The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


We have tasted eternity

Resurrection is life with the Lord we love. It begins now.

Some of my students claim heaven is of no concern to them. Life is precious. This world matters, and it is all we have for sure. So why concern ourselves with something for which we have no evidence?

Every night one of my friends prays that he will die before morning. He fervently hopes there is no hereafter. Something in him says eternal life is "pie in the sky," a human concoction that became dogma when it was accepted by enough people. Considering his many disappointments with God,

why should he trust the next life will be any better than this one?

For those who believe, how sad to have no hope.

The Sadducees of Jesus' day would have agreed with my friend. They, too, said there was nothing more than the here and now. But the Pharisees would have disagreed. By three centuries before Christ, hope for a bodily resurrection was associated with the coming of the Messiah. It was thought that the person's essence — never separated from the living body — would animate the resurrected body. Then the person would again become a nephesh, a living soul.

Many biblical views

Scripture includes many conflicting viewpoints about whether there is a life after death, when it might come and what it will be like. For example:

• Many Hebrews believed that all the dead went to Sheol, a shadowy realm where the dead seemed neither wholly dead nor wholly alive. In Sheol, similar to the Greek idea of Hades, the dead weren't with God nor could they remember or praise God (Psalm 6).

• After his death Christ went "to the spirits imprisoned" (the Apostle's Creed says "descended into hell"), where he preached to those "who in former times did not obey" (1 Peter 3:19-20). Why? Was it to give them another chance to hear God's message of life and hope — and be released? The writer of Peter explains: "The gospel was preached even 10 the dead, so that ... they might live in the spirit as God does" (4:6). God, it seems, is much more than a God of judgment.

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