One of the tough things about the Easter Season is that while Lent and suffering are so simple to relate to, Resurrection and Eternal Life are mere concepts that communicate no real content. In fact, we seem to enter the dimensions of the proverbial ‘Twilight Zone’. Beyond the glories of springtime and bunny rabbits, Easter is a hard sell!
Part of this problem of how to communicate the ineffable realities of the world beyond is that we try to imagine what it would be like to go to heaven with concepts that are very earth-bound and limited. We forget often that we are confined to the limitations of time and space. We cannot even picture a shred of that world beyond because all of our concepts are bound by this world. This state of affairs is so elemental that we don’t notice it.
If God is not limited by time and space, then He perceives everything in an ‘eternal now’. So, when we try to square-off our free will with God’s designs and plans, we run into trouble. This trouble is similar to those who argue about Predestination. How can God know whether we are going to heaven or hell while we are still making our choices? Are we really free to choose, or are we destined, even forced, to do God’s Will?
This conflict of meaning has caused wars to be fought. It, however, can be totally transcended if one first admits to being confined to concepts involving space and time. Then, secondly, one has to have the intellectual humility to realize that the sphere of understanding is beyond our abilities here on earth. The hereafter is a completely foreign entity that we cannot even discuss and for which our imaginations have not the competence to understand. One does not even have the tools to go beyond the familiar and the known.
There is no language for what awaits us except what we know from Scripture: that it is unbelievably good and what we have always wanted.
This is why the talk of the Resurrection seems so abstract: our language is inadequate.
While this may be humbling, it is also ennobling to admit that we must trust God and be satisfied with that trust, not knowing what awaits us but having a hopeful heart that it is good beyond our imaging.
Trust is the art of not seeing. Trust has no assurances. Someone who trusts is happy to limit themselves to hope.
In the end, what is most important is not what we will ‘get’ out of eternal life, but who the One Who is calling us and asking for our trust. Our love for God must be as unconditional as His love is for us. We must believe Him and place our whole future in His hands.
This is the biggest risk we will ever have to take.
Therefore, when we speak about the Resurrection of Christ and what it promises us, we have to admit defeat. Any attempt to provide rational equivalents to the supposed elements of our future is going to be mired in earthly language unless we are better at it than Dante!
As you well know, Dante, in writing the Divine Comedy, divided his journey through the hereafter into the Inferno, the Purgatorio, and the Paradiso. This is a very Catholic understanding of it and, as far as it goes, is a masterpiece of poetry. Dante uses the best of theological language and concepts to try to create a coherent whole; and he was marvelously successful. But it is still based on the great imagination of a medieval Catholic mind. Whether or not it is a true and accurate picture will only be known when we open up our ‘eyes’ after our death and see things as they are, learning the new language of the future life.
One of the funny things about thinking about what the afterlife will be like is that it is a favorite topic of children. I go often into the classrooms to answer questions about faith and religion. Almost as a rule they will start asking questions about what happens after death. One second grader last week asked me “Will heaven be like earth?” Wow, I thought, theologians ask that same question!