Surprised by Hope. Tom Wright. Published by SPCK The following is my attempt at a summary of Tom Wright‟s book, Surprised by Hope. It was written for my benefit, as I usually remember very little of the detail in books I read. I find this is a useful way of remembering and is also a useful reference to look back on. SO I apologise if bits of it don‟t make sense to you. All I can suggest is…. read the book! Part 1: Setting the Scene Chapter 1: All dressed up and no place to go 2 Questions. 1. What is the ultimate Christian hope? 2. What hope is there for change, rescue, transformation, new possibilities within the world in the present? If we see Christian hope in terms of „going to heaven‟, of going away from this world, the 2 questions will seem unrelated. If the hope is for God‟s new creation, and if that hope has already come to life in Jesus, then the 2 questions are connected. So if we answer one, we will answer the other. There are 3 wrong beliefs: 1. Complete annihilation. 2. Some form of reincarnation 3. New-ageist, a sort of low-grade popular nature-religion with elements of Buddhism. At death, being absorbed into the wider world, the wind and trees. A message left in London after Diana‟s death “I did not leave you at all, I am still with you. I am in the sun and in the wind. I am even in the rain. I did not die, I am with you all.” Chapter 2: Puzzled about Paradise Christian thought has oscillated between seeing death as a vile enemy and as a welcome friend. Death is a very real enemy, but it has been conquered and at the last will be conquered fully. If the promised final future is simply that immortal souls will have left behind their mortal bodies, then death still rules! There is real confusion and lots of folk-beliefs based on wishful thinking. E.g. “Heaven is somewhere you believe in … it‟s a beautiful place where you can sit on soft clouds and talk to other people who are there. At night you can sit next to the stars, which are the brightest of anywhere in the universe… If you‟re good throughout your life, then you get to go to heaven… when your life is finished here on earth, God sends angels down to take you up to heaven to be with him…. [And Grandma is] alive in me… Most important, she taught me to believe in myself… She‟s in a safe place, with the stars, with God and the angels… she is watching over us from up there. I want you to know [says the heroine to her great-Grandma] that even though you are no longer here, your spirit will always be alive in me.” What’s Heaven? Maria Schriver (wife of Arnold Schwarzenegger and niece of John F Kennedy) There is very little in the bible about going to heaven when you die, and not a lot about post- mortem hell either. In Matthew‟s gospel, the Kingdom of Heaven is NOT referring to heaven! In Jesus‟ preaching it refers to God‟s sovereign rule coming “on earth as it is in heaven”. Likewise, the pictures in Revelation have been misunderstood. Rev 4&5 is a picture of the present reality, the heavenly dimension of our present life. Heaven, in the bible, is regularly not a future destiny, but the other, hidden dimension of our ordinary life – God‟s dimension if you like. God made heaven and earth; at the last, he will remake both and join them together for eternity. It is assumed that the word heaven is the appropriate term for the ultimate destination, the final „home‟, and that the language of resurrection and of the new earth and heavens, must somehow be fitted into that. There is a lot of confusion. Many don‟t believe in hell. Many have embraced universalism, etc. Some Christmas carols don‟t help. Away in a manger: “and fit us for heaven to live with thee there”. No resurrection, no new creation, no marriage of heaven and earth! How Great Thou Art: “When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation, And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart”. The doctrine of the resurrection, as part of God‟s new creation, is vital, giving more value to the present world and bodies. There is a sense of continuity between the present world (and present state) and the future. What we do now, matters. Robust belief in the resurrection has always gone with a view of God‟s justice and of God as the good creator. So what are the key questions? 1. How do we know about all this? Anglicans say scripture, tradition and reason. 2. Do we have immortal souls, and if so what are they? There is little NT support for the idea that all have “souls” that need “saving” and that the “soul”, if “saved”, will be the part of us that “goes to heaven” when we die. 3. What does Jesus‟ resurrection tell us? We need to understand the cultural context. 4. With this as background, what is the ultimate Christian hope, for the whole world and for ourselves? a. What can we say about the future of the whole cosmos? b. What do we mean when we speak of Jesus „coming again to judge the living and the dead‟? c. What do we mean and believe about the „resurrection of the body and the life everlasting‟? The Lord‟s prayer: “thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven”! The prayer was powerfully answered at the 1st Easter, and will finally be answered fully when heaven and earth are joined in the new Jerusalem. We don‟t know when this will happen, and we don‟t really know what it will look like, cos we only have images and metaphors, so the ultimate hope will be a surprise. Our purpose now is to live as resurrection people in between Easter and the final day, with our life (worship and mission) as a sign of the first and a foretaste of the second!!! Chapter 3: Early Christian hope in its historical setting Debate between Popper and Wittgenstein (25/10/1946 in Cambridge) is a good example of differences in “witness” accounts. There are differences even from people who were at the same meeting! The differences in gospel accounts are not a problem. In the ancient pagan world, death was all-powerful; one could neither escape it in the 1st place nor break its power once it had come. Some (like Homer) wanted a new body but knew he couldn‟t have one, while others like Plato didn‟t want one because being a disembodied soul was far better! Resurrection, even though people didn‟t think it would happen, was NEVER used to mean life after death. It referred to new bodily life after whatever sort of „life-after-death‟ there might be. It was definitely related to the body. In the NT, Herod thought that Jesus was a resurrected (bodily) John the Baptist, he didn‟t think of him as a ghost. Resurrection meant bodies! Most Jews (apart from the Sadducees) believed in the eventual resurrection, with new bodies, on the last day. That‟s what Martha assumed Jesus was talking about regarding Lazarus. Jesus redefined lots of things in his teaching (kingdom, prayer, love, etc) but hardly tried with resurrection. He cleverly responds to the Sadducees trick question, speaking of „the resurrection‟ as a complete event in the future, when the righteous will be raised. God‟s people won‟t become angels, but like angels in certain respects. Then in Matt 13:43, Jesus declares that on the last day the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their father. This echoes Daniel 12:3, „the resurrection of the righteous‟ is the reward awaiting God‟s people. Of course, Jesus spoke about his own resurrection, but the disciples just didn‟t get it. They had no idea that it could happen to one person ahead of everybody else. So the crucifixion was the end of all their hopes. A crucified Messiah is not a Messiah. The Christian belief in hope beyond death is definitely more Jewish based than pagan. It centred on the resurrection. When heaven is referred to as a post-mortem destination, they seem to regard it as a temporary stage on the way to the eventual resurrection of the body. Definitely a two-step process. But there were 7 modifications to the beliefs:. 1. Within early Christian life, it appears that all Christians believe the same thing – not the broad spectrum that is found in the many strands of Judaism. Some Corinthians, who were muddled ex-pagans, denied the resurrection, but that didn‟t last long! 2. In 2nd Temple Judaism, resurrection was a peripheral subject, but not in early Christianity. Paul, John, Ignatius, Irenaeus all speak about it. Belief in the bodily resurrection was one of the two central things that the pagan doctor Galen noted about Christians (the other being their remarkable sexual restraint). 3. From the start of early Christianity, resurrection was thought of as a transformed body, created from the old material, but with new properties (1 Cor 15). Many have misinterpreted this passage as meaning the new body would be a „spiritual‟ body in the sense of non-material. This is NOT what Paul meant; he is highlighting the difference between a present body animated by the normal human soul and a future body animated by God‟s spirit. 4. The resurrection has become a 2-stage event. First Jesus is raised, and then everyone else! The disciples (like all the other Jews) did not understand this. After the Transfiguration, Jesus tells them not to mention the vision until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead. There confusion was “How will we in a position to tell anyone, as everyone would be raised at the same time?” 5. Because the early Christians believed that „resurrection‟ had begun with Jesus, and would be completed in the great final resurrection on the last day, they believed that God had called them to work with him, in the power of the spirit, to implement the achievement of Jesus and thereby to anticipate the final resurrection, in personal and political life, in mission and holiness. 6. Resurrection, while still being embraced as literal language about a future embodied existence, has shed its powerful earlier metaphorical meaning about the renewal of ethnic Israel and has acquired a new one, about the renewal of human beings in general. 7. Finally, resurrection became associated with Messiahship. Nobody in Judaism expected the Messiah to die, so therefore nobody expected him to rise! Jesus changed the view of both Messiah and resurrection. But early Christians appear to affirm that Jesus was the Messiah, because of his resurrection. There were of course other Messiah movements, but no other resurrections! The other Messiahs faded. Resurrection is not the re-description of death; it is its overthrow, and with that, the overthrow of those whose power depends on it. And all this because of Jesus! Chapter 4: The Strange Story of Easter Jesus‟ body is clearly transformed, but still physical. It uses up the matter of the crucified body (hence the empty tomb), but comes and goes through walls and is not always recognised. We cannot prove the resurrection. Science studies the repeatable; history studies the unrepeatable. Is a scientist expected to have a scientific approach to love, football, music, etc? “I would not suggest that one can argue right up to the central truth of Christian faith by pure human reason building on simple observation of the world. Indeed, it should be obvious that that is impossible. Equally, I would not suggest that historical investigation of this sort has therefore no part to play, and that all that is required is a blind leap of faith. The question of Jesus‟ resurrection, though it may in some sense burst the boundaries of history, also remains within them; that is precisely why it is so important, so disturbing, so life-and-death.” Ancient and current worldviews alike, have no room for resurrection. What is at stake is the clash between a worldview which allows for a God of creation and justice and worldviews which don‟t. History brings us to the point where there really was an empty tomb, and there really were sightings of Jesus, the same and yet transformed. History then says: so how do you explain that? The resurrection is NOT, as it were, a highly peculiar event within the present world (though it is that as well); it is principally the defining event of the new creation, the world which is being born with Jesus. In Oscar Wilde‟s play, Salome, Herod hears reports that Jesus of Nazareth has been raising the dead. “I do not wish him to do that”, says Herod. “I forbid him to do that. I allow no man to raise the dead. This man must be found and told that I forbid him to raise the dead”. There is the bluster of the tyrant who knows his power is threatened, and we hear the same tone of voice not just in the politicians who want to carve up the world to their advantage, but in the intellectual traditions that have gone along for the ride. But Wilde‟s next haunting line is the real crunch, for us as for Herod. “Where is this man?” demands Herod. “He is in every place my lord,” replies the courtier, “but it is hard to find him”. Section 2: God’s Future Plan Chapter 5: Cosmic Future: Progress or Despair? If we start with the future hope of the individual, there is always the risk that we will, at least by implication, understand that as the real centre of everything, and treat the hope of creation as mere embroidery around the edges. So what are the options? 1. Option 1: Evolutionary Optimism. The myth of progress. “Vote for us and things will get better!” It is the belief that humans can be made perfect, and are indeed evolving inexorably towards that point! “The world is ours to enjoy and exploit”. Instead of dependence on God‟s grace, we will become what we have the potential to be by education and hard work. Instead of creation and new creation, science and technology will turn the raw material of this world into the stuff of Utopia. The real problem with the myth of progress is that it cannot deal with evil, intellectually or in practice! We can‟t explain and we can‟t eradicate. It can‟t stop it. It can‟t address the moral problem of everything that‟s happened so far, because it underestimates the nature and power of evil itself, and thus fails to see the vital importance of the cross. 2. Option 2: Souls in Transit Plato has much in common with Buddha. It wasn‟t just evil that was wrong with the world, it was change and decay; the transitional nature of matter. They say that we were made for something quite different, a world not made of space, time and matter, but for a world of pure spiritual existence. In other words, get rid of the thing which can decay and die, namely our material selves. There are strains of this in some Christian thinking, not least the Gnostics. A “passing through” spirituality is there in many Christians (i.e. the purpose of being a Christian is to go to heaven when you die). Chapter 6: What the Whole World‟s Waiting For. The early Christians believed neither of the above. They believed that what God had done for Jesus at Easter, He was going to do for the whole Cosmos. 1. The Goodness of Creation God and the world are NOT the same thing. One living God created a world that is other than himself as an act of love. Creation was good, but not divine. 2. The nature of evil Evil does NOT consist in being transient, made to decay. There is nothing wrong with trees dropping its leaves in autumn. Indeed, it is precisely the transcience of the good creation that serves as a pointer to its larger purpose, i.e. the future of a material world as it is meant to be. What matters is that we think in terms of “the present age and the age to come”, not “an evil earth and a good heaven”. Evil then consists, not of being created, but in the rebellious idolatry by which humans worship and honour elements of the natural world rather than God who made them. The result is that death, which was always part of the natural transcience of the good creation, gains a second dimension, which the Bible sometimes calls “spiritual death” (often called exile as in Genesis). 3. The plan of redemption The point about redemption is that it doesn‟t mean scrapping what‟s there and starting again, but liberating what has become enslaved. “Slavery in sin” must be redeemed into a newly embodied life. Jesus‟ incarnation wasn‟t a mistake, but the centre and fulfilment of the long-term plan of the good and wise creator. There are 6 themes of the cosmic dimension of Christian Hope, some of which speak of something new that affirms the old: seedtime and harvest, birth and new life, and marriage. 1. Seedtime and harvest Passover was linked to the first fruits of barley and Pentecost was linked to the first fruits of wheat. Paul refers to Jesus as the first fruits, the first to rise from the dead. (1 Cor 15;20). 2. The victorious battle Every force, every authority will be subjected to the Messiah; and finally death itself will give up its power. The gospel of Jesus announces that what God did for Jesus at Easter he will do, not only for those who are in Christ, but for the entire cosmos. It will be an act of new creation, parallel to and derived from the act of new creation when God raised Jesus from the dead. Death is the last enemy and must be defeated. 3. Citizens of heaven – colonizing the earth (Phil 3:20-21) Philippi was a Roman colony, where army veterans were settled as citizens. The Roman emperor would then visit this colony and make sure they were acknowledged and valued (and controlled!). When Paul says we are “citizens of heaven”, he doesn‟t mean that when we‟re done with this life we‟ll be going off to live in heaven. What he means is that the saviour, Lord, King will come from heaven to earth to change the present situation and state of his people. “He will transform our present humble bodies to be like his body”. 4. God will be all in all (1 Cor 15) God will be all in all, everything in everything. The tense is future. Until the final victory over evil, and particularly over death, this moment has not arrived. 5. New birth (Romans 8) Paul again uses the imagery of the Exodus from Egypt, but this time in relation NOT to Jesus, nor to ourselves, but to creation as a whole. The whole creation (v19) is on tiptoe with expectation, longing for the day when God‟s children are revealed, when their resurrection will herald its own new life. 6. The marriage of heaven and earth (Rev 21-22) The new Jerusalem (heavenly church) comes down out of heaven like a bride adorned for her husband. As in Phil 3, it is not we who go to heaven, but heaven that comes to earth. This rejects Gnosticism, answers the Lord‟s prayer, and sums up all things in Christ. Heaven and earth are radically different, but were made for each other in the same way as male and female. And when they finally come together, there will be rejoicing! What is promised is what Isaiah foretold; a new heaven and earth, replacing the old heaven and earth which were bound to decay. Not wiping the slate clean – if that were so, there would be no celebration, no conquest of death. The redeemed people of God in the new world will be the agents of his love going out in new ways, to accomplish new creative tasks, to celebrate and extend the glory of his love. So then, what creation needs is not abandonment on the one hand, nor evolution on the other, but redemption and renewal; and this is both promised and guaranteed by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. This is what the whole world is waiting for. (The real problem with evolution isn‟t that it undermines the act of the creator, but that it makes us think that the future will be a gradual change and improvement.) Chapter 7: Jesus, heaven and new creation The ascension of Christ is important. It points to a “biblical cosmology” where heaven and earth are not two different locations within the same continuum of space and matter. They are two different dimensions of God‟s good creation. 1. Heaven relates to earth tangentially, so that the One who is in heaven can be present simultaneously anywhere and everywhere on earth. 2. Heaven is the control room (or CEO‟s office) for earth. All authority is given to Jesus, in heaven and on earth. What does it mean for a thoroughly embodied Jesus to be in heaven, as suggested by the ascension? We might struggle, but we need to find out what‟s true about Jesus and let that challenge our belief and culture. This also applies to Jesus‟ Lordship. The early Christians knew the world was in a mess, but still proclaimed that a new CEO had taken charge. It‟s not about Christians taking charge and giving orders, or backing off and worshipping Jesus in a kind of private sphere. Somehow there is a third option, glimpsed in the book of Acts; the method of the kingdom will match the message of the kingdom. The kingdom will come as the church, energized by the Spirit, goes out into the world vulnerable, suffering, praising, praying, misunderstood, misjudged, vindicated, celebrating; always – as Paul puts it – bearing about in the body, the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be displayed. If we downplay the ascension, there is the danger that the church expands to fill the vacuum. If Jesus is more or less identical with the church (i.e. talk about Jesus can be reduced to talk about his presence within his people, rather than standing over against them and addressing them from elsewhere as their Lord) then we have created a high road to the worst kind of triumphalism. In other words, we think it‟s the church that is achieving things rather than God!(?) The Trinity is precisely a way of recognising and celebrating the fact of the human being Jesus of Nazareth as distinct from, while still identified with, God the Father on the one hand (he didn‟t just „go back to being God again‟ after his earthly life) and the Spirit on the other hand (the Jesus who is near us and with us by the Spirit remains the Jesus who is other than us). To embrace the ascension is to give up the struggle to be God (and with it the inevitable despair or unreality at our constant failure), and to enjoy our status as creatures; image bearing creatures, but creatures none-the-less. We have been so keen to stress Jesus‟ presence with us that we have failed to consider his fully embodied absence! The early Christians didn‟t think in terms of a three-decker universe (the earth with heaven up above and hell down below). When they used the term “moving up” or “rising”, it was used as a metaphor for changing rank, status or position. Its not that the mystery of the ascension can‟t be explained, it‟s just that the explanation may well be “impossible”! When the bible talks about „heaven‟ and „earth‟ it isn‟t talking about two localities related to each other within the same space-time continuum. Neither is it referring to a „non-physical‟ world and a „physical‟ world. No, it‟s suggesting two different kinds of what we call „space‟, „matter‟, and possibly „time‟. What about the Second Coming? For many millions of Christians, the second coming is part of a scenario in which the present world is doomed to destruction while the chosen few are snatched up to heaven. The so-called rapture is based on a misunderstanding of two verses in Paul. Eschatology (the study of the last things) doesn‟t just refer to death, judgement, heaven and hell. It refers to the belief among Jews and Christians that history was going somewhere under the guidance of God; and that where it was going was towards God‟s new world of justice, healing and hope. The transition from the present world to the new one is a matter of its radical healing. Chapter 8: When he appears. The final redemption will be the moment when heaven and earth are joined together at last. This, combined with the ascension, means we get the personal presence of Jesus, rather than his current absence. He will come back to us. He will come again, and he will come again to judge. When Jesus speaks of „the son of man coming on the clouds‟ (Mat 24:30), he is not talking about the 2nd coming, but in line with the Daniel 7 text he is quoting, he is talking about his vindication after suffering. The „coming‟ is an upward, not downward movement, he is coming to the father, i.e. ascension. Also, the stories about the king or master going away and then returning are not about the 2nd coming, but about God returning to Jerusalem etc, as King in Jesus. The disciples didn‟t grasp the resurrection – or rather they did, but it was the wrong sort. It was the general resurrection of the dead that they sort of hoped for, not of a specific individual. The word Parousia has been misunderstood. Usually translated „coming‟, it literally means „presence‟ (as opposed to „absence‟). In NT times, it meant the mysterious presence of a god or divinity, particularly revealed through healing. It also meant when a person of high rank makes a visit to a subject state or colony, i.e. royal presence. It has nothing to do with the end of the world! Paul uses parousia politically to compare Caesar with Jesus. The day of the Lord wasn‟t an end of things, but the fresh presence of God – Jesus. In the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the early Christians eventually grasped that Israel‟s God had done what he‟d always intended. That Jesus, as Israel‟s Messiah, had become the world‟s true Lord, and that his secret presence by his Spirit was only a hint of what was to come. SO how do we understand 1 Thes 4.16-17? “The Lord himself will come down from heaven with a shouted order, with the voice of an archangel and the sound of God‟s trumpet. The Messiah‟s dead will rise first; then those who are alive, who are left, will be snatched up with them among the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air. And in this way, we shall always be with the Lord.” To understand, we need to get some other passages right. 1 Cor 15:23-27. There are lots of similarities with I Thes 4, but in 1 Cor he talks about being transformed, not being „snatched up in the air‟. It‟s the same in Phil 3.21, where the context is again Caesar. The language in Thes 1:4 is probably Paul finding rich metaphors to allude to three other stories. (He does this often. E.g., in 1 Thes 5, he says that the thief will come in the night, so the woman will go into labour, so you must not get drunk but must stay awake and put on your armour!) All Christian language about the future is like signposts. The 3 stories are: 1. Moses coming down the mountain where God had been personally present, to the sound of trumpets. 2. Daniel 7, where the persecuted people of God are vindicated over their pagan enemy by being raised up on the clouds to sit with God in glory. Jesus applied this to himself, and now Paul is applying it to Christians who are currently suffering. 3. When an emperor visits a colony, the crowds go out to meet him and then escort him back to the town, to give it its full dignity, subdue enemies and put everything to rights. So in other words, Jesus will be personally present, the dead will be raised, and the living Christians will be transformed. Colossians 3 is helpful. “If you‟ve been raised with the Messiah, seek the things that are above, because that‟s where the Messiah is, sitting at God‟s right hand. Think about the things above, not about the things below; for you died, and your life is hidden with the Messiah in God. When the Messiah appears, the one who is your life, then you too will appear with him glory.” Paul doesn‟t use the words “coming” or “parousia”, but “appear”. When heaven and earth are joined together in the new way God has promised, then he will „appear to us‟ and we will „appear to him‟ in our own true identity. This is very similar to I John 2:28; 3.2. „Appearing‟ stresses that he is already here – heaven is different, but not far away. This other world (heaven) is different from ours (earth), but intersects with it in countless ways, not least in the inner lives of Christians themselves. One day, the two worlds will integrate completely, and be fully visible to one another, producing that transformation which both Paul and John speak of. Chapter 9: Jesus the Coming Judge The picture of Jesus as the coming judge, means there will be a judgement, in which the creator God will set the world right, once and for all. Psalms sees God‟s coming judgement as a good thing – overturning oppressive regimes. Daniel 7 expresses this clearly. In Daniel, Israel is depicted as „one like the son of man‟, which Jesus reflects in the NT. Romans 14:9-10 & 2 Cor 5:10 clearly teach a future judgement according to deeds. In fact, this is the basis of Paul‟s theology of justification by faith. It isn‟t that God suddenly ceases to care about good behaviour or morality. What we do DOES matter. Justification by faith is what happens in the present time, anticipating the verdict of the future day when God judges the world. It is God‟s advance declaration. People who believe that Jesus is already Lord, and that he will appear again as judge of the world are called and equipped to think and act differently in the world from those who don‟t. Chapter 10: The Redemption of our Bodies Romans 8:23. God‟s people are promised a new type of bodily existence, which is the source of our hope for the world. In Phil 3, being „citizens of heaven‟ doesn‟t mean us retiring to there. Paul says Jesus will come from heaven in order to transform. The risen Jesus is the model for the Christian‟s future body AND the means by which it comes about. Col 3:1-4. This new life which the Christian possess secretly, invisible to the world, will burst forth into full bodily reality and visibility! Romans 8:9-11 also talks about the Spirit giving life to our mortal bodies, in the same way that Jesus was raised. 1 John is also interesting, depending on Daniel 12, Isaiah 26 and Ezekiel 37. John 14:2 (Many rooms). The word for dwelling places is regularly used for a resting or halting place. When Jesus says „Today you will be with me in paradise‟ this is the resting place, not a final destination. But Jesus didn‟t rise „today‟, so paradise must be prior to the resurrection. For those who die in faith, the promise is of being with Jesus „at once‟. So resurrection isn‟t about life after death, it‟s about „life after life after death‟! A new bodily life after whatever state of existence we have after death. The term „Riches in heaven‟ is used to describe the place where God‟s purposes for the future are stored up. But they are only being kept safe there against the day they become reality on earth (e.g. I‟ve kept some beer in the fridge!). 2 Cor 4 & 5. In chapter 5, Paul speaks of a new tent (new body) waiting for us. This is crucial. We think of physical as decaying and temporary, so to be permanent, unchanging and immortal is to become non-physical. But NO! He is saying there is a new mode of physicality, which brings us to the important 1 Cor 15.The whole chapter echoes and alludes to Gen 1-3. It is a theology of new creation, not abandonment. 1 Cor 15:44. The RSV translation of „a physical body‟ and „a spiritual body‟ is incorrect. The contrast is between the present body (corruptible, decaying and doomed to die) and the future body (incorruptible etc.). Elsewhere „flesh and blood‟ is a technical term meaning things heading for death. The concluding verse of 1 Cor 15 is vital. “So then, since the person you are, and the world God has made will be gloriously reaffirmed in God‟s eventual future, you must be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the Lord‟s work, because you know that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.” Belief in the bodily resurrection includes the belief that what is done in the present in the body, by the power of the Spirit, will be reaffirmed in the eventual future, in ways at which we can presently only guess. (There is not a lot of support for this, but it is possible! - Toby) Dust we are and to dust we shall return, but God can do new things with dust! Who will be raised? All people according to John and perhaps Paul, although Paul emphasises those who are in Christ and indwelt by the Spirit. Where will it take place? It will happen on the new earth, joined as it will then be, to the new heaven. What will it be like? It will be an immortal body. No destructive force will have power over it, which may explain the strangeness of Jesus‟ risen body. (Jesus was the 1st to be resurrected. Others (in OT & NT) had simply come back to life. This is not the same thing). Why will we have new bodies? Several promises (Rom 5:17, 1 Cor 6:2,3, 2 Tim 2:12, etc) refer to God‟s people reigning. A new creation to tend and care for. But it will also be a gift of God‟s grace and love. But what about the idea of reward? This isn‟t like a calculation, but like working at a friendship or marriage. The reward is connect to the activity, not a random pat on the back. When will it happen? Not yet – the transformation has not yet taken place. But it will. How will it happen? God will download our software onto his hardware, until the time when he gives us new hardware to run the software again!! (This may not help very much – Toby). However it happens, it will of course be by the Spirit. Chapter 11: Purgatory, Paradise and Hell Purgatory. We have developed a sort of purgatory for all. It isn‟t very unpleasant or punitive – since the liberalism that gives rise to these ideas doesn‟t make much fuss of sin, and certainly doesn‟t want to think it needed or needs to be punished. All Souls Day assumes a sharp distinction between the „saints‟ who are already in heaven and the souls who aren‟t, and who are therefore still less than happy and need our help to move on! Three points to be made 1. The resurrection is still in the future. The ultimate destination is NOT „going to heaven when you die‟, but being raised bodily into the transformed glorious likeness of Jesus. The point of this isn‟t our own happiness (though that is good), but the glory of God as we come to fully reflect his image. Resurrection isn‟t life after death, its life after „life after death‟. 2. There is no suggestion of different levels of Christian – some saints, some not. In fact most of the NT talks about the least becoming the greatest and last coming first! 3. Purgatory is a late western innovation, without biblical support. If anything, Paul suggests that it‟s this present life that functions as a sort of purgatory. The sufferings of the present time are the valley through which we have to pass in order to reach the glorious future. Paradise. All Christian departed are in substantially the same state, that of restful happiness – sleep, but not unconscious. Held firmly within the conscious love of God and the conscious presence of Jesus Christ. This can be called heaven, though the NT uses heaven in other ways. Hell. What about Hell? Beyond hope, beyond pity? Part of the difficulty is that the word „hell‟ conjures up an image gained more from medieval imagery than from scripture or early Christian writings. The most common NT word sometimes translated as hell is Gehenna. It was a place, not just an idea: it was the rubbish heap outside the SW corner of old Jerusalem. When Jesus was warning about Gehenna, it wasn‟t to do with the next life, it is on earth that things matter. His message was that unless they turned back from their hopeless and rebellious dreams of establishing God‟s kingdom in their own terms (not least through armed revolt against Rome) then the powers (Rome) would turn Jerusalem into a hideous stinking extension of its own smouldering rubbish heap. Lk 13:3,5 – „unless you repent, you will all likewise perish‟, this is what he had in mind. There are two parables that address what happens after death directly, and these are both parables (e.g. Abraham, Rich man and Lazarus shouldn‟t be taken any more literally than the prodigal son). Jesus was more concerned with God‟s kingdom coming „on earth as it is in heaven‟. Jesus seems to agree with the basic Jewish belief that there would be sheep and goats, those who accept and those who reject god (who then have that rejection ratified). The similarity is that both of these are surprised! (Matt 25:31-46) We should beware of two dogmatic views – those who know exactly who is and who isn‟t going to hell, and those who say with absolute certainty there is no such place (universalists). It is important that we do not underestimate evil. Pretending there is no hell has led to chaos in the last 100 years. Judgement is the only alternative to chaos, and is the sovereign declaration that this is good and to be upheld and vindicated, and that is evil and to be condemned. There are some things we must NOT tolerate – otherwise we are colluding with evil. There must be „exclusion‟ before there can be „embrace‟ (Miroslav Volf). In other words, evil must be named and dealt with before there can be reconciliation (through forgiveness). E.g. Desmond Tutu and the Peace and Reconciliation movement in South Africa. God is utterly committed to setting the world right, which must involve the elimination of all that distorts the perfect creation. Patterns of evil behaviour have three things to be said about them. 1. They all stem from idolatry, worshipping that which is not God as if it were. 2. They fail to fully reflect the image of God. Missing the mark is sin. Sin isn‟t the breaking of arbitrary rules, but rather the rules are sketches of different types of dehumanizing behaviour. 3. Persistent dehumanizing behaviour in people or groups may lead to dehumanization. Eventually, God will say to us „Thy will be done‟, (CS Lewis). The traditional view of course is that those who spurn God‟s salvation, who refuse to turn from idolatry and wickedness, are held forever in conscious torment. There is also the universalist view, which varies but is based upon God eventually being merciful to all. A middle way is offered by „conditionalists‟ (annihilationism) , where God will only confer immortality on those who have accepted God (or not rejected him?). Those who do reject him have rejected their own humanness. But there are scriptural passages which appear to speak unambiguously of a continuing state for those who have rejected the worship of God and the humanness which follows from it. Is there an alternative? No-one has much idea, but the following is a possibility. People who worship something other than God, progressively cease to reflect the image of God (become less human). 1. Those who worship money increasingly define themselves by it, and increasingly treat other people as creditors, debtors, partners or customers, rather than human beings. 2. Those who worship sex increasingly define themselves by it (preferences, practices, histories), and increasingly treat other people as actual or potential sexual objects. 3. Thos who worship power define themselves in terms of it, and treat other people as either collaborators, competitors or pawns. People can go so far down this road that after death, they become at last, by their own effective choice, beings that once were human but now are not, creatures that have ceased to bear the divine image at all. With the death of the body, they pass not only beyond hope, but beyond pity. There is not torture chamber, but they still exist in an ex-human state. This is very tentative, but fits with the foundational claim that this world is the good creation of the one true God, who will bring about that judgment at which the whole creation will rejoice. Human goals and new creation. Revelation 21 & 22 makes it quite clear that some categories of people are “outside”. But in case we have in our minds a picture of two nice and tidy categories (insiders and outsiders), we find that the river of the water of life flows out of the city; that growing on either bank is the tree of life, not a single tree, but a great many; and that the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations! All these images seem to make things less certain. The NT insists that the overriding question is that of God‟s purpose of rescue and recreation for the entire cosmos. The destiny of individual human beings must be understood in that context, and in the fact that the whole point of being saved is that we can play a role (fellow workers with God) in that larger picture and purpose. That in turn makes us realise that the question of our own destiny should be about “How will God’s new creation come?”, and then “How will we humans contribute to that renewal and to the fresh projects which the creator God will launch in his new world?” This is the choice before us; worship God and discover the new world, or worship the world as it is and become increasingly dehumanised. Part 3 Hope in Practice: Resurrection and the Mission of the Church Chapter 12 Rethinking Salvation: Heaven, Earth and the Kingdom of God We must now ask, „So What?‟ There is a promised rest after the labours of this life, and the term “heaven” can be used for this. But this is just a prelude to something very different which will emphatically involve a renewed earth as well. A proper grasp of this future hope will lead to a vision of the present hope which is the basis of all Christian mission. To hope for a better future in the world (an intermediate hope if you like) is not something tacked on or a distraction. This hope comes forward from God‟s ultimate future into God‟s urgent present. How does Paul end his longest chapter in any of his letters, which has been exploring resurrection (1 Cor 15)? In verse 58: “Therefore my beloved ones, be steadfast, immovable, always unbounding in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.” What Paul has been arguing is that the present bodily life is not valueless just because it will die – God will raise it to new life. What you do in the present will last into God‟s future. Our actions are part of what we may call building for God‟s kingdom. If we want a mission-shaped church, we need a hope-shaped mission. The meaning of Salvation Is it simply going to heaven when we die? Our souls living on with God? Is it about „my relationship with God now‟ and „going to be with him and finding peace‟ in the future? Salvation does mean rescue, but is it based on this present world being evil and us escaping it to heaven? If we see salvation in terms of God‟s promised new heavens and a new earth, and of our promised resurrection to share in that new reality, then the main work of the church needs to be re-thought. Salvation is not „going to heaven‟, but being „raised to life in God‟s new heaven and new earth‟. It is interesting how the NT mixes up „saved‟ and things that happen to the body (e.g. being healed). Look at the story of Jairus‟ daughter. And the woman bleeding was „saved from that moment on‟ (Matt 9.22). But there are also passages linked with salvation in large terms, beyond physical healing or rescue (Matt 8:25; 14:30; Mark 6:56; 10:52; Luke 8:36; 8:50; 17:19; 18:42; Acts 4:9; 14:9; 16:30-31; 23:24; 27:20, 31,34,43,44; 28:1,4). All that Jesus and the early disciples were doing was a proper anticipation of the „ultimate‟ salvation, that healing transformation of space, time and matter. We are saved, not as souls, but as wholes! Being saved is always about becoming more human: 1. Past – single coming to faith event 2. Present – acts of healing and rescue 3. Future – finally being raised from the dead. When we are saved in this life, we are redesigned to be a sign and forecast of what God wants to do for the entire cosmos. But we are not just a sign. We are to be part of the means by which God makes this happen in present and future. That‟s what Paul means when he says that the whole creation is waiting with eager longing for God‟s children to be revealed. It is US (redeemed humans) whose stewardship of creation will at last be brought back into that wise order for which it was made. This is how I work it out. The sufferings we go through in the present time are not worth putting in the scale alongside the glory that is going to be unveiled FOR us. Yes: creation itself is on tiptoe with expectation, eagerly awaiting the moment when God’s children will be revealed. Creation, you see, was subjected to pointless futility, not of its own volition, but because of the one who placed it in this subjection, in the hope that creation itself would be free from its slavery to decay, to enjoy the freedom that comes when God’s children are glorified (Rom 8:19). It‟s as redeemed humanity, under God, that we are going to become stewards again and do what we were meant to do the 1st time. As creation fell at the point of rebellion, creation will be renewed at the point of human renewal. So, salvation in its full sense, is about: 1. whole human beings, not merely „souls‟ 2. the present, not simply the future 3. what God does through us, not merely what God does in and for us. The Kingdom of God The resurrection and ascension of Jesus, together with the gift of the Spirit, show us we are in the “end times”, meaning that we are agents of the transformation of this earth, anticipating the day when “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea”. When we consider Christ‟s ministry and his redemptive death and resurrection (which should never be thought of separately) we see the story of God‟s kingdom being launched on earth as in heaven, generating a new state of affairs in which the power of evil has been decisively defeated, the new creation has been decisively launched, and Jesus‟ followers have been commissioned and equipped to put that victory, and that inaugurated new world, into practice. Chapter 13: Building for the Kingdom It is God that builds God‟s kingdom, not us. But if we are obedient to the gospel, if we are following Jesus, and if we are indwelt, energised and directed by the Spirit, we are involved in building for the kingdom. What I do in the Lord is not in vain. (implied by 1 Cor 15:58). What we do in Christ and by the Spirit in the present is not wasted. It will last all the way into God‟s new world. In fact it will be enhanced there. Nobody has any idea what it will look like in practice, but it‟s an exciting possibility. Creation is to be redeemed: space, time and matter. If that is the case, what might it look like to celebrate that redemption, healing and transformation in the present, anticipating God‟s final intention. Justice We must insist on an “inaugurated eschatology” which says that things wont be perfect until the new creation, be we live in the light of the resurrection and in anticipation of the new creation, so we seek and work for justice wherever we find injustice. Beauty Creation is good, but it is not God. It is beautiful, but its beauty is at present transient. It is in pain, but that pain is taken into the very heart of God and becomes part of the pain of new birth (Transition). Art, music, writing, creativity don‟t just reflect the beauty of creation, but attempt to describe the world as one day it will be. Evangelism If we are engaging in the work of new creation, in seeking to bring advance signs of God‟s eventual new world into being in the present, in justice, beauty and a million other ways, then at the centre of the picture there stands the personal call of the gospel of Jesus to every child, woman and man. God works as a result of prayer and faithfulness, not techniques and cleverness. The power of the gospel lies, not in the offer of a new spirituality or religious experience, not in the threat of hellfire or being left behind (which can be removed if you tick a box!), but… In the powerful announcement that God is God, that Jesus is Lord, that the powers of evil have been defeated, that God‟s new world has begun. This announcement, stated as a fact about the way the world is, rather than as an emotional appeal or hope, is the foundation of everything else. As Paul says, “If anyone is in Christ, new creation!” (2 Cor 5:17) These three things (Justice, Beauty and Evangelism) are the mission of the church. When people see injustice and are no longer surrounded by beauty, they cease to hope. They think themselves worthless and less than human. Evangelism will work best where the people of God are giving themselves to acts of justice and beauty. Toby – As I read this, it became clear that the things we need to focus on are the things that last: Faith, Hope and Love. I realised that these relate directly with some of the things we have been considering recently: Faith: Belonging Hope: Believing Love: Behaving This is worth exploring a little bit more sometime. There are two further chapters which I have read, but not had time to summarise. Chapter 14: Reshaping the church for mission (1): Biblical Roots Chapter 15: Reshaping the church for mission (2): Living the Future Both these contain interesting comments, although Chapter 15 focuses on the way the Anglican church (he is a bishop!) might live out its mission, which is likely to be different to the way we do it.
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