Category Archives: Resurrection Project

These are chapters of my resurrection story.

The centrality of eschatology: hope of life in a world of death

Eschatology may be the theological category that is the most divisive and misunderstood.  Millennial theories abound, as do books and speakers claiming absolute certainty and leveling doomsday prophecies about the end of the world.  Entire religious movements have risen and fallen on such claims.  Because eschatological passages are so tied to apocalyptic literature in scripture, because Hebrew apocalyptic language is so uniquely cryptic, and because of the multiplicity of interpretations that its ambiguity[1] elicits it is often tempting for Christians to throw up their hands in despair.  After all, if there is no chance of landing at the truth of the matter or if you tend to say (as one friend used to tell me) “I’m a pan-millenial–I believe it will all ‘pan out’ in the end,” some simply conclude that the energy spent understanding eschatological passages could be put to more practical use: doing the kingdom of God now.

Modern theological liberalism has often borne this assumption, having explained away the supernatural stories of scripture through biblical criticism, these believers have chosen to see the message of Jesus the prophet as primarily a “now” message.  They have emphasized the “this-worldliness” of Jesus’ kingdom over and against the “I’ll fly away” to that “home on God’s celestial shore” escapism of much Christian fundamentalism.  Some have denied that Jesus had any eschatological message at all and that it is simply superstition which reads that in his words.

Jurgen Moltmann’s Theology of Hope seeks to correct exactly that thinking.

In reaction, modern conservatism has tended to emphasize a grossly over-simplified eschatology which amounts to nearly the very escapism which the theologically liberal were attempting to avoid.  If we’re “saved,” someday we’ll go to heaven and that is pretty much the goal.  The kingdom Jesus proclaimed is entirely “not yet,” so our task as the church is to try to get as many people to (as my wife calls it) “get their ticket punched for the glory train” by aligning themselves with a particular Christian denomination.  Once that alignment has been made, there isn’t much for it but to make the best of things for ourselves while we wait to be whisked away to heaven.

Much of N.T. Wright’s work has attempted to correct this as well.  Wright has emphasized what many before him have known, that Jesus’ kingdom has a “now” as well as “not yet” component.  For Wright, God’s goal is not to remove us from this place he created for us, but to restore it entirely.

Again…it can be very confusing to understand, which is why so many simply give up to focus on “more practical concerns.”  But, this assumption is wrong.  Eschatology is inherently practical because eschatology presents hope.  Here are what I consider the three reasons why.

Eschatology is about Resurrection

Probably the most common misconception about biblical eschatology is that it is about the destruction of the earth.  Reading Revelation, as Thomas Yoder Neufeld says, “from the (illusory) safety of Rome” or to “domesticate its (intentionally) nightmarish quality into a self-serving scenario in which ‘imperial’ Christians do not see themselves in the crosshairs of this vision, as it were, but as its beneficiaries, even as they cheer on the violence of their own empires”[2] creates a vision in the minds of Christians not of a Jesus returning to instate the final manifestation of his kingdom, but of an angry Lord coming back for vengeance on all of the people who they perceive to be against him (i.e.: against them), unreflective of whether they have ever truly aligned themselves with him.  Everyone from terrorists to homosexuals and people who take advantage of welfare will burn in the lake of fire while they are taken to heaven forever.  This is why I always tell people, “Please read the Gospels before you ever tackle Revelation.”

But this forgets the purpose of Jesus’ kingdom teaching: the restoration of Gods rule on earth as it is in heaven.  The apostle Paul seems to understand this in Romans 8 (in my humble opinion, the most important eschatological passage in the NT).  In this passage, starting in vs. 18, Paul describes a future vision not of escaping the bonds of earth but of the completion of the earth’s restoration.  We Christians, now, are experiencing the firstfruits (v. 23) of the Spirit’s work (presumably the spiritual renewal Paul refers to in Ephesians 1-2) but are waiting for our bodies to catch up in that renewal process.  In fact, the whole world (kosmos) (20-22) is awaiting its own restoration.  This, I think, is consistent with Colossians 1 in which Paul insists that Jesus has come to restore “all things.”

In the NT, eschatology is about resurrection: the raising up of those who have died as well as the restoration of God’s good creation (from death to life).  Resurrection in the NT is always very specifically tied to the rejuvenation of that which was once physically dead to something that is now alive. Resurrection (anastasis—literally, standing up) is never used to intimate something less literal—in fact, to spiritualize it or to assign it a more symbolic application robs it of the impact it has in passages such as Acts 4:2, in which the apostles’ teaching on the resurrection of the dead greatly disturbed those who heard it.

Recently, a well-respected friend attempted to argue to me that “resurrection” might be understood more symbolically—in the same way that the term “born again” is not meant to imply that a person is physically “born” a second time.  My response: John tells us in his third chapter that “born again” is not to be taken literally, but is a figure of speech symbolizing a different reality.  Yet, the same evangelist writes the strongest argument for a literal understanding of resurrection in the entire NT canon (perhaps only matched by Paul in 1 Cor 15).  His witness to the physical appearances of the resurrected Jesus outnumber any other in the NT and only John speaks of Lazarus’ resurrection.  To use “resurrection” figuratively is to do violence to the New Testament’s idea about being raised from the dead and to misread the Gospel of John because it robs it of its power to give us the real hope John intended it to give us.  And it commits the same proto-gnostic fallacy (figurative resurrection) that John’s gospel and letters so obviously sought to address.

Resurrection is about Making Things Right

That said, there is another important reason to understand “resurrection” as the raising of the dead—and that is that the resurrection of Christ, according to Peter, is the Father’s vindication of the evil done to the Son.  Acts 2 includes Peter’s brilliant (and very Jewish!) sermon to the temple worshipers which (for the sake of brevity) should be understood this way:

  • 14-21 Don’t be surprised about what you’re seeing.  As even Joel has said, these things are a sign of “the day of the Lord.”
  • 22-23 Jesus is the one God sent to you, and he proved it.  It’s the day of the Lord and you killed the Messiah.
  • 24-35 God undid the evil that you did and restored him to life.  God made right what you did wrong by giving the Son his life back.  (i.e.: resurrection is God’s vindication of the injustice done to the Son).
  • 36 Conclusion: You’re on the wrong side.
  • 37-39 Call to find forgiveness for the evil they had done by turning to follow the one who God was raised.

It seems to me that the most central assumption of Peter’s is that the way God undoes what is done wrong to his beloved is by vindicating them in the resurrection.  This, I think, is echoed by John the Revelator’s work.  Rather than see the book of Revelation as a statement of God’s impending judgment on the world before he removes his people from it, Revelation is the story of a church who follows the lamb in his victory (which John recognizes as a slain lamb in chapter 5).  The church is victorious over the powers by being slain, by suffering with Christ, while they wait on his return to set to rights what is wrong.

Therefore: Eschatology Gives us Hope to Empower us to Endure What is Still Wrong 

This leads us to the final point: that it is the resurrection which gives us hope to endure what is still wrong.  This is evidenced, again, by the aforementioned Romans 8, however we have to go back to the beginning of that chapter to understand how.

Romans 8 begins to draw a conclusion for Paul after his lengthy (and oft-misunderstood) monologue about the Hebrew Law.  Perhaps no more impressive commentary has been written on chapters 6 and 7 than can be found in Paul Axton’s The Psychotheology of Sin and Salvation.[3]  Which analyzes Paul’s teaching on the effect of the Law in light of the critique of Slavoj Žižek.  In Romans 6-7, Paul is attempting to demonstrate the need for Christ within all of us—those who have the “Law” (the Jew) as well as those who do not (the Gentile), to draw us out of what Žižek would call “the death drive” of what I take to be a radical individualism (the subject elevated to god-like level) to a life of submission to Christ.  Of course, for Paul (and here the reader is recommended to find a fantastic book by Michael Gorman, Cruciformity[4]) that submission to Christ means that we live a life of dying to self which will be, as Jesus called us to pick up our cross daily, a life of daily sacrifice (Ro 12:1-2).

Paul is not unaware that this will entail no small amount of suffering in this life, which is why he says  Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” (vs. 17)  That is when he then launches into his beautiful image of the resurrection and its significance,

18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that[h] the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

For Paul, suffering with Jesus is part and parcel of being part of his kingdom (as Gorman illustrates well in his book).  And that suffering is made possible by the promise that what is coming will be far better for us.  To consider the resurrection of the dead and the world does not, as some insist, take our focus off of what the Gospel means to do now, nor does it mean that we are turning to Paul instead of the Gospels.  Instead, it is quite the opposite: the hope of resurrection empowers us to continue to walk in the way of Jesus’ cross because we know that sharing in his suffering means also sharing in his glory.

This is why Paul is adamant in 1 Cor 15 that if it is only for this life that we have hope in Christ, we are of all people the most to be pitied (vs. 19).  If all we have to look forward to is the cross, then what is the hope of following Jesus?  “If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die (vs. 32).” For we are all promised that we will endure the cross in doing his kingdom work.  But it is the promise of resurrection that makes the cross endurable and, truly, possible.  It was true of Abraham when he was to sacrifice his son (He 11:17-19), it was true of Jesus who, “for the joy set before him, endured the cross” (He 12:3-4), and it is true in our lives as well.

For these three reasons (eschatology is about resurrection, resurrection is about making right what was wrong, and eschatology is about giving us hope to continue to bear the cross) eschatology is essential.  Without it, the message of Christianity is hopeless.  This is because we follow a man who, the apostle claims, has disarmed the powers (Col 2:15), yet we see them armed to the teeth today.  He has equalized us according to race, gender and status (Gal 3:28), yet we see injustices all the time.  Jesus came preaching and instituting a kingdom of peace and mercy, yet we live in a world of violence and greed.  We pray, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” knowing that, as of yet, it is only so in part.  We may, as Paul said, see the “firstfruits” of the Spirit, but we do not see resurrection. This is because, prior to the resurrection, we are currently enduring the cross.  We are, unlike Thomas in John’s gospel, not people who see the resurrection but people who “don’t see but still believe.”  We believe in what we hope for.  For, as Paul said, “But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?  But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently (Rom 8:24-25).”

[1] Ironically, the term “apocalypse” in the New Testament refers to that which is revealed.

[2] Neufeld, Thomas R. Yoder.  Killing Enmity: Violence and the New Testament.  Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011.  134.

[3] Axton, Paul.  The Psychotheology of Sin and Salvation: An Analysis of the Meaning of the Death of Christ in Light of the Psychoanalytical Reading of Paul.  New York: Bloomsbury T&T, 2015.

[4] Gorman, Michael.  Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross.  Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001.

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When Things Get Better

Job once, in answering one of his foolish friends who had come to shut down the questions of his suffering, asked this question, “Why do the wicked live on, growing old and increasing in power?” (Job 21:7) And Jeremiah also asked, “Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the treacherous thrive?” (Jer 12:1)

It’s been a mystery that has bothered me my entire life.

My childhood was spent assuming that when I became an adult, things would get better. A painful and abusive family situation topped with school life which nearly always included bullies left me with the impression that I was pretty much always dealing with mean people.

Kids, of course, can be relentlessly cruel. I remember that they would often bully one another and turn on one another. I have seen them cliquishly team up with one another to play a game for the sole purpose of isolating another, whom they’ve picked to be the runt. I’ve seen them lie to a child to make them think they are friends, only to be playing a cruel joke. I’ve seen them antagonize a kid to tears or to anger, only to manipulate the nearest supervising adult into getting that kid in trouble. Most of the time that behavior was about self-promotion. Sometimes it was just mean. It always, always hurt.

I never could figure out why people had to be mean and do hurtful things. So, I always assumed that, one day, they’d probably stop. I’d tell myself, “Well, that’s just kids. I’m sure it will be better when we’re all grown up.”

That lasted until my first job. I soon discovered that many people do not grow out of their cruelty. The same tricks, the same hurtful things happened there. So I thought, “Well, I just need to get a different job. I’m sure it will be better somewhere else.”

Well…you know where this is going. Many jobs and a couple of major career changes later…and I’m still left thinking, “I just need a healthy work environment where there aren’t people jockeying for power and position, or who aren’t making lies or believing lies.”

Well, everywhere I’ve been, there have been selfish, manipulative, mean people. They’re everywhere. They have no conscience. They’ll stoop to anything. Nothing is beneath them.

And, often, they’re the person who says they’re your friend.

I guess my problem is I’m an idealist. My first wife always thought I was a pessimist, but I’ve always considered myself an idealist. I’ve always thought, “It doesn’t have to be this way. The right thing can be done. People can make the right decision. Those in leadership can stand up for what’s right.” I’m not talking about mistakes here…we all make mistakes. I screw up plenty. I’m talking about the mean things. The cruel things. The heartless, power-maneuvers. The times when people turn on someone, isolate them, cast them out…

…crucify them….

I’m 43 now, reflecting on this now and thinking, “I’ve been waiting my whole life trying to find a situation in which it didn’t feel like there was someone purposely trying to cause pain to others…or to me.” But I haven’t found that place yet. And it occurs to me, I won’t. It seems there is always someone who, either because of an agenda or just complete social ignorance, is just relentlessly cruel. Who is just going to cause problems…just going to try to make someone else’s life difficult. And, most of the time, there will be leaders, teachers, overseers who will look the other way. Or worse, side with the bully.

So, like many in the Bible seem to ask, why does God let the wicked people keep getting away with it? Why doesn’t he stop it? Why doesn’t he step in?

I mean, aside from the fact that he’s trying to give your boss a chance to; he’s trying to get us to make the right thing happen. But, until then people suffer when the right thing isn’t done. How is that possible?

Some points:

  1. Jesus is God experiencing the worst that cruel humanity has to offer. He experienced it…lived it. Part of what he was doing in his life and on the cross was showing us how to do crucifixion. He seemed to tell his disciples things like, “When they persecute you…do this.” In other words, “This is how you handle being treated like dirt. It’s going to happen because people are going to keep doing it.” In fact, Matthew 10 is exactly that, “If it’s good enough for me to be persecuted,” says Jesus, “it’s good enough for my followers.” Why?Jesus was trying to teach those of us who would follow him with our lives how to experience the cross that we’d be nailed on by those of us who don’t follow him or, worse, claim to follow him but haven’t got the foggiest idea that it includes acting like him.But my point is, I guess, that God gets it. When Jesus said, “Eloi eloi lema sabacthani,” that was God experiencing Job’s and Jeremiah’s moments and saying, “Yeah, where IS God?” But it was also God answering that question. God is here. He is in it with you.
  2. I take great comfort in the notion that God is going to set everything right again. God cares, deeply, that things that were once wrong will be made right again—he wants justice. Granted, God’s justice is restorative rather than retributive, I think. But I do think we can rest assured that God intends to right every wrong. In the same chapter from Matthew that I mentioned above, Jesus also says, “Don’t be afraid of them. There isn’t anything hidden that won’t be revealed.” (26)
    In other words, all the secret meetings…the rendezvous…the affairs…the alliances…the gossip sessions…the schemes…all of it will someday come out into the light. God will reveal everything and everyone for what and who they were. “Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy. Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” (Rev 22:11-13)We are promised that someday Jesus is going to return. He is going to put everything in its proper place. He is going to “repay,” whatever that means. Part of what evil does, though, is confuse what is good and evil. The evil who have power do evil but put a nice face on it—they spin it because they have the power to do so, the power to cause harm with impunity. But they will not always. Jesus is going to make it right.Perhaps this is why John the Revelator closes his book with, “Amen. Come Lord Jesus.”

With John, I say it almost every day now. “Amen. Come Lord Jesus. Come quickly to us and soon. Because I’m tired of evil…tired of the evil that is here. We are powerless to change those who don’t want to change—those who choose power and cruelty over love and righteousness.”

But I find I must also pray, “Until then, Lord, give me the patience to continue on. Give me the will to follow you as best as I can. Give me the steadfastness required to endure as you did for so long on that cross while those who had lied and connived and schemed to put you there gloated in victory. Help me trust you enough to be crucified with the dignity you had.”

“Until you return…and make all things better.”

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Chapter 2: Going to the Fair

Chapter 2 Going to the Fair

Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”

I had always wondered about those words.  What did it mean that we would neither marry nor be given in marriage?  Hadn’t marriage been created by God?  Wasn’t it God’s plan that a man and woman would be one flesh in marriage?  What would it mean to be “like the angels in heaven” concerning marriage?

I had a wife in the time before.  She was beautiful and smart.  And she understood me so well.  We shared many of the same ideas and ways of seeing the world.  We agreed on most everything, and what we didn’t agree on we could usually find ways of working around.  Though I considered myself lucky because she could have chosen anyone, the truth was we were extremely well-matched.  We lived for many years in one another’s arms, laughing, crying, and experiencing life together.  We had no children together, but we both had children whom we loved, as best we could, together.  Our lives were one together.

I remember reflecting more than once as I grew old on how much she and I had grown together.  We’d been together so many years that I could hardly remember my life without her.  We could communicate complex thoughts and reactions to one another with a glance and understand exactly what the other was thinking.  We were together, one flesh.

I can remember being alone with her, reaching my arm around her as we slept, touching her check with my fingertips, and kissing her lips softly as she, half-asleep, moved her lips slowly to return my kiss.  The bond we shared was one that no one understood, one that we (all of us) were tempted to take so lightly, to throw away on cheap, selfish encounters—encounters we made to counter the emptiness, encounters that ended up hurting us and driving us further into our isolation.  Those encounters were always about what people could take from one another.

But it wasn’t like that with her and me.  We truly loved one another.  And our love was something that blossomed between us in our togetherness.  It was evident to the people around us who saw us together.  They saw how we supported one another and held one another’s hand.  They saw how I opened the door for her and how she looked at me with love and respect.  They saw on the outside the results of the love we shared together in private, a profound and intimate oneness that was only unbreakable because we both knew how very fragile and precious it was.

I remember young people telling us that the key to a healthy marriage had always been the resolution that “divorce is not an option.”  She had always said, “Oh, divorce is always an option,” which was a lesson we had both learned the hard way.  We had learned that knowing divorce was an option made it all the more vital that we were both healthy and faithful.  What we had was too precious to take for granted, and too serious not to take seriously.

I had wondered back then how it could be that God would give me something so very precious, give us something so very precious, and then promise us that in the resurrection we would not have that thing.  It often broke both of our hearts so much that neither of us wanted to try to understand it.  It was one more reason I had not looked forward to “heaven.”

The last days of my time in that time were the worst for that reason.  We had both gotten old and grey.  Our children were long grown and raising their own families, pursuing their own lives.  We saw them (and our grandchildren) when we could but spent most of our old age alone together.  In the early years of our lives together I had been the stronger one.  But in those last days I had grown older faster.  My mind had lost much of its sharpness; and treasured memories and thoughts had begun to slip away like wisps of smoke from my pipe.  I would try so hard to say them to her in an effort to grip them as tightly as I could—only to watch in frustration as they faded out of my grasp.  I think back now and wonder what kind of hell it must have been for her as I gradually became less of a companion and more of a burden.  I wonder what it felt like to see the one she loved, with whom she’d shared every thought in her brilliant mind, no longer able to concentrate on much of anything.

I remember her expressions from that time: the sadness in her eyes when she came to help me up out of bed in the morning, the hurt when I said something nonsensical but cruel to her in my frustration at trying to articulate a thought, and the brief look of hope when I would momentarily become more lucid.  Those brief times were the ultimate bitter-sweet because, for a moment, it was like I was my old self again.  I would look at her with wide eyes as if to say, “Oh, yes, I remember—it’s you!” and we both knew that there were only a few seconds to look into each other’s eyes and grasp each other’s hands before I would transform back into the stranger she now lived with.  She lived those last few years waiting hand and foot on a stranger hoping for a few seconds a day with the real me.

I was lucid at the end, though.  For the last few minutes of my life my mind became as clear as it ever had been.  I knew my time had drawn to a close because I could see it in her eyes.  She was sad, yes.  Deeply sad.  What made the sorrow palpable, though, was not just the sense of loss but the sense of relief—relief that my suffering, and in reality hers, was finally over.  That kind of relief makes the bitterness all the more painful.  No one should be put in a position to look forward to being released from the prison of one’s love for another.

Those last few minutes, all I could think of was her.  I lifted my hand to her face, stroked her now grey curly hair away from her blurry eyes and told her I was sorry.  I was sorry for what she had endured.  I was sorry that I had not been what I’d hoped to be for her and that she had been alone with a stranger so long.  But I was also sorry that I was going away and leaving her all the more alone.  I had always wanted her to be the one to die first—not because I wanted to live longer but because I wanted to spare her the pain of grieving for me.  I was leaving and I hated myself for it.  All of that she understood with a glance.

But what I wasn’t clear-minded enough (or there wasn’t time enough) to get across was this: I was sorriest that what we had was completely over.  I was sorriest that our moments, our touches, our glances, our dinners, our gifts, our quiet evenings, our laughter, our partnership—was dissolved.  We would be raised; of that I was confident.  We would have new bodies and new lives.  Things would be as they should be.  But our marriage would not be (or so I had thought).  For that, as I whispered her name, as the darkness closed in on her face and her eyes, as my hand lost its strength to hold hers and I heard her whisper “I love you,” for that I died in despair.

We were complete together.  We were one.  We had something God-like, something priceless.  That oneness transcended time and space, it transcended old age; it even transcended death and the resurrection itself.  Sometimes when I am on my porch I remember being alone with her in the dark and wonder at how I appreciate and still love her—and even still feel a oneness with her—but wonder how I am able to be complete even though she is not with me in this time all the time.

I’ve thought about it a lot, though.

One of the authors I used to read had defined the sins of the time before as “eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.”  According to him, sin was the decision that we all made (individually and corporately) to be within ourselves the deciders of right and wrong.  It was the effort to remove God as the source of what is and place ourselves in that position.  The author had said it made us “a god against God.”  It was like telling God we wanted him dead, so we could have what he had.

Another author, Nietzsche, had also once claimed that God was dead.  He had said that God was dead and we had killed him.  And he concluded that it would be up to each person to decide for himself what good and evil was.  It would be up to each person to determine what his own value was and what was true about himself for himself.  It would be up to each person to gain power over his environment and even the people around him.  And the person who could do that would become, what he called, the Overman.  The Overman would be the next evolution in humanity.  The Overman would become a god.  He had said, “we have killed God…must we not become gods ourselves just to be worthy of it?”  What was saddest was how much truth there was in his statement.

That was the world we lived in.  It was a world in which all of us, at one time or another, were living as the source of knowledge of good and evil.  But there was a horrible consequence of that.  Becoming the source of knowledge good and evil meant something else—it meant being cut off from the source of life.  There were two trees in that ancient garden, and we were meant only to have access to one.  We had chosen the wrong one.

Because we had chosen that “tree,” we were cut off from access to life.  Our lives, what was left of them, were now defined by death.  Death defined us, it made us impermanent.  It overcame our ability to transcend.  It overshadowed our relationships.  It broke us.  Our lives became a process of trying to gain life, to take it from one another in a mad dash to extend either the length or quality of our lives.  Our lives became a pursuit of power, just like Nietzsche had said they would.  We used one another up and threw one another away when we were finished.  We fed on one another like zombies, consuming one another in horrific acts of violence and control. And that life of death had propagated itself in that we had all grown up in a world of violence and horror, knowing and accepting only that that was just the way life was.  It was what we knew and how we decided to live.  It was the central assumption we had about life.  And that was what had made it so difficult to believe in the world, or kingdom, Jesus had come talking about.

God was a God of community, a triune God of love and relationship within himself and with us.  We were created to live in peaceful community like him.  But in sin what was God-like about us was broken and marred.  And everything we tried to find life in, everything we used to escape the pain and hopelessness of our death-defeated lives, only broke us further, made us more hopeless, or killed us faster.

Thank God he had the compassion to do something about that.  He identified with our suffering and defeated our death.  In him we had true hope.  This time is the fulfillment of that hope.  Our lives as Christians were intended to be lived as a loving, peaceful, and Christlike witness to this fulfillment.

But even as the church struggled to live Jesus’ kingdom, because of sin and brokenness, the world was still a very, very lonely place.  I had read that God had created marriage as part of a solution for loneliness.  He had said, “It is not good for people to be alone.” And we had marriage.

What was confusing, however, was that it seemed that marriage had been created (at least according to the story in Genesis) prior to sin.  That was what I could not understand.  The story of Adam’s loneliness and Eve’s introduction had preceded the story of the fall.  God had intended their togetherness before sin.  Why, in the return to that state, was there to be none of that blessed togetherness now, in the resurrection?  Wasn’t this supposed to be the restoration of God’s good creation, which included the oneness of man and wife?

Since then I’ve realized something.  Jesus had made his statement as a response to the foolishness of a question put to him.  The question had been about a woman who had been married and widowed seven times—whose husband would she be in the resurrection?  Jesus had said, “in the resurrection people will not marry nor be given in marriage.”  Their question had been a reference to the legal status of her marriages and how the minutia of their legalism would work out in the resurrection.  Their question had, in fact, not even been sincere. They were attempting to trap him in a silly debate about resurrection itself.  Hence, his statement had referred, I think, to the legal ramifications of their question.  I had always thought that he meant that there would be no togetherness for us.  But that is not what has happened now.

Adam and Eve had not been “married” in the sense that my wife and I were “married.”  There was no ceremony, no legal document.  No one had counseled them beforehand and there was no engagement.  There was only them together, and their oneness.  They had not married, nor been given in marriage.  They were like the angels in heaven that way.  They were whole and complete in and of themselves, and they were one with each other in a special, God-like relationship.

In the time before, when life was defined by death and people lived lives of desperate self-indulgence in a world of pain, pursuing that God-like relationship of oneness could be a treacherously risky endeavor.   And yet, because we had been created for special relationship and because we were broken, we were always seeking intimacy and union.  We often thought of it as nothing more than the desire for physical release or gratification but it had always been something far more than that.

In that time our marriages could be sources of joy or sources of never-ending pain.  When two people came into a marriage hoping to find life, meaning, truth, gratification, or purpose in the other one—hoping to find in the other what could only be provided by God—those marriages became defined by death and control.  They became desperate competitions to extract happiness from the other.  Sometimes, the stronger personality would beat the other into an attitude of submission, creating an unhealthy misery of sick, vampiric power and manipulation.  Sometimes the couple would live together for decades in frustration, always bitter and always angry with one another.  Sometimes the marriage would end, tragically, in divorce.  Most often only after it had produced children, who were damaged by the whole thing.

But healthy marriages were made not by two people hoping to find happiness in one another or give wholeness to one another in some sappy romantic sense.  Healthy marriages were made by two people who were, as much as they could be, already whole and happy in and of themselves, and in their relationships with God.  They were made by people who, in their union, were able to share their mutual happiness with one another.  Healthy marriage relationships were made by healthy people sharing life together because they enjoyed one another, not because they “completed” one another or “needed” one another.  That was the relationship of Adam and Eve, prior to their fall.

The concept of marriage as a legal standing that Jesus was responding to was something that had come along much later.  The rules and legalities of marriage had been designed, by God, for the same reason he had made all of the rules he had made for his people.  They were designed to keep us, as much as was possible, to his initial plan concerning that relationship.  But Jesus had come to write his laws on our hearts, not on stone above our heads.

There was also another purpose for marriage—marriage had stood for millennia as a running analogy for the way God thought about his people.  God had always been married to them; he had always been faithful to them.  But they had not been faithful to him.  The marriage had been sick.  He had worked hard to redeem it, but, like an unfaithful spouse might, his bride had hated him for it.  She had seen it as an attempt to control her as she projected her own sins onto him.

I think now that the institution of marriage was always meant to be a model for the relationship God had intended for us, but also an object lesson for us about us and him.  In the resurrection, there is no need for either of those things.  There is just peace.  That is because the Son had returned for his bride, the church, and the two lived together now in joyous peace of the love of God for his people and the love of his people for him.

In the garden there was no marriage, there was just male and female.  There was oneness and wholeness and togetherness.  There was peace.  It was only after the fall that God had warned, “your desire will be for him, but he will exercise control over you.”  It was only after sin that the “rules” of marriage began to do battle with brokenness, selfishness, control, and isolation.

In the resurrection, there is no brokenness any more.  There is no control and no power.  In the resurrection, we, again, resemble God in our ability to transcend.  We can love and care for one another because our lives are not defined by death any more.  They are not made up of the pursuit of life at the cost of one another.  Life is abundant here because the knowledge of good and evil, again, belongs to God.  Since there is no brokenness, there is no marriage.  Rather, there is a new marriage, just as we have new bodies.  Similar, but far better.

We had once also thought that there would be no world in the resurrection.  We had believed that what we had in this world would be gone and we would live forever in a disembodied state.  That was what had always seemed to be such a waste to me.  We discovered, in the resurrection, that that had been incorrect.  The earth is here, but it is a new earth, a reborn earth, a better earth.  It is the earth God intended.

Similarly, we had always believed that our relationship, my wife’s and mine, would be gone forever and we would live forever in a dis-related state.  This, too, was incorrect.  We do have a marriage.  But it is a new marriage, a reborn marriage, a better marriage.  It is the relationship that God had originally intended.

Earth wasn’t lost.  It was reborn.  Our love wasn’t lost, either.  It was reborn, too.

What had defined marriage in the time before had been its rules…its legality…its attempt to teach us the permanence of God’s intent.  In a way, what it had created, though, was a type of ownership that we nearly couldn’t help but assume.  It wasn’t because the law was bad, it was because of the assumptions of sin within our hearts.  Early in the time before that ownership had been a gender-oriented one.  Men had tended to “own” women.  They were objects to them.  Later, in my time of the time before, that ownership had been a mutual one.  We were always attempting to keep one another.  The quality of our togetherness was often predicated on proximity and a watchful eye.  We had only a limited time in the time before, you know.

What is missing now in that love is not the sense of unity, but the sense of ownership.  We are still, in many ways, one.  But since death is gone, so is the need for proximity and ownership.  She is one with me and I am grateful; we will always be one.  But there is no sense of ownership between us.  I am whole and complete in myself and she is whole and complete in herself.  We see each other sometimes and spend time with one another.  But there is no desperate need for constant proximity.  We have all eternity to adventure together, and have all eternity to spend time as individuals.

As to the question put to Jesus…about those who, because of death, have more than one spouse in the resurrection—I’ve decided to leave it up to God to decide.  In an eternity of wholeness, the question doesn’t have the same sense of urgency now as it did then.  But what I experience now, when I see her, is far more joyous and intense than anything I had imagined in the time before.  It’s been a few months since we last met, but I know where she’s been and she me.

Seeing Her

All this I’d been thinking on the way down the mountain and into town.  I left early in the morning, knowing that the journey, at a steady but relaxed pace, would bring me into town as the sun was going down.  It is the perfect time to experience the lights, smells, and rides at the fair.  I was looking forward to seeing her again, to holding her hand and spending time with her.

When I moved into the house on the mountain she had talked about coming with me.  But she had just started a new project in town—revitalizing the old library.  She had always loved books, even more than I had.  And so it seemed natural for her to stay and do that work.  Also, there was someone there who was very special but who had been taken from her by death when she was young, her father.  She loved to be around him and spend time with him.  But I had wanted to explore the mountain, and so we separated for a while.  The freedom and timelessness of the resurrection makes it possible to love one another and still be apart.

But it also means we get to see each other for the first time, as many times as we want.

Whenever I see her now, if we’ve been apart for a while, I get a little nervous.  I don’t know why.  She always reacts to me the same way.  I mean, sometimes she’s flirty, or sometimes she playfully teases me or looks away like I’ve been gone too long—but it’s always in jest because we are so happy to see one another again.  My nervousness isn’t fear of rejection.  That’s not a problem in this time.

When I think about it, what I feel when I see her again is excitement and wonder.  In the time before, the experience of falling in love was always accompanied by these feelings.  But, as time grew on, they usually faded into the reality of day-to-day life, and it was often considered a chore to try to keep those feelings kindled.

But now, when we’ve been apart for any time—and sometimes even when we’ve been together for a long time—I find myself nervous and excited.  I feel like we’re on our first date all over again.

“I can’t wait to hold her hand and smell her perfume.” I said out loud, unconscious of the fact that I’m now speaking my thoughts.  I’d been walking in silence so long that the raccoon in my backpack startled from his sleep and climbed up so that his front paws were on my shoulder and his eyes were level with mine.  I turned to look at him.

“Did I wake you?”

I can’t say that his “expressions” are really facial expressions like humans make.  They’re more like postures and changes in his body language.  Obviously, animals don’t speak, and it’s not clear what they understand.  But sometimes, when you have a relationship with an animal, you’re almost certain they’re communicating.  I can’t tell if it’s my imagination or his personality, but he looked at me like he was thinking, “Yes, but since I’m up, something to eat would be nice.”

“Yes, it would,” I said.  “It is about lunchtime.”  As I walked I took a piece of bread from my pack and tore off a piece for him and ate the rest myself.  After that we shared an apple that I cut with my pocket knife.

We had left the forest of the mountain and had reached the valley by mid-morning and were well into the field at the base of my mountain by noon.  Along the way was a small stream that cut through the hills and through the valley across which a small wooden foot bridge had been constructed.  As we came to the bubbling stream, the ring-tailed bandit climbed out of my pack and down onto the ground to splash and drink the clear burbling coldness.  I, however, didn’t want to waste any time, so I kept walking.  He’d catch up, or else I’d find him waiting here for me when I came back tomorrow.  A cold stream with trout in it was far more interesting than a fair to a raccoon.  Any other day, I’d have been tempted to stay and explore it with him.

As the afternoon faded into cool blue evening, the colorful string lights of the fair became visible.  I picked up my pace a little bit and soon its smells and sounds began to strike my senses.  I could hear the vague sounds of people laughing and talking—not the steady sound of a crowd in the next room, but the random waves of conversation and laughter mixed with the music, animal sounds and the rides of an old country fair.

By the time I was in the midst of the fair, it was dark evening, but there was no less activity.  I walked past the smiling faces of people walking together, sharing food and laughter, some engaged in thoughtful conversations while waiting to ride the Ferris wheel, or one of the many other rides.  Of all of them, I love the Ferris wheel the most.  This one stands about 75 feet tall at its highest, its steel arms painted yellow and lit up with bright yellow and white lights all around.  Its seats were smooth and curved hand-carved wood, painted in many pastels and swinging freely from the ends of the arms of the great circle.  It rolled ceaselessly as I passed and I remembered the first time I had held her in my arms on a Ferris wheel much like this so long ago in the time before.  I thought, “If she’ll ride with me, I may steal a kiss at the top tonight!”  So, I picked up my pace.

I knew where to look for her first.  She had sent me a letter telling me to meet her in the animal exhibit hall.  There on the fairgrounds was a long barn, open on both ends, and quite open inside, the openness broken only by large rough-hewn beams bearing the weight of the roof.  All around were moveable pens with animals inside.  A pen for goats and some sheep was also mingled with young people feeding them ice-cream cones full of the kinds of things that goats and sheep like to eat.  Larger animals, such as some prize-winning cattle and horses, were in permanent pens on the sides where people were gathered to see the prize specimens.

She loved animals.  I remember, in the time before, when she first met my cat (who, promptly, became her cat).  He was an orange tabby which snow white fur on his belly and legs.  She just picked him up and started talking to him like they were old friends.  She knew how to truly love a pet, how to enjoy an animal on its own terms.  I used to reflect that part of being human and living in peace is exploring God’s good creation.  In coming to understand the creation which reflects him, we come to know more of the creator.  In learning to appreciate an animal, we must come out of ourselves and our own perspective long enough to learn that animal’s perspective.  The ability to enjoy and explore God’s creation, to see it and love it for what it is rather than try to own it or make it in our image, is one aspect of the image of God he gave to us humans. You can’t force a cat to love or to stay with you.  If you do, it will become mean.  But if you learn to love a cat the way a cat loves, the cat will love you.  You must, in a way, love the cat before yourself, as God loves us before himself.  She knew my cat quickly, and he loved her until his death.

Of course, that didn’t stop her from making up stories about him.  When we were younger, I’d come home from work and she’d tell me about her day.  Then she’d begin telling me about all the trouble the cat had been into—how he’d gotten in trouble at cat school and been sent to the principal’s office for dipping one of the other cat’s tails in paste or something like that.  And she would be so serious and the way cat would look at me I could almost see in my mind the whole thing play out.  And it was so ridiculous we both couldn’t help but laugh.

These thoughts were in my mind as I entered the south entrance of the barn.  I knew exactly which pen to go to.  In the center was a small wire pen with about two dozen rabbits of different colors and sizes.  In the pen, the floor was covered with thick sawdust; and throughout the pen bales of straw were set in random places so people could sit as they petted and enjoyed the rabbits.  And from a distance, I saw her sitting on a bale of straw holding a white and brown flop-eared bunny up to her face and looking into his eyes.  His long feet hung limp beneath him and his ears were set to the side and hung almost past her hands.  Her smile was full of joy.  I was too far to hear her voice, but I could tell she’d just said, “Well hello there!”  It was then that she turned to face a man standing just outside of the pen.  He was leaning on one of the support beams smoking a pipe and when she turned to him and showed him the rabbit, he laughed.  I could tell she’d just said something funny about the rabbit.

He leaned into the pen and seemed to say something to it as well, and then he turned and kissed her softly on the cheek.  Inside my heart leapt.  This man was her father.  I watched her face change as her eyes closed when he kissed her.  She gently put down the rabbit in her hands and turned to him as he leaned back against the beam and returned to his pipe.  Though they were enjoying the rabbits, the evening, and one another, there was a tear of joy in her eye.  I stopped and considered what a time of healing the resurrection is.  In the time before she had watched him die such a slow and painful death.  Throughout our live together she shared her many fond memories of his wit, laughter, love, and all her stories about the things he did and how she loved him were always mixed with the horror of watching him go and the searing pain of saying goodbye.

Now…there are no more goodbyes.  There is no more pain.  There is just life: abundant life.  This is what we were created for.  We were created to enjoy this world, to enjoy one another, and to be the image-bearers of a loving and creative God.

Her father saw me first, from a distance.  I was standing frozen, watching them from about fifteen yards away.  It was partly because I was taken aback by the beauty of that moment.  I’ve realized something about the resurrection.  In the time before we always talked about how time seemed to speed up when there was much to do or when the experience was really enjoyable.  And it seemed to slow to a crawl only when boredom or hard labor was at hand.  In this time it is not so.  It seems that the reason it was so easy to lose track of time when life was enjoyable was that when the time of joy was over it always felt like there should be more time for joy.  Well…in the resurrection, there is limitless time for joy.  And, so, I’ve found that moments like that, rather than flying by like a whirlwind, seem to slow down.  It seems like, now, times of joy can finally “take their time” and we can appreciate all the wonderful parts of such moments and savor all the significance of every bit of this endless time.  I was lost in a moment, beholding a beautiful picture of reunion and peace.  It was far too wonderful to rush…and since there is no more death, there is never any reason to hurry.

But my paralysis had another motive.  I was also taken aback by her face.  She looked so beautiful when she smiled.  Her face was full of joy and love.  She looked so happy.

And I had to admit, I wasn’t sure what I was going to say.

Her father held up his pipe as a kind of wave to me, beckoning me to come to them.  I waved back, but hadn’t started walking toward them yet.  She hadn’t seen me because she was looking up at him, but when she saw his attention turned away, she turned and found me.  I felt that twinge of nervousness again.  My heart was pounding.  Our eyes met.  Her head tilted a little and her smile changed to one that she had saved only for me.  Sometimes I imagined that she had created a whole new smile only for me.  I smiled back.

As we looked at each other for a moment she held the little rabbit up to her cheek as if they were both looking at me and she waved his little paw in my direction, too.  I laughed and jogged over to her and stood outside the pen next to her father.  She stood up and put her hand on my cheek, and I put mine on the back of her head, in her blond hair, and we kissed.  I could sense her father smiling at us.  It was another timeless moment.  We pulled away and looked into one another’s eyes.  No one needed to speak.  We know one another.  The memories are all there.  We’re together.   We have the whole world and all of the people in it and all of eternity to ourselves, to share.

For a while the three of us stood there with the rabbits and talked.  Her father had plans to spend some time fishing with some friends for the evening, so he was going to go.  However, I made him promise to come out to the house and spend a few days talking and smoking pipes and enjoying my mountain forest.  “You need to see my bear and my mountain lion!”  He promised.   We decided that the three of us, with a few other friends as well, should spend the next week up at my cabin.  After the fair that night I would go back and prepare, and she and he would come a few days later (after they’d packed a little), and a few old friends from the time before would be invited.

After a few more smiles, an embrace and a kiss between them, and a warm handshake between her father and me, he was off to go fishing.  We watched him go.  I turned to her and she sighed the kind of contented, joyful, time-of-peace, no-more-hurting sigh that we all had become accustomed to in the resurrection.

I put my arm around her and she rested her head on my neck.  Then she turned to me and said, “Take me on the Ferris wheel.”

And with that, we walked happily hand in hand into the cool night air with all its lights and sounds.

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Chapter 1: Moving In

Chapter 1: Moving In

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”

It’s early morning.  In the time before I was never a morning person.  I was much more prone to staying up all night, sometimes working, sometimes doing something frivolous.  I fought sleep back then and paid for it in the mornings.   But I’ve discovered I really love the mornings now.  The dawn, the birds, the way the world seems to be waking up from its rest—it’s like it emphasizes something true about the world that I can never quite put my finger on.  It’s like every day is new and full of hope.

In the mornings now I like to sit outside and think.  Today I’ve got that passage repeating in my thoughts the way old songs sometimes get stuck in my head.  Paul.  Romans.  I can remember what the page looked like and where it was on the page.  In the time before I used to read those verses and wonder what this time would be like.  I remember thinking that Paul seemed to have to find patience to wait for this time—the time we’re in now.  He seemed to look forward to it with an unmatchable anticipation.  Sometimes I did, too.  Sometimes I didn’t.  If I’d have only known then what I’ve learned since….

I had always thought he was talking about going to heaven.  I’m not sure why I thought that except that it’s just the way I’d been taught.  Everyone used to say it.  “What will heaven be like?  What will we do in heaven?”  We sang songs about it, “When we all get to heaven….”

The truth was, heaven never sounded very nice to me.  It sounded, frankly, boring.  There was nothing to it, except, maybe, lots of singing, harp music, clouds, and halos.  I had always heard that it would be different from the world we lived in.  We wouldn’t have bodies anymore; we wouldn’t need food.  No cats or trees.  We wouldn’t experience time.  We described it like some sort of mass out-of-body experience.  I mean, we called it “God’s celestial shore,” for crying out loud, and talked about “flying away.”

So, I could never figure out why I should want to “go there.”  I mean, everyone was trying to go there.  We talked about it when we got together.  Some people…that’s all they ever talked about.  And we talked about it a LOT when someone died.  I remember those funerals.

I remember asking some friends after a funeral, when we were eating, what they thought of going to heaven.  I was trying to scare up the courage to tell them that I wasn’t looking forward to it.  I remember they said things like, “Oh, I can’t wait,” and, “it’s going to be so great,” and, “the first thing I’m going to do is ask (some silly question).”

Then I asked, “Don’t you think you’ll miss things here?”

“Like what?” asked one friend, incredulously.

“I don’t know,” I said.  “Things like trees and rivers and books and sports.”  I had read a book recently by someone who had studied those scriptures and suggested that, perhaps, some of the things that humans had created back then, like literature and art, would survive into this time.  When I shared that, they all laughed.

“I don’t think we’re going to care about any of that.” one of them said.  “It’s going to be so great, we won’t even care.”

“Why?”

“What do you mean, ‘Why?’”

“Why will it be so great?” I asked.

“Well, because we’ll be with God,” he said.

Now, I knew that should be enough.  “God” answers are supposed to trump all questions, you know.  But I didn’t know what he meant.  “Aren’t we always with God?” I asked.  “I mean, what does it mean to be ‘with God?’”  I just couldn’t figure out how being “with God” made the idea of heaven any more interesting than being “with God” on earth.

The rest of the conversation had gone downhill from there.  It ended with the statement, “I supposed it’s better than the alternative.”

For some reason, I didn’t feel any differently after those kinds of conversations.   I mean, I felt like I should look forward to heaven.  In fact, I felt kind of guilty that I didn’t.  And Paul seemed so certain that I should be hoping for it.  There was just so much about being on earth that I liked.  I just couldn’t bring myself to hope in floating around the ether in some strange disembodied state of bliss for all of eternity.  I remember thinking what a waste it would be if this world was not my home.  I just couldn’t wrap my mind around it.

Then again, when things got bad in that time, I’d get thinking that “anything would be better than this.”

But this isn’t like that at all.  In fact, it’s as different from the way I’d heard it described as it possibly could be.

First of all, it’s not heaven.  Heaven is the place where God is—sort of.  Maybe I should say, it’s the realm where God is.  But somehow he’s also here.  Heaven is a different place, but it’s like it’s close by.  I realize now that it really always was.

Heaven is where God is—and he’s also here.  But this isn’t heaven; it’s the resurrection.

Similarly, I’ve got a body—my old body.  But it’s also not my old body.  It’s better.  It feels healthy.  It works right.  We’ve been here around 600 years now (give or take a decade—one of the things we all realized about the resurrection is, counting years is kind of silly when there’s a limitless supply).  600 years and I haven’t aged a day.

Likewise, it’s the same earth we lived on before, just new and fresh.  And I’m not sure I can describe the difference in it then and now.  The trees are the same, the water is the same, everything is the same—but everything is different.  It’s like the world doesn’t have to try so hard to keep going any more.  The earth provides, the plants grow, they provide and sustain—all of it works like I always imagined it must have in Adam and Eve’s time—the time before my time in the time before.  I keep meaning to look them up and ask them if it’s the same.

You know, in retrospect, I don’t know how we missed it.  Paul’s passage didn’t say we were waiting to escape these bodies but, “for our adoption, the redemption of our bodies.”  And in the verses before he’d said that the whole universe was waiting to be “liberated from its bondage to decay.”  That’s pretty much what we’re experiencing.

I remember, in the first days in this time, how amazed we were.  Here we were in new bodies on a new earth realizing that the coming kingdom was vastly different from what we had imagined but exactly what had been promised.   How ironic.

Anyway, now I realize why I should have looked forward to it.

For some reason, this morning it’s just hitting me like that.  Wow.  600 years and I’m just realizing that.  Or, maybe I’ve realized it before and just forgotten.   It’s amazing how much you can forget in 600 years.

This morning I’m sitting on my new front porch.  At least, it’s a new front porch to me.  I’ve just moved into this house.  It’s not the way I always thought I’d live in “heaven.” I remember we used to sing this silly song in church about having mansions on hilltops and walking on golden streets.  Why we thought we wouldn’t have bodies but we would have mansions, I don’t know.  But it’s not exactly like that.  The truth is, in the resurrection, things like mansions and gold don’t have the same value they did in the time before.  Wealth and possessions don’t matter when you’re not going to die.

That’s something I realized a long time ago.  The whole “death” thing was much more of a factor in our lives than we ever gave it credit for.  A lot of people talked about not being afraid of “death,” but the truth is, we all were.  Death tainted everything.  It was always in the background, always threatening, always making our lives feel meaningless.  It was always hurting our relationships.

Death made the passage of time unbearable.  So, one of the things I’d always thought about heaven was that there would be no time.  However, in the resurrection, there’s time.  The sun comes up and goes down.  There are days and weeks.  There’s time.  There’s just no death.  Because of that, in the resurrection, time doesn’t have teeth any more.  See, in the time before, death gave time power.  Death meant time was limited.  Death meant we had to hurry.  Death made us desperate for hope, for meaning.  Death made us selfish and cruel.  Death made us horde and save.

Death meant we had to work—which is very different from having work to do.  “Having work to do” means having a purpose.  “Having to work” meant having to struggle to survive.  It meant that death was always creeping up on us and that if we wanted to put it off, we were going to have to work at it.

Death meant that everything had to have an end.  We only had so much time.  I think that’s why I fought sleep so much in the time before.  Each night what bothered me most was that another day had passed and I’d worked through most of it.  Even though I was tired I felt more every day that precious time was slipping through my fingers.  I wanted some life, wanted to enjoy that life.  I didn’t want to waste those precious moments.

I remember that we would surround ourselves with clocks to mark the passage of time.  Precious seconds and minutes were always ticking off, reminding us that we had somewhere to be, something to do.  And we only had so much time to give to it or so much time before it needed to be accomplished.  We always had things we wanted to do or be and always in the background we knew that death was coming.  It might come sooner or later but the only thing certain was that it was coming.  Those clocks, meant to keep us from losing time, were a constant reminder that we had precious little—much of which was spent prolonging life in the face of…death.

But, in the resurrection, there’s no death.  The truth is, it’s been the hardest thing to grasp.  Every now and then you’ll look at someone and you can tell they’re realizing again, “Hey, this really isn’t going to end, is it?”  There’s a sort of bewildered smile that people have when they remember how it was then compared to how it is now.

No death means people aren’t in a hurry any more.  It means we don’t have to struggle to survive.  God created the earth—he re-created it—and it provides.  We share it together.  There’s no need to horde; there’s plenty for everyone.  God provides; we receive together.

Death has been undone for us.  Gone is struggle, conflict, war, greed, selfishness and fear.  What is left is…all of the good things.

That means there’s always time in the resurrection.  Resurrection is not the absence of time, but the eternal abundance of it.  It’s not the end of life, but the abundance of it.  It’s what God wanted for us in the beginning, in the time before the time before.

Now, instead of working to survive, I’ve just got work to do.  Important work, but not life-supporting work.  And there is always plenty of time to do it because there are no deadlines (what an appropriate term!).  There is also always plenty of time to enjoy life.  In fact, work is far more enjoyable and far more meaningful, now that it’s not about survival.  We work now because taking care of creation means we get to be a little bit like the God who created it and enjoys it.  That’s plenty of reason to work and plenty of reason to enjoy.

Anyway, I don’t have trouble sleeping any more.  There’s no more death.  I sleep like a baby in the resurrection.

I’m sitting on the porch of a house I didn’t build, someone else did.  I didn’t take it from them and I didn’t buy it from them.  See, we don’t have money any more.  Money is only valuable when resources are limited and when things are owned and traded.  In the time before, resources were needed to survive and they were owned.  We had to find ways to trade those resources for mutual survival.  Money was a way of determining a standard of value, a way of simplifying necessary transactions.  We needed things or services to survive.  Other people owned those things or services.  We used money to trade them.  Hence, more money often equaled longer and better survival.  Less money often meant dying sooner.  And it often worked out that those who had more money could easily find ways of hording more money and those who had nothing often stayed that way.  Death made money necessary.

One of the weird things about money was that its value depended on some people not having it.  If everyone had the same amount (even if that amount was great) it became less valuable.  In fact, entire economies could be rocked by the mere mention of “redistributing wealth.”  Wealth was often defined as “having more than was needed.”  But it was more accurately defined as, “having more than someone else.”  Those who were rich were rich because they had more than they needed, but that meant that someone else necessarily had less than they needed.  And, in that time, it wasn’t fair to take it away from one who had earned it and give it away to someone who hadn’t.  Yet, there were those who couldn’t earn it, who had no hope.

In the resurrection there is no death, so there is no ownership.  Oh, people keep things and work things, but they don’t consider them “theirs.”  My neighbor keeps some cows, and, in a sense they are “his cows” but not in the same way we said that in the time before.  So, ultimately there is no ownership of resources because there is no limit to the resources—so there is plenty for everyone and no one takes more than they need.  What would be the point of taking more than you need?  In the kingdom of God, our king once said “the last will be first” and “the greatest is your servant.”  He was always saying things backwards compared to what we were used to.  In the time before everyone wanted to own more, and this meant some were poor.   In the kingdom, when no one owns anything, everyone is rich because everything is shared.

Another way to say it is that everything belongs to God, and he shares his plenty with everyone.  There is always enough because no one takes more than they need.  No one takes more than they need because there is always enough.

Whoever built this house had left a few years before I arrived, apparently moving on somewhere out west to explore the coast.  He’d left a note saying, “Whoever finds this house, please enjoy it!  I lived here for 80 years, and have many fond memories of this place.  There are wonderful neighbors and there is plenty to eat.  God bless!”

See, since there’s no death here, and since no one is in a hurry here, there is plenty of time to live in a place and get to know that place.  But part of the joy of being in that place is knowing that sometime I might decide to leave and go explore some new place.  There is always somewhere new to explore.  And, since there is so much time, someday this place can be new again.  Myself, I’ve lived in three places these few centuries.  When I’ve left, I’ve never felt a sense of loss—this place will be here still if I want to return.  In fact, there may be someone new to spend time with when I come back.  In the resurrection there is always a sense of newness and adventure, and yet you can always still experience the comfort of familiarity.

My little house is located in an old forest.  All around are evergreen trees, oak, maple, and birch trees.  The person who had built it was a skilled craftsman who’d found a way to provide shelter from the pinecones and acorns which might fall from the tree canopy high above, while being open to the cool breeze from the sides.  In fact, there are few walls at all to this house—it’s built almost like a multi-room gazebo with rough-hewn hand-carved hardwood arches at the entrances and between the rooms and similarly hewn posts and pillars held together by large wooden dowels and holding up the thatched roof.  The floor is made of local stones; hand fit and mortared together and worn smooth from decades of foot-traffic and sweeping.

In the center of the living room is a stone fireplace and chimney, reaching up through the grassy roof.  The lower part of the fireplace is open on all sides, so that the heat in the evenings warms guests in all directions.  It’s high enough to see through so that the chimney doesn’t come between any guests I might have.  There are wooden chairs with hand-woven wicker seats and backs which are perfectly designed for leaning back and resting your feet on the stone footer of the fireplace.

Besides that, the house isn’t very large.  There are just two bedrooms equipped with hand-made cots with quilts (and extra hammocks to sling between pillars for extra guests) and a fairly large kitchen, complete with a cabinet with some ceramic plates and glasses and metal cookware, a hand-made hardwood countertop, a steel woodstove for cooking, and a lovely smooth stone sink with of a hand operated pump that draws water from the well far below.  It has a thick hand-made table with benches all around that can seat around 8 people comfortably.  Outside on the porch there are rocking chairs for the same number of guests.

For light in my new house there are candles and a few oil lamps mounted to the pillars around the house.  In the evenings they give a soft warm glow throughout the house that feels inviting.

There is no ice box or refrigerator because there is no need to keep food in the resurrection.  I remember always needing a refrigerator in the time before.  We only had so much money and so much food and we needed to make it last.  We had electricity to simplify our cooking and to keep our food cold and fresh.  Electricity became a necessity for us to make things fast, to make things comfortable.  However, in the resurrection, time is not a problem.  If it takes longer to make dinner, that’s ok.  And the weather is never too hot or too cold.  There is a uniform temperature around the whole earth and no need for rain because the earth waters itself.  That means there is no weather to protect ourselves from and no need to cool our houses or heat them—except, perhaps, at night.  But even then a small fire in my little fireplace is all that is needed.  We have electricity, and often use it in town for special things.  But most people don’t feel it’s necessary in their homes.

One of my neighbors stopped by to introduce himself shortly after I moved in and offered me milk from his cows whenever I would like some.  He lives just a few minutes away in a little cottage I can just see through the trees.  So, I have plenty to drink and plenty of cheese, as well.  In gratitude I offered to make him a pipe similar to the one I was smoking when we first met and which he had been admiring.  It’s a little slightly bent cutty pipe made out of one of the blocks of briar root I found a few decades ago that I’ve been carrying with me.  When I had access to a drill I’d bored out the bowls and drilled several stems so I could make pipes along the way as I traveled.  I had it finished in about a week and now one of our favorite things to do in an evening is sit on my porch and smoke together.

On the other side I can see another neighbor’s house.  There is always smoke coming from her chimney and often I can smell fresh bread.  She loves to bake bread for all her neighbors from the flour she gets from the wheat farmers in the valley.  Between the two of them, I always have bread and cheese on my table.

There is a large orchard just down the footpath running away from my neighbor’s house. There we have plenty of apples and other types of fruit.  Sometimes we have apple festivals.  We make cider and apple fritters and different kinds of jams and preserves and we eat and just enjoy the company.  We often sit around the fire and talk late into the night.

Several people in this little community keep a large vegetable garden near the orchard which we all tend and from which we all can take what we need when we need it.  Sometimes when I’m walking with one of my neighbors and visiting, we’ll notice a few weeds here or there and go in and pull them while we talk.  A community garden is a beautiful thing.

Since the house had sat empty a few years, it seemed the forest had been trying to reclaim it.  Some of the bushes around the sides of the house were growing up, making it hard to see the forest from the living room.  I had to cut those down a little using some tools the builder had left in an old chest next to the kitchen entrance.  The thatched roof needed some work as well, so I’d cut some new grass from the fields on the southern part of my little hill and had patched it up here and there.  A little repair work had to be done to the chairs and cots.  There were some creeping vines crawling up a few of the outer pillars supporting the roof.  Those I left. In the fall dried leaves blow in on the floor and I like to leave them there, too.  They make the house feel like it’s sort of grown up out of the forest and I feel like I’m a part of it.

In fact, some of my closest friends and neighbors are the creatures that live around me.  There are many whitetail deer who appear from behind the trees occasionally.  Sometimes, when I’m sitting on the porch in the evening, there is a black bear who comes almost up to my steps.  He usually wants a few scraps, and he’s liable to get them.  Often, in the morning, I wake up to find an ornery raccoon getting into the loaf of bread on my table.  When I walk in and sit down he looks up at me with those big, round, dark eyes as if he’s been caught with his hands in the cookie jar.  I laugh and cut up an apple to share with him.  The way he sits up on the bench at my table and eats with his little paws is almost comical.  There’s even a mountain lion who comes to visit every now and then.  In the resurrection, even the wild animals have an inner respect and love for humans.  There is no danger.

A Celebration of Peace

I realize I’m talking about the house like I just moved in yesterday.  I’ve actually been here three years.  The passing of time has virtually no meaning in the resurrection, but we all tend to keep track anyhow.   I used to think that I’d get to a point that I didn’t care.  I thought that those old habits from the time before would become obsolete and be long forgotten.  But most of us still count the years.  I have a theory that it’s because we developed the habit when we were so young.  Maybe in a millennium or so we’ll stop, but I haven’t yet.

That said, with each passing year in the resurrection, their passing becomes less notable.

About the ridge—as I said I live near two neighbors, but there is actually a whole community of people who live around me.  The ridge runs from south-west to north-east.  I live along the eastern side, which means in the afternoons, I am in the shade.  The neighbors I already spoke about live to the south-west and north-east of me, on the east side of the ridge as well.  To the west the mountains stretch and get higher and rockier.  At the base of the ridge to the east is a large valley which a lot of people farm and to the north-east part of that valley there is another ridge, with a small village situated right at its base, in a little hollowed corner of the mountain range.

The village is complete with a library, a movie theater, and a coffee house.  I go there often.  It is about a day’s walk, so when I go I generally stay for a few days with some friends I had made just before I moved here.  I had stopped in for coffee at the little coffee house and I had told them I was looking for a place to stay for a while.  They told me about this house and said I was welcome to stay with them, upstairs above the store-front style bistro, whenever I was in town.  I gladly accepted.

There are many other people who live along the ridge, and we know each other and talk often.  But we are spread out.  The village is more densely populated.  There are some electric lights on the streets and a fairly large fairgrounds on the north-west portion of town.  Every few months the little town puts together a huge fair, to which all the people in the valley and along the ridges come to celebrate and share.  The farmers bring wheat and corn.  Those of us who live around the orchard often bring bushels of apples and vegetables from the community garden.  The ground produces at such a rate that the plants are always producing more than we need, so we and the farmers can afford to bring as much as we can carry to share with one another.  There is even a tobacco-grower who often brings a barrel of pipe-tobacco.  I usually make it a point to see him and we have a smoke and share new pipe design ideas.

My neighbor usually brings a few of the cows he keeps.  In fact, there are always many animals at the fair: cattle, swine, sheep, and even dogs.  The organizers always find time for showing the animals and blue ribbons are awarded to the animals who best display the qualities of their breed.  Some of us from the ridge even bring some of the wild animals.  I had considered, this year, seeing if I could coax the bear who comes to visit.  However, usually the only one who will follow me into town was my little ornery raccoon, and he usually rides in my backpack most of the way.  He likes to wait until I sit down to tie my shoe and I fee him crawl inside and put his little hands on my shoulder while vocalizing what sounds like a soft chittery laugh.  I say to him, “Yeah, you’ll get the blue ribbon for mischievousness, for sure.”  I don’t mind, though, because he’s actually pretty good company.

The fair is always full of wonderful sights and smells.  Besides the food that is brought to share and the animals brought to show, there are always other things to do.  The villagers have built a large Ferris-wheel, complete with electric lights and motors.  There is a carousel as well as several other spinning and swinging rides.  And there are all manner of fried foods, funnel cakes, caramel apples, pizza…you name it.  Whenever I go I feel like a child who lives inside of me sort of wakes up and comes out to play.  I can’t help smiling at the fair.

Today, as I smoke the last few puffs of my evening pipe and prepare myself for bed I am also thinking about heading to town tomorrow.  There will be another fair this week and I want to go early to meet my friends and spend as much time with the community as I can.  The sights and smells are wonderful, but there is something more wonderful about the joy everyone feels at being together.  Life is a celebration in the resurrection.  Life is a celebration…of peace.  That’s the only way to describe it.  Peace.

This peace is not the peace we talked about in the time before.  That peace was the kind of peace we thought we could accomplish by fighting.  That peace was what we thought was the inevitable result of the ceasing of hostilities.  But we all knew back then that just ceasing hostility was no guarantee of peace.  Just because we weren’t fighting, didn’t mean we were at peace.  Even nations who were not fighting were never at peace.  The quietest home could be at all-out war with itself.  This, instead, is peace: the complete reconciliation of all humanity.  No power, no struggle, no war, no greed, no selfishness, no hatred, no death.  In the resurrection life is peace.  That peace is the kind of peace where you can even have some conflict…but still have peace.  It’s a peace that we must continually earn by loving one another, but it is a peace that we all love and value.  This time in the village is a celebration of that peace and I wouldn’t miss it for the whole world.

But that’s not the only reason I am going.  I am going because I know she will be there.

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