Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Questions Re: Between Death & Resurrection

My friend, LaVonne, responded in a Facebook message to my last post, Between Death and Resurrection, with some questions. With her permission, I'm posting her queries and my response.

From LaVonne:

Just read your "Into the Expectation"

Good questions all. The church's tradition isn't necessarily founded on Scripture, of course. If the Genesis man became a living soul when the dust of the earth was animated by the breath of God, it seems odd that the living soul would continue minus the dust. Maybe we all return to God in a Hindu sense until the resurrection - all part of some oversoul that will re-individualize when we get our resurrection bodies.

As for praying to the dead - I don't see much harm in it; I just don't think many of the dead are listening. First, because only a few were assumed into heaven body and soul and so I'm guessing they're asleep. Second, because even if they're awake, what makes us think they're wanting to spend all their time reading emails from earth? Is that what you'd want to do until the Last Judgment mercifully intervenes? Me neither.

Oh, and then there's the possibility that some of the dead are spending their time in Purgatory or even Hell - are they conscious there too? And if not, will the poor sods in hell eventually get a resurrection body - splendid, glorious, imperishable, immortal - so God can watch them writhe and holler forever? Or will they never have to worry about their bodies again, which means they probably won't have to worry about consciousness either, which means they'll sleep through hell for all eternity?

And another question: let's say my body is messing me up. Maybe I have Alzheimer's, or maybe I'm in a coma. My brain is defective, so I am no longer entirely conscious. OK, then my brain just plain quits. I die. Why would consciousness suddenly return? Where has it been while I was comatose? Just wondering...

My Response:

These are all good points/questions. As I said in an earlier post, any 'answer' is necessarily speculative. We do well to hold anything we think or say about this (and much else about God) lightly and with humble circumspection - if not a sort of holy agnosticism. But, it does not seem adequate or edifying to simply shrug and say 'Who knows?' And we have been given hints and glimpses through scripture and tradition. So . . .
As for Genesis 2, I guess the counter question might be, 'Where does the breath that was me in all my peculiar particularity go when I die?' If I return to God in the Hindu sense, does God then recreate new individuals at the resurrection? Or will my particular personality be kept and cherished in God's memory until then? And if the latter, the question remains, 'Might that include some sort of consciousness?'
As for praying to or for the dead, that seems potentially not all that different from doing the same with the living. Being bombarded by bothersome emails while awaiting the Resurrection does not sound restful or pleasant -- kind of humorous, though. But, maybe it would not be onerous. Held in God's memory/presence, might we know and experience such communion and delight of love that an ongoing relationship with the living would be a joy? [This is the intended topic of my next post]
Purgatory: Perhaps it is all purgative between now and the Resurrection. I am a hopeful universalist, but if it is possible to finally and/or eternally refuse the invitation to the Party, I suspect the result is something more like Sheol or Gollum, self-isolated in a dark cave at the heart of the mountain, than a literal lake of fire or some other torture chamber where persons 'writhe and holler forever.' And I doubt God ever gives up even on those who hold out.
The fact is, our bodies - and particularly the mindful meat in our skulls - can be and are messed up - some more profoundly than others. That's why I think we need to emphasize that salvation includes healing as well as forgiveness. More particularly, my hope is that God does not forget who I am even if I have lost all sense of who I am. Or never had the chance to live into who I might have been. Or was so messed up from the get-go (profound mental illness or mental deficiency) that I never experienced anything like a whole personality. Our ultimate hope is in the resurrected wholeness of body, mind, spirit, and soul. I expect that whatever our existence is like between our deaths and the resurrection it will be even more of a foretaste of that wholeness than we have experienced by the grace of God in this life.

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