I have a fear. It is expressed well by Gerhard Lohfink in his new book, Is This All There Is?: On Resurrection and Eternal Life —
Because everything in this book is about my own questions, I have constantly struggled to find the right words. How can we speak responsibly today about death and resurrection, judgment and purgatory, hell and eternal life, and ultimately about the perfection of creation? What kind of language can the people of today understand? What words would come across as neither sanctimonious nor sappy?
As a hospice chaplain, my work revolves around supporting the dying and their families. I officiate many funerals. I deal with questions about death and what happens after people die. I am asked regularly about mysteries beyond our human experience in this life.
As a Christian, I heartily affirm the Apostles’ Creed: I believe in the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting. But I do not want to fall into the trap of speaking about such things lightly, superficially, relying upon repeated formulae and illustrations and metaphors that inevitably come across as trite and unsatisfying.
If we are dealing with incomprehensible mysteries here, I don’t want my thinking and language about them to become stale, pedestrian, and unremarkable. I fear getting stuck peddling theological bromides that will leave my listeners and me unastonished.
I don’t want to stop exploring the mystery, delving ever deeper into possibilities that spark the imagination and spirit. I don’t want those who hear me to nod knowingly, with a banal sense of doctrinal agreement but without feeling the awesome pull of something unexplainable but real.
After all, we are not just talking about religious dogma or creedal statements to be memorized. We are talking about the most existential question we as human beings have, a question which encapsulates our deepest longings, hopes, and fears. Each one of us is moving toward the door of death. Each one of us will pass through it. And then what?
How can such a reality not get our most focused attention?
This is why I will be trying to grow in my exploration of these matters and asking you to join me. On Mondays at least until Easter Sunday I will be recording my thoughts and responses to books like Lohfink’s and others that I will be accessing in an attempt to blow the sides out of the boxes I’ve built around the subject of resurrection and eternal life.
There. Fuse lit. I can’t wait to see the fireworks.