I had conversations this past weekend with some folks in BCEC that made me think I should blog about the happy subject of death. When you ask most Christians what happens after you die, you will probably get some kind of response that we will have wings (without the help of Red Bull), become angels, live up in the clouds and play harps all day. This also means the only job that exists in the afterlife is being a worship leader… so if you want a job, better get practicing. 🙂 However, how Biblical are these ideas?
Really, the source of much of this thinking comes from pagan mythology, accounts of “near death experiences” and much of pop culture. This was also a concern of the early church. Many thought that after you die, your body is gone and all you have is a soul (this is borrowed from much Greek philosophy). But the Apostle Paul responds quite bluntly in 1 Corinthians 15, “[I]f there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.”
Now, let’s think about this for a moment. How was Christ raised? In a physical body. Thomas could not believe the resurrection occurred unless he could actually touch Jesus’ wounds — which he did. There is a difference, however, between the new bodies and the old — the new ones are imperishable (hence, Paul continues to talk about how it is not made of the dust of this earth).
Now, if there is an actual renewed, physical body, this means that there must be a place where these bodies dwell. Well, that’s what the Bible describes as the new earth. If you read through Revelation 21, you find a very interesting picture: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away… And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God… [God] will dwell with them [that is, in the new earth], and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” God, in a sense, recreates creation. He remakes things the way they should have been.
There is a variety of theological views as to what we will be doing in this new existence. But I think it is important to realise that as God desires to redeem all of humanity, he also desires to redeem all of creation (Romans 8:18-25). This is why we should care about this (old) earth and the bodily worries in the here and now (e.g., AIDS/HIV, global warming, politics, animal rights, etc.).
We don’t simply throw away this world and these bodies and get wings in the clouds. Rather, we have been made stewards of all these things ever since its creation.
- N. T. Wright. Surprised by Hope. SPCK 2007.