Man is the only animal that laughs and weeps, for he is the only animal that is struck with the difference between what things are and what they ought to be. We weep at what thwarts or exceeds our desires in serious matters; we laugh at what only disappoints our expectations in trifles. We shed tears from sympathy with that which is unreasonable and unnecessary, the absurdity of which provokes our spleen or mirth, rather than any serious reflections on it.
In recent years, more and more Christians have come to appreciate the Bible’s teaching that the ultimate blessed hope for the believer is not an otherworldly heaven; instead, it is full-bodied participation in a new heaven and a new earth brought into fullness through the coming of God’s kingdom. Drawing on the full sweep of the biblical narrative, J. Richard Middleton unpacks key Old Testament and New Testament texts to make a case for the new earth as the appropriate Christian hope. He suggests its ethical and ecclesial implications, exploring the difference a holistic eschatology can make for living in a broken world.
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven
In this extraordinary book, Mark Johnston sets out a new understanding of personal identity and the self, thereby providing a purely naturalistic account of surviving death. Death threatens our sense of the importance of goodness. The threat can be met if there is, as Socrates said, “something in death that is better for the good than for the bad.” Yet, as Johnston shows, all existing theological conceptions of the afterlife are either incoherent or at odds with the workings of nature. These supernaturalist pictures of the rewards for goodness also obscure a striking consilience between the philosophical study of the self and an account of goodness common to Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism: the good person is one who has undergone a kind of death of the self and who lives a life transformed by entering imaginatively into the lives of others, anticipating their needs and true interests. As a caretaker of humanity who finds his or her own death comparatively unimportant, the good person can see through death. But this is not all. Johnston’s closely argued claims that there is no persisting self and that our identities are in a particular way “Protean” imply that the good survive death. Given the future-directed concern that defines true goodness, the good quite literally live on in the onward rush of humankind. Every time a baby is born a good person acquires a new face. ~ Publisher’s Description
A while back Bradley Monton invited his friend and colleague, Nicole Hassoun, to post an incipient sketch of an argument against the existence or goodness of the Christian God. The basic thrust of her concern is as follows: "Perhaps I have the story wrong, … but it seems to me that several things are true of love. First, if I love someone, I cannot believe that that person deserves eternal suffering. … Second, when someone I love is hurt, that hurts me. I could not be perfectly happy if someone I loved was suffering for eternity. I cannot even conceive of such a thing. But then it seems there is a problem. For, I could be saved while someone I love is not saved. Then I could be perfectly happy in heaven while a person I love is burning in hell. But if I love someone, I cannot even think this is possible. So I should not, if I love, believe in this kind of Christianity. It could not be right unless my love would disappear at the gates of heaven (or some such) and why, I wonder, would that be? Wouldn´t it be better if heaven had my love in it? Wouldn’t I be happier in love?" My own cursory, and incipient, response follows…
Malls, stadiums, and universities are actually liturgical structures that influence and shape our thoughts and affections. Humans — as Augustine noted — are “desiring agents,” full of longings and passions; in brief, we are what we love. James K. A. Smith focuses on the themes of liturgy and desire in Desiring the Kingdom, the first book in what will be a three-volume set on the theology of culture. He redirects our yearnings to focus on the greatest good: God. Ultimately, Smith seeks to re-vision education through the process and practice of worship. Students of philosophy, theology, worldview, and culture will welcome Desiring the Kingdom, as will those involved in ministry and other interested readers. ~ Product Description
I’m not sure there is an afterlife. OK. If there is one, here’s what I think it is. I think it’s whatever you think you’re going to get. Those suicide bombers, if they really believe that they are going to wind up in heaven with 71 virgins, yeah, that’s probably what they’re going to get in the afterlife. This is sort of predicated on the idea that there’s a part of your mind programmed to create the way that dreams are created what you’ve been expecting to kind of ease you out of this life. Think of it this way. I think of the brain as this great, big, crenelated library with many rooms, billions and billions of books, rooms without number, but at the very end of all those rooms, there’s a little tiny box that says “pull lever in case of emergency,” because that’s the door out, and when you go out, you get pretty much what you expected, because some chemical in your brain is programmed to give you that particular dream at the very end. If you’re expecting [H.P. Lovecraft’s] Yogg Sothoth, there he’ll be, along with the 900 blind fiddlers, or whatever it is.
Wright, one of the greatest, and certainly most prolific, Bible scholars in the world, will touch a nerve with this book. What happens when we die? How should we think about heaven, hell, purgatory and eternal life? Wright critiques the views of heaven that have become regnant in Western culture, especially the assumption of the continuance of the soul after death in a sort of blissful non-bodily existence. This is simply not Christian teaching, Wright insists. The New Testament’s clear witness is to the resurrection of the body, not the migration of the soul. And not right away, but only when Jesus returns in judgment and glory. The "paradise," the experience of being "with Christ" spoken of occasionally in the scriptures, is a period of waiting for this return. But Christian teaching of life after death should really be an emphasis on "life after life after death"-the resurrection of the body, which is also the ground for all faithful political action, as the last part of this book argues. Wright’s prose is as accessible as it is learned-an increasingly rare combination. No one can doubt his erudition or the greatness of the churchmanship of the Anglican Bishop of Durham. One wonders, however, at the regular citation of his own previous work. And no other scholar can get away so cleanly with continuing to propagate the "hellenization thesis," by which the early church is eventually polluted by contaminating Greek philosophical influence. ~ Publishers Weekly
The cross was not God’s last word in Jesus Christ. The tomb did not hold him fast: he is risen, and God speaks to us through the Risen One. The rich glutton in hell asked that Lazarus might appear to his brothers and warn them lest they share his dreadful fate. He thinks: “If someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent” (Lk 1627ff). But the true Lazarus has come. He is here, and he speaks to us: This life is not everything. There is an eternity. Today, it is very unmodern to say this, even in theology. To speak of life beyond death looks like a flight from life here on earth. But what if it is true? Can one simply pass it by? Can one dismiss it as mere consolation? Is it not precisely this reality that bestows on life its seriousness, its freedom, its hope.
No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It’s life’s change agent; it clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now, the new is you. But someday, not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it’s quite true. Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice, heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.
By sharing the very latest scientific, philosophical, anthropological, ethical, and theological evidence on life after death, noted Christian scholars Habermas and Moreland present a strong case for immortality with this book. They begin by taking up the question of whether life after death is real what evidence supports its reality. They then explore what the afterlife is like and go on to show how having this reality in your future should affect the way you live here and now. This book will reassure you that there’s no need to fear death — as long as you’re prepared for the eternity that follows. It’s also a great aid in developing a serious biblical, rational, and even scientific defense for belief in life beyond the grave. ~ Book Cover
As for dualism, much has been said of the violence it does to our unity as psycho-physical creatures, but this is questionable. Multiplicity and disunity are as strong a feature of our existence as psychosomatic unity. We are legion, as the demons say. It is a marvel that all our different parts work together. At best, we are a symphony; but the second violins have quarreled with the wind section, and as we age these quarrels increase. Why should it surprise us if at death the soul separates from the body? Separating is the order of our lives as we tend toward death. If a man’s jowls can sink down while his brow stays up, why can’t his soul rise up when his body sinks down? All of our flesh is being pulled downward by the gravity of the grave; every day our skin is sloughing off cell by cell; at each stage of life we slough off the skin of a previous stage; and at death we lose what was left of those skins. Perhaps that will be the chance to emerge as the person one was meant to be.
Although social surveys indicate that roughly 80 percent of Americans believe in life after death, it is a belief cherished against the grain of perceived official skepticism; and among academically trained religious thinkers, one finds a greater measure of skepticism than in the population at large. For many, immortality is not a matter for reasoned debate, but is simply ruled out of play, along with guardian angels and statues that weep. It is taken for granted, as if it were a premise accepted by all reasonable people, that no one seriously believes in Heaven, Hell, or Purgatory, in the life of the soul, the resurrection of the body, or the personality of God as the concrete realities they were once imagined to be.
Still, I must insist that the most important question about heaven and hell — who goes where, whether there are second chances, what form the judgments and rewards take, intermediate states after death — are opaque at best. Increasingly, I am grateful for that ignorance and grateful that the God who revealed himself in Jesus is the one who knows the answers.
Crucifixion demands entombment. And entombment generates drama. Who is hiding in the cupboard of French farce? Who is behind the screen on Blind Date? What is the bran tub, or the cracker, or the long awaited letter when it drops in the letter-box? Open the box! The drama of entombment is there literally in the stage illusionist’s repertoire. It might have died with Harry Houdini, but it hasn’t. I saw it only the other day on television: the comedian Freddie Star, bound and shackled and then submerged in a fish tank. Curtains drawn round the tank. Lights dimmed. A roll of drums, the lights flash, and then the lights go up and the curtains are drawn back to discover… an empty fish tank. And a few minutes later, Freddie is discovered somewhere else, damp but unharmed and smiling, the Starr reborn. … I come back to death, ‘nothing more terrible, nothing more true’. We go to Shakespeare’s tragedies, go to sit in the dark in our boxes at the theatre, to confront what ‘we can’t escape’. And Shakespeare shows us the mutilated bodies in a stage spectacle. And he portrays death as final, ‘the sure extinction that we travel to and shall be lost in always’. But the ritual of theatre-going won’t allow it to rest there. We are obliged to remain incarcerated while another stage-spectacle is enacted, the resurrection before our eyes of the actors who are dead. The curtain call. It is a cheat. Like death. Something I know I can’t escape, yet can’t accept. Tirez le rideau.
Imagine that you have been miraculously transported to the dark kingdom of hell, and there you get a glimpse of the sufferings of the damned. What is their punishment? Well, they have eternal back itches, which ebb and flow constantly. But they cannot scratch their backs, for their arms are paralyzed in a frontal position, so they writhe with itchiness throughout eternity. But just as you are beginning to feel the itch in you own back, you are suddenly transported to heaven. What do you see in the kingdom of the blessed? Well, you see people with eternal back itches, who cannot scratch their own backs. But they are all smiling instead of writhing. Why? Because everyone has his or her arms stretched out to scratch someone else’s back, and, so arranged in one big circle, a hell is turned into a heaven of ecstasy. In our story people in heaven, but not in hell, cooperate for the amelioration of suffering and the production of pleasure. These are very primitive goods, not sufficient for a full-blown morality, but they give us a hint as to the objectivity of morality. Moral goodness has something to do with the ameliorating of suffering, the resolution of conflict and the promotion of human flourishing.
Life can be beautiful, profound, and awe-inspiring, even without an irate god threatening us with eternal torment.
What, if anything, is it that makes the human uniquely human? This, in part, is the question that G.K. Chesterton starts with in this classic exploration of human history. Responding to the evolutionary materialism of his contemporary (and antagonist) H.G. Wells, Chesterton in this work affirms human uniqueness and the unique message of the Christian faith. He sees in Christianity a rare blending of philosophy and mythology, or reason and story, which satisfies both the mind and the heart. On both levels it rings true. As he puts it, "in answer to the historical query of why it was accepted, and is accepted, I answer for millions of others in my reply; because it fits the lock; because it is like life." Here, as so often in Chesterton, we sense a lived, awakened faith. All that he writes derives from a keen intellect guided by the heart’s own knowledge. ~ Doug Thorpe
But will the final destiny of the impenitent be eternal conscious torment, “for ever and ever”, or will it be a total annihilation of their being? The former has to be described as traditional orthodoxy, for most of the church fathers, the medieval theologians and the Reformers held it. And probably most Evangelical leaders hold it today. Do I hold it, however? Well, emotionally, I find the concept intolerable and do not understand how people can live with it without either cauterising their feelings or cracking under the strain. But our emotions are a fluctuating, unreliable guide to truth and must not be exalted to the place of supreme authority in determining it. As a committed Evangelical, my question must be — and is — not what does my heart tell me, but what does God’s word say? And in order to answer this question, we need to survey the biblical material afresh and to open our minds (not just our hearts) to the possibility that Scripture points in the direction of annihilation, and that ‘eternal conscious torment’ is a tradition which has to yield to the supreme authority of Scripture. . . .
To medieval Christendom, it was the world beyond the world that made all the difference in the world to this world. The Heaven beyond the sun made the earth “under the sun” something more than “vanity of vanities.” Earth was Heaven’s womb, Heaven’s nursery, Heaven’s dress rehearsal. Heaven was the meaning of the earth. Nietzsche had not yet popularized the serpent’s tempting alternative: “You are the meaning of the earth.” Kant had not yet disseminated “the poison of subjectivism” by his “Copernican revolution in philosophy,” in which the human mind does not discover truth but makes it, like the divine mind. Descartes had not yet replaced the divine I AM with the human “I think, therefore I am” as the “Archimedean point,” had not yet replaced theocentrism with anthropocentrism. Medieval man was still his Father’s child, however prodigal, and his world was meaningful because it was “my Father’s world” and he believed his Father’s promise to take him home after death.
For the first time I thought seriously about God. Between sobs I told Bessie that if God could do things like this to people, then God was hateful and I had no more use for Him. ¶ Bessie told me about the peace of Heaven and the joy of being among the angels and the happiness of my father who was already there. The argument failed to quiet my rage. ¶ "God loves us all just like His own children," Bessie said. ¶ "If God loves me, why did He make my father die?" ¶ Bessie said that I would understand someday, but she was only partly right. That afternoon, though I couldn’t have phrased it this way then, I decided that God was a lot less interested in people than anybody in Morrisonville was willing to admit. That day I decided that God was not entirely to be trusted. ¶ After that I never cried again with any real conviction, nor expected much of anyone’s God except indifference, nor loved deeply without fear that it would cost me dearly in pain. At the age of five I had become a skeptic . . .
If a thing makes no difference, it is a waste of time to think about it. We should begin, then, with the question, What difference does Heaven make to earth, to now, to our lives? Only the difference between hope and despair in the end, between two totally different visions of life, between “chance or the dance.” At death we find out which vision is true: does it all go down the drain in the end, or are all the loose threads finally tied together into a gloriously perfect tapestry? Do the tangled paths through the forest of life lead to the golden castle or over the cliff and into the abyss? Is death a door or a hole?