Baltimoreans have long had a complicated relationship with their police force, and this latest tragedy in the death of Freddie Gray highlights just how far we have to go. I have only lived in Baltimore for a couple of years now, having moved here from my childhood home in Texas (a place also greatly troubled by violence). Yet, more than I can ever recall experiencing in Texas, police sirens and presence are now a very regular part of my daily life.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” –John 16:33
We have confusion in Christianity about the concept of the immortality of the soul and it is leading us in some unhelpful directions. A commonly accepted viewpoint is that humans are made of two components: a material mortal body and an immaterial immortal soul. So when we die, this eternal soul continues on either to heaven or is condemned to hell. That sounds Christian, right?
Actually, the immortality of the soul is not a biblical concept at all. Some Christians seem to have adopted it from Plato and Greek philosophy. What the New Testament claims is not the immortality of the soul, but the resurrection of the body.
Here is the difference. The biblical view is that, when we die, we actually die. All of us dies – body and soul. Human beings were created mortal, not immortal. Only God is immortal. What is proclaimed is that by the love and power of this God, we can be raised up to eternal life. We don’t already have an eternal essence within us. When Saint Paul says that we can “put on immortality” (I Cor. 15:53), he is saying that this is something God does for us. The Episcopal burial service says it well, addressing God saying: “You only are immortal, creator and maker of mankind; and we are mortal, formed of the earth and to earth shall we return” (BCP, p.499).
Perhaps it is fear of death (and maybe also a little arrogance?) that would have us think that we humans were created with a naturally eternal part of us. Popular culture has this immortal soul thing (sort of like a ghost) flying out of the human body at death to have an independent existence. I don’t know what happens when we die, but I think anything that does happen will be because God makes it happen.
So here is Good News: By the power of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, we can share in a resurrected life in heaven. This is done by the sheer grace of God and is not inherent within us. We are made to die, but Christ can make us alive again. To view an afterlife in heaven as a gift, rather than as our inherent destiny, makes a huge difference. So let us Christians stop talking about the “immortal soul” and instead proclaim the power of the Resurrection.
–The Reverend Mark Stanley
Recently, a friend said to me, “I like coming to church, and being part of the community, but I can’t say I’ve ever really encountered the presence of God. And I’m not even sure what that would look like.”
Growing up in the church, my Sunday School teacher told me that, “God is love. And where there is love, there is God. So whenever you see love, you see God.” Whatever it is that binds us together, that invisible dust that draws us closer, that is the presence of God.
I’ve grown up in the Episcopal Church learning that the Bible is a collection of stories about relationships that are special, broken, reconciled, and transformed. For me, being a Christian is all about the state of my relationships, with God, with other people, with myself, and with the whole of creation.
People were drawn to Jesus because they sensed in him the undeniable presence of love, and therefore of God. Jesus embodied the unconditional love of God, and he lived that out in the ways he treated people, embracing those who had been broken and rejected. But people became jealous that Jesus was treating the lowly as if they mattered as much as the mighty, so they killed him.
The amazing thing that happened after Jesus’s death was that people said they still felt his presence. They told stories about how Jesus was alive to them–loving them more than ever before.
God’s unconditional love was incarnated in the living, breathing person of Jesus. Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God’s loved was powerfully unleashed into the world. God’s love is in us now, working to draw us closer, and empowering us to share that love in all our relationships.
God is love. And whenever you see love, or feel it, you are encountering the presence of God.
–The Rev. Mary Luck Stanley