My questions for discussion in blue.
Are we immortal? Apart from God, no. We only have eternal life through God and are not independent of God. This differs fundamentally with ancient doctrine which has souls immortal. Another difference is the quality of life, ancients were limited to focusing on just the soul. God thinks bigger than that and instead of just resurrecting a body, He resurrects an entire life. Heaven is more than a new body, but also a renewed relationship with God and each other. It is joy without being weighed down by our own earthly sins and limitations. Do you believe that heaven is a physical place, a state of mind/consciousness, or other?
That being said it can be dangerous to focus too much on the afterlife. We may be Christians for the wrong reasons, wanting what God can give instead of wanting God himself. Another danger is that we ignore the present world. As one great teacher said, “Think of the future” and another clarified “but be mindful of the present.” (Yoda and Quigon). We are to advance his kingdom and spread the word of His great love for us and working for a world that reflects his love and justice.
If we are not inherently immortal, is there a hell? What is the purpose of hell? Is it just to punish? Perhaps. God is a God of justice. How can there be justice if the wicked are not punished? It is not simply the last act of a vengeful God getting His last licks in. Do you think we need physical bodies in order for God to punish or have justice done on the wicked? What are your thoughts of God giving resurrected bodies to wicked persons (or to those who rejected God in their lifetimes) just for the sole purpose of punishing them for all of eternity?
Is there another purpose for hell? Is it also some form of redemption or purgatory? “We shall all have to pass through the fire of God’s purifying love” (1 Cor 3:13, 15). There may be no real answer to this with what has been revealed to us and instead we can only pray and trust in the love of God that is greater than our expectations or imagination. Will everyone go through judgment by God – believers included?
Biblical Christian hope is in the arrival of Christ, resurrection of the dead, last judgment and eternal life. Whether all of these events happen in the fantasy that exists in Revelation I do not know. But, I think that taking the book literally takes away from the emphasis or greatness of the symbolism. The power of the metaphors and symbolism points to something that is beyond our imagination. Restricting our belief to the actual words limits our God and distracts from who Jesus is and how he will actually show up.
I do believe in an after life. I believe in eternal life through Jesus Christ based mainly on John and 1 Corinthians and Revelation. I believe that heaven is simply life in communion with God, perfect intimacy with the Trinity and reconciliation with all of creation. Hell is self-imposed isolation from God and others. Whether heaven or hell is a place is not relevant. The point is God. What happens during the intermediate stage between physical death and resurrection to a new body is unclear. When 1 Corinthians 15: 35-44 was written the generation of listeners thought that Christ would come back in their lifetime, therefore the in between stage was not an issue. Because God is outside of space and time, this in between stage continues to be a non-issue. Why is this a non-issue of this in-between state? Aren’t you at least a bit curious as to explore what might be?
I agree with Migliore about the ancient doctrine of immortality being flawed in that immorality is not an inherent possession of a human body. Given that humans are not inherently immortal puts in perspective the power God has to give life and take away. It actually reminds me of the creation story in Genesis. The second coming will echo God’s grace in our recreation so to speak to be in complete union with Him. Migliore and Jerry Walls sum it up nicely, “ Life in communion is not the loss but the perfecting of personal identity in relationship with God and others: Heaven, fellowship with the Trinity, is …. The end for which all human beings were created.”
Here’s my bit – I can’t think anymore. I know this whole concept of afterlife/immortality is very intriguing but I hope we could also talk about how to reconcile this with our Christian practice. I think the value of this chapter is about how we should live out God’s love and grace in the light of Christian hope.
“In true Migliore’s fashion – he avoided touching the sensitive subject – the existence of an afterlife but focused on how to apply the doctrine of eschatology to our daily lives as true confessional Christians. While I could call foul on the approach, I am very appreciative of his pragmatism. After all, Jesus came and made disciples of us rather than shouting instructions from heaven.
Here are my favorites:
1. While hope in personal survival beyond death remained, hope for the transformation of all creation waned – page 331. How true! Revelation is the book most Christians look to as the blueprint of predicting the “future”. Where we fail is the lack of critical reading – it is a letter written to encouraged oppressed Christians, that there is hope beyond the Roman empire, all painted in the color of apocalyptical-eschatological context. Now I don’t think anyone could tell me 100% what New Heaven and New Earth means (as he said in page 340, “Christian hope is language stretched to the limits) – but Migliore reminded me that this is a passage of hunger for transformation, which has sadly regressed into the breeding ground of bad theology about hell.
2. I like how he spent almost 17% of the text kicking the neo-apolocalypticism’s ass.
3. The four principles of eschatology – futurist/realized, individual/corporate, historical/cosmic, God/human activities. It seems like Migliore tries to straddle the polarized spectrum of each perspective. Though I agree with the first two, and wished that he would elaborate on the last one (God/human), I find reluctance in the historical/cosmic issue. How could the insurmountable grace and love of God be limited to human and human only? (when I read closer, I think M agrees with me )
4. Yet (Christian) hope becomes indistinguishable from cheap optimism if it fails to share the present agony of the world (page 338) – very well said.
5. Symbols of Christian hope:
a. Parousia – the someone – embodiment of God’s will called Christ – who will make our present experience full.
b. Inclusiveness beyond time-space limitation
6. The whole hope & ethics – love the practicality.
Resurrection in the form of soul and body – I think M’s main goal is to attack the Greek concept of dualism and the concept of a indestructible part of human – the soul. However, it’s obvious that he didn’t invest any time in explaining how resurrection actually works. Lest we forget the first time this concept was spoken in the Bible was in the Thessalonians – where Paul was trying to comfort the church because some of the people died before the Lord returned. (This is when everyone believed Jesus would return in their lifetime). Knowing Paul’s liberty with hyperbole, I need to put this on hold.” I didn’t quite get what your stance was on what happens after you die. What do you believe happens? Do you believe in an afterlife? Heaven, hell?
I do believe that there is a new life and new existence after death. To be honest, as a Christian and a believer in the Resurrection and a firm believer in the hope for a new heavens (ie cosmos) and a new earth, I don’t believe in “life after death” per se, but rather, more of a “life after life”. [To be clear, I believe that the Resurrection and the new heavens and new earth will be something totally off the charts and a completely new existence all together – thereby a new physics, chemistry, mathematics, biology, etc. – “Behold, I make all things new.” – Revelation 21: 5] I don’t know precisely what will happen to me after I immediately pass away and I don’t know where I (or my consciousness) will “go” specifically. It’s difficult for me to articulate or fathom because I see myself going further and further away from the classic dualist notion of a body and a soul. So in a sense I do agree with Migliore in that the immortality of the soul is mistaken in that to believe it denigrates our physical bodies and cheapens the belief in the resurrection of the body. We are embodied beings who are physical beings who need a certain type of physicality in order to worship God, interact with others, and participate in the new creation.
I believe that our consciousness/mind arises or is a product of physical operations (i.e. laws of physics/nature) of the brain and once the body and brain dies, our consciousness ceases as well. But unlike most atheists and materialists, I don’t believe that is the total and complete end. I believe that the biblical evidence of an immediate life after death or persons somehow going to heaven (i.e. “paradise”) or being in God’s presence is ambiguous. I believe that the “intermediate phase” or what happens between death and the general resurrection remains a mystery. Do we see a bright light or bright tunnel? Will we be surrounded by angels and deceased loved-ones? Will we be greeted by Jesus? I don’t know. I think those near death accounts have a lot to do with persons’ minds creating memories of what they want to happen rather than testifying to what really does happen at death.
The concept or notion of hell is simply an eternal separation of God. Being separated from God and being shut off from his grace is the worst thing imaginable –worse than all the tortures Dante or any other human being’s wildest imaginations could ever fathom. But it is the most just form of punishment or divine justice in that if they choose to be away from God forever, then they’ll get want they want, just as Christians will get what they really want, an eternity with God. Whether it’s annihilation or an eternal darkness or separation, however you may want to call it, it will be utter separation from God.
So in conclusion, I don’t know what will happen immediately after my body dies and my brain ceases to function. But I do believe that I will have a glorified, resurrected body in the new creation, because I believe in the apostolic testimonies of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead over two thousand years ago. The record that he came back as an embodied human being and not as a ghostly entity testifies to the goodness of physicality and creation, and that if it was good enough for Jesus to come back, then it can only mean that the new creation is something really, really good to look forward to. And that is what gives me ultimate hope.