Note from CM: 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.
Today, we come back to see more of what Gerhard Lohfink has to say in his excellent book, Is This All There Is?: On Resurrection and Eternal Life.
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Here again the Christian message draws life from the incontrovertible basis of the Old Testament: everything is about this world and this creation. Redemption does not mean flight from the world and de-secularization; it is not a removal to a worldless beyond. It is healing and transformation of this present world, the leading of all creation to its goal.
• Is This All There Is? (p. 127f)
When last we looked at Gerhard Lohfink’s study on resurrection and eternal life, we considered his thoughts about what the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) has to say on the subject.
He concluded that Israel’s “understanding of resurrection is that it is ‘firmly anchored in this world.’” This earthly focus kept them from adopting the other-worldly cultic death perspectives and practices of their neighbors in the Ancient Near East. However, in the development of Israel’s thought, as seen in the pages of the OT, there is evidence of a growing confidence that Creator of the world would care for his people even in death — the love and care of God “encompasses even the realm of death and the underworld.”
Lohfink tips his hand a bit when he calls the next section, “What Entered the World in Jesus.” Jesus’ ministry and miracles and especially his resurrection brought something new into the world. This, he will show, is the whole point of the resurrection. In continuity with Israel’s story and perspective, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead did not point to some otherworldly goal but to a transformation of present earthly reality.
He starts with Jesus’ teaching. Jesus announced the kingdom or rule of God, an event that is “coming” into the world through him. His preaching, prayers, and parables all teach about this. The Lord’s Prayer asks that God’s will be done on earth as in heaven. His teaching has a continual focus that is not on an afterlife, but on people preparing themselves here and now to welcome the transforming intervention of God in this world, an intervention that has already begun in Jesus.
For Jesus, it was all about the rule of the holy God here on this earth — a reign that, of course, is something completely different from human self-glorification. The reign of God has no other purpose than to lead creation freely into what God means it to be: a world of justice and peace — and all that not as an event that will only happen at the end of the world, but as an overturning of all circumstances, a revolution that began with Jesus, in the midst of Israel, and since then quietly and unstoppably changes everything. (p. 103)
Jesus also acted, with deeds that “mirrors the reign of God that is now coming.” His deeds of power transformed real people suffering real problems in this world, which led to many of them being marginalized in Israel’s society. As Lohfink notes, “in Israel’s understanding all illnesses, all suffering, and all individual crisis situations were already bound up with the sphere of death” (p. 106). As in the Psalms, when sick and oppressed people spoke of being captive to Sheol, the people Jesus touched were in death’s grip, and when Jesus healed them he was attacking the power of death and renewing life as the Creator God intended. When he raised people back to life from the dead, these signs were not of a different piece. Jesus’ entire ministry was about bringing life into this world of death.
This is what Jesus brought into the world: “…the reign of God, longed for and prayed for in Israel, is now present, and its intent is to change not only hearts and minds, but with them the real conditions in Israel — and through Israel, in the whole world” (p. 107)
Those real conditions = death. What the rule of God in Jesus brings = life. Real life.