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I’ve been thinking a great deal about death lately. Not only is it the week of Halloween, but I’ve also recently had more than a few friends suffer through major surgeries, vehicle collisions, and severe illness. And so maybe it’s because of these events and meditations that I’ve also been feeling especially grateful to have such a life- and living-centered faith. For although many focus on the torment and violent death of Christ, it is important to also constantly remind oneself of what it was he was dying for. To my mind, Christ was not simply a sacrifice, but a man who died for his dedication to the love, life, and eternity of the world. The legacy of Jesus then, for me, has always been a life-centered faith. A faith where the mysterious God empowers us to conquer death, where all things are interconnected and eternal rather than isolated, linear, and full of endings.
Despite this legacy, however, the Christian Church, like many religions, has left in its wake a tremendously bloody history thanks to the failings, fears, and prejudices of its practitioners over the centuries: persecution of countless men and women as witches, the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, and many other instances of war, terrorism, conquest, and “cleansing.”
As Halloween is nearly upon us, it strikes me as a strangely ideal time to pause and give a moment of remembrance to those who have suffered and to those who continue to suffer at the hands of people who claim to be acting in the name and service of God.
To aid you in this, I leave you with a prayer from Michel Quoist’s classic meditation, Prayers:
Grant me, Lord, to spread true love in the world.
Grant that by me and by your children it may penetrate a little
into all circles, all societies, all economic and political
systems, all laws, all contracts, all rulings;
Grant that it may penetrate into offices, factories, apartment
buildings, movie houses, dance halls;
Grant that it may penetrate the hearts of men and that I may
never forget that the battle for a better world is a battle of
love, in the service of love.
(Quoist, pg 103)
Photo by Jessica Sexton, OSP Youth Minister
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