell, Purgatory and Limbo were inserted into the Christian vocabulary and stayed active until Martin Luther threw out Purgatory and Limbo for Protestants. Heaven and Hell remained. However, Hell seems to have lost its fire in modern times, and today, we talk only about Heaven and how to get there.
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To get there, Martin Luther had said, “sola Fide,” and following Paul’s theology (Rom. 3:28), he proclaimed faith alone brings salvation or heaven. It doesn’t matter how many good works you perform or how many sins you commit. If you believe, you walk on in. Luther’s Catholic critics, however, following the epistle of James, repeated the words, “faith without works is dead” (James 2:26), and demanded the “state of grace” as the litmus test for entrance into Heaven.
But let’s forget those problems for the moment. Let’s focus on Heaven. By whatever means we might get there, do we know Heaven exists? I don’t.The fact is, we don’t know anything about Heaven or an afterlife. We have only faith.
One of my favorite authors wrote a beautiful book about this. John Shelby Spong figured it would be the last of his 20 books on religion because he’s so old; (he’s exactly 20 days older than I am.) He called his book: “Eternal Life: A New Vision.” His new vision is a new way to picture God. Instead of imagining God as “out there,” Spong agrees with the understanding of theologians like Richard Rohr and Kirby Godsey who see us as part of God, and therefore we will walk into eternity together hand in hand with God. When asked if he will live again, Spong answers, Yes. Yes. Yes! (pg.212)
I like that answer. Mankind has always wanted to live on after death; it just seems part of our DNA. Protestants cling to New Testament quotes; Catholics replay Marian visions; Jews quote the Tanakh, and so on. All of us want some reasonable back-up for our faith.
I think I’ve found my back-up. I am a part of God; God is a part of me. I don’t understand how that can be, but it’s my faith. I believe it. I believe that I am an essential part of this fantastic creation I see all around me, and I believe I will somehow live with it forever. St. Paul put it this way many years ago, “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20) I believe it.
Google for my latest book: https://www.amazon.com/Oh-My-God-Bill-Cummings/dp/1937943380