Is Heaven Our Best Hope?

A funeral is no time for discussions about whether or not our theology of death is scripturally sound. However, at almost every funeral I attend, I have these concepts bouncing around in my head. I respectfully listen while some try to sort through the pain of death by reciting some of the popular ideas in Christian culture. You’ve heard many of these kinds of comments, I’m sure.

“We know he’s with the Lord now.”
“He’s walking those streets of gold.”
“I know she’s in heaven right now looking down on us and smiling.”
“This world is not our home.”

While you may hear a lot about souls going to heaven, you may not hear much at a funeral about resurrection. This confuses me, since the Bible has much to say about it with regard to a Christian’s future hope. I agree with N.T. Wright’s observation on this: “Frankly, what we have at the moment isn’t, as the old liturgies used to say, ‘the sure and certain hope of the resurrection of the dead’ but the vague and fuzzy optimism that somehow things may work out in the end.”

Thanks to the recommendations of a couple of friends, I purchased N.T. Wright’s book, Surprised by Hope, which outlines the Christian hope for future resurrection, while dismantling much of the present confusion on the subject. I can’t put it down. That’s part of the reason I’ve not stuck to my three-posts-a-week commitment; I am having trouble putting down the reading material!

I want to consider some of the important questions Wright is asking in hopes that this will pique your interest in the topic. As I continue reading, I’ll use this book as a launching point in a couple of posts.

Wright first asks us to consider how we know what we believe about death and the life beyond? Does it come from popular Christian folklore? Or are we “investigating the often forgotten riches of the Christian tradition itself, with scripture at its heart”? I appreciate the distinction he is making here. Pop theology “movements” can quietly supplant our examination of scripture, as we blindly swallow whatever is selling the most copies.

Next, he asks, “Do we have immortal souls, and if so, what are they?” Does everyone have an immortal soul or is that only possible through the gospel? Wright is skeptical of the idea that the soul is a disembodied entity that is simply waiting to escape this sack of bones we call a body. The word soul in the New Testament reflects the idea of the whole person, not a ghostly part of us that will float away when death comes.

Third, how should the resurrection of Jesus shape our view of resurrection as a future hope? In order to address that, he explores what the resurrection meant to the disciples and why they drew from it the conclusions they did.

The final two questions are tied closely together: What is the ultimate Christian hope? And how can we celebrate and live by this hope in our present culture? I’m looking forward to this portion of the book, where he will address the issues that surround the theology of death and afterlife in our present Christian culture.

What are your initial reactions to the questions Wright is asking? Drop a comment on this post and let me know your thoughts on one of them.

3 responses to “Is Heaven Our Best Hope?

  1. Thanks for your bolg. In response to this entry, I find my heart is filled with great knowing and comfort when I have attended a funeral at my church. This verse gives witness in my spirit of the assurance of resurrection. As printed in the order for burial in the BCP. The priest leads the processional calling out the following verse from Job 19:25-27:

    I know that my Redeemer lives,

    and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.

    26And after my skin has been destroyed,

    yet in my flesh I will see God;

    27I myself will see him

    with my own eyes—I, and not another.

    How my heart yearns within me!

  2. These are interesting questions, and to be honest I have never really looked into my belief of “the soul in heaven” vs. “the resurrection of the body”.

    I know this will not address all that is mentioned here because it seems to cover a lot of ground in my opinion, but here are some reasons why I think things currently fall the way they do in general with modern thoughts on the subject. (whether based on scripture or not)…

    +Everyone can be complete if it is just a “soul” no matter what your body state was when death came or your age. It is just easier to picture and understand that way. No need to think through the details or take your theology to the next level. Your soul goes to heaven. The end.

    +There is no question of when…It is instant. If there is a resurrection when does it happen? What happens between now and that point? And if the soul and body are together how can something else happen during that time? Going straight to heaven is just easier to accept.

    +Also there is no need to talk about where this happens. No need to include earth/heaven/some other place. It is all heaven. Heaven is the answer. Everyone will be there and it will be perfect. You soul goes to heaven and your broken bones stay on the broken earth.

    Honestly I think most people believe the way they do about afterlife because it is convenient, happy, and can be perfect. Expectation of a place no one has ever seen in a form that no one has truly experienced can always be perceived as perfect. No one can tell you any different because how do they know? Have they been to heaven? Have they lived fully as a “soul” minus their broken body?

    I hope my 11pm ramblings are easy to follow. :)

    Great post!

    PS: I also find the third question you pose interesting on how the resurrection of Jesus should shape our view….I never once thought to include the factors of that event into my own view of the afterlife.

  3. Wow, Lisa, thanks for tying in the passage from Isaiah. Sounds like death defeated!

    Dayne, you make a good point… for most people it may seem easier to just say that we are going on to heaven and this earth doesn’t matter. Part of the reason it’s easier for them is that in the past number of years, Christian pop theology has made certain passages of Scripture more well-known, while ignoring certain others. Every era of Christendom does it (and so do I at times). Another reason to study the whole of Scripture!

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