Columnist: Changing focus will improve spiritual life
Canon Dick Sheppard was the minister at St. Martin in the Field Church in the heart of London right after World War l. It is reported that when he died, quite suddenly, one of the morning newspapers printed a large photograph of his pulpit. There it was, the same as ever, but empty. However, the Bible on the pulpit was still open with a ray of light across it. Beneath the picture were these words: “Here endeth the first lesson.”
The implication here, and rightly so, is that there is another lesson to follow. So, is death when we go to sleep or is it when we finally wake up?
Why an article on Resurrection Hope and life after death? Moving beyond the obvious, I want to focus on three specific reasons.
First, this article seeks to be a corrective to some modern-day excesses! For the most part, modern American Christendom seems to stress the present aspect of the continuum only. We are being told that God’s love may extend beyond death but that God’s concern and ours should be with this life. Now, certainly we must be concerned with faith in the present, especially, as we consider the nature of God’s call and the precarious nature of our world. So let us make no mistake-this world is our primary mission and concern. The political theologians of the Americas, Asia and Africa will be right in condemning our individual hope of heaven if it allows us to dismiss the suffering of others, if it keeps us from practically assisting in the construction of a just society for all.
Dr. James Forbes, former pastor of Riverside Church in New York City, stated that “nobody gets to heaven without a reference from the poor. The suggestion, of course, is that we must work to assist the poor. But I ask you? Does all this negate the importance of also stressing the reality of faith’s deeper levels. I’m talking about stressing the reality of eternal communion with the One who lives on both sides of the grave. Stating it another way, can we carry out the social mandates of the gospel while at the same time affirming our personal resurrection hope? For me and numerous others, the answer is “yes.”
Second, this article seeks to offer hope and comfort to God’s family! When all is said and done, our faith in life eternal comes down to these things. Initially, it has to do with our conviction about God and the nature of God. If we believe that God is love, then we must believe that God has given us life for more than our time on earth. Otherwise, what can we say about those who have spent most of their lives in pain and discomfort? What about those who die before reaching the age of understanding or those who suffer unjustly? The very character of God seems to be involved here. As Abraham stated to God, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18;25). Next, our ultimate assurance of the reality of life eternal comes from one intentional act, faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though they die”(John 11:25). As someone observed, “Could the Jesus who is right about so many other things be confused about the after-life? Another reason for believing in eternal life is the witness of the church and the testimony of the ages! Dietrich Bonhoeffer will serve as our example. He was executed by the Nazis on Sunday, April 9, 1945. As he was being taken from his cell for his execution, he whispered to a friend, “This is the end, for me the beginning of life.”
Third, this article seeks to point to the reality of eternal life as a strength to our present day ministries to the world. One of the reasons for the accelerated collapse of character in our time is that the concept of the hereafter has been largely forgotten. In our rebellion against individualism and escapist “pie in the sky by and by,” we’ve allowed the “pie in the sky” to drop from the consciousness of modernity to the detriment of the whole of human society. Think with me! If a human being is destined for a life beyond this one, if indeed this world is “a training ground for eternity” then immediately all our conduct comes up for renewed evaluation. A person who is created to live forever simply cannot escape the consequences of his or her life. Therefore, the question of “right and wrong” takes on added significance. How we live now and how we look after the welfare of others becomes an immediate and abiding concern.
In conclusion, once we have focused on resurrection hope and eternal life, we can never be satisfied again with the world as it is.