A place in the other world

Towards the end of each year the church puts before us readings and thoughts about the future. What will it be like? Is this life all there is? It seems the Sadducees thought so and maybe many of our contemporaries share their pessimism. We have “memorial” services which recount the life and deeds of our dead and this is clearly a good thing to do. But there is another dimension to death and that is the future. Sometimes people are so weighed down with sorrow that they can only give

The rainy season gives way to the cold dry season and then the rains come round again. “Vanity of vanities,” the preacher says, “there is nothing new under the sun.” Maybe we feel like that at times. The year ends; there is much talk of Christmas and then we start all over again. But people have always sought for meaning and have constructed different ways of making sense of the yearning they find in their hearts. Every person and every society has had “intimations of immortality” where something in their experience – a child’s first smile or a sunset – sets off thoughts that are not satisfied by the verdict, “this is it: this is all there is.”

Our ancestors’ outlook on life was based on a construction of belief that we are part of a community that reaches beyond this life: there are the living and there are the living dead. The latter have some power over us so that if we stray we may have to face consequences from their anger. This system of belief made people think before they inflicted some injury or committed some injustice. It was a powerful system and you overstepped the mark at your peril.

Today we have anaesthetised this world view with the Bible which replaces a system of fear (law) with a message of freedom (the Spirit). But we are not the first generation to have gone on to also anaesthetise this new message for our own purposes. You can “tame” the bible so that it can mean virtually anything you want. The “shouts” of the psalmist and the “scourges” of the prophets are drowned out by our desire to find comfort in and confirmation for our way of life in the holy pages.

But we are called to move towards a healthy and “holy” fear or the great mystery of which we sense we are part. There are areas of my life in which I am in control. But there are vast influences that touch me of which I have no control. One of these is the moment and manner of my death. We may not feel like Ignatius of Antioch who “longed for death with all the passion of a lover” but a healthy sense of judgement/assessment/evaluation of my life at some time in the future and a great sense of trust, in faith, that if I have really tried to live a moral life I will be acquitted, can be helpful antidotes to the anaesthetising of religious systems.

Post published in: Faith

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