Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Life, but not as we know it

Christians are interested in life. They can be pro life, which means banning abortions, but interestingly some of these are still pro-execution and war when it is (supposedly) in their country's interest. They can talk about eternal life and the need to be born again, but be short on what life means now. And often, non-human life gets short shrift with issues over environment seen as greenie, hippy, leftie and pagan.

As a start, consider the idea of life after death. What does this mean? For many, Christianity is about going to heaven when you die and avoiding going to hell. This is life after death, the reward for a lifetime of suffering. Such an escape was of comfort to black slaves in the Southern US (as clear in songs like Welcome Table)and certainly made any resistance pointless is not unnecessary.

There is plenty of evidence for this in the New Testament. In Jn 14:2 Jesus tells his disciples he's off to prepare a room for them in his Father's house. Jesus also promises the bandit/revolutionary that he would be with Jesus in paradise that very day. Likewise, Paul wants to depart and be with Christ (Phil 1:23). I take this (despite my commitment to dynamical monism rather than any form of soul dualism) the recognition of a conscious state after death. However, the Greek word in Jn 14 translated as room means stopping place, like an inn room rather than a permanent residence! This should hint that while 'going to heaven when you die' is important, it is not the end of the world (with thanks to NT Wright).

So life after death is important and real to a Christian, but not as a rescue from this world as if it could be cast off. There is life after, life after death, which is resurrection from the dead. Paul speaks about this at length in 1 Corinthians 15. Note that at the end of this re-affirmation of a new physical existence, a new kind of body, one unlike the flesh we have now (i.e. the impermanent body), there is no call to wait for heaven or sit back and enjoy or be unengaged in the world. There is an encouragement that 'Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.'

Now one could interpret this as meaning evangelism only, but this would be a return to dualism. Certainly it includes it, but the Great Commission says make disciples, which is a life long venture and not a matter of just 'saving souls'. More than that, the number of injunctions to care for the poor, to work with our hands, to do good to all, etc means that there is more to life now than just the 'spiritual' acts of prayer, bible study and evangelism (though not less than these things). And the present is shaped by the future (the resurrection).

Hence, we should not just look for life after death or life after, life after death, but also life before death. Jesus promised us life to the full or in abundance (Jn 10:10). This includes a new family, houses and fields, as well as persecutions in this age (Mk 10:30). But it also includes a new mission, not just the Great Commission but also acts of justice (being neighbour) to all nations.

This includes the non-human creation. Romans 8 talks about non-human life and how it groans for our adoption as Sons/children of God (both huios and tekna are used in the Greek). Our futures are tied together (life after, life after death). The birth pains suggests the ground giving up the dead, the and likely reason for this is the subjection to the frustration of being under human misrule. It isn't a big leap of logic to add up the following

1. we are told we will one day be totally sanctified, yet that to continue to sin now so that grace may abound is not to be countenanced.
2. nothing we do in the Lord is in vain. It is hard to justify this being only 'spiritual' activities
3. creation itself has a future and we and it groan for the same thing, the hope of our adoption as God's children which will mean the release of creation from bondage to decay

It is hard to deny that life before death includes caring for God's world: as worship, as justice (think climate change and the poor, oil spills and fishing communities, etc) and as allowing them to fulfill their own creation blessing to be fruitful and multiply (Gen 1:20-23).


  1. Yep you are a greenie, leftie, hippie, hypocrite carbon spreading koala in sheeps clothing. What are you saying? we should kill babies to keep the population down. Bob Brown would be proud of you.
    We fight wars against people who blow up buildings & want to destroy our freedoms ( people a bit like the commy greens) Life is great until some hippie wants to destroy with a carbon tax on everything.

  2. LOL - name calling is pretty lame. For the benefit of others I am advocating contraception - and in developing nations education for women to drag them out of poverty and the need to have large families as insurance in old age.

    Start making constructive comments or I'll just delete them.