Have you ever been asked a question where you are aware that someone is trying to catch you out? I suspect most of us have.
Another question: have you ever been in a situation where an individual, or group, have behaved in a very aggressive fashion when you suspect, or know, that they have no real stake in the issue?
This is what is happening in the Gospel account we have just heard. The Sadducees, unlike the Pharisees, as we have heard didn’t believe in eternal life. Yet, for some reason they try to catch Jesus out on the subject of eternal life. It’s a bit odd. It’s a bit like the New Age Atheists arguing with massive evangelical zeal against religion in general and, Christianity specifically. Why spend so much energy arguing against something you don’t believe in; what’s the point? It is at one level a little bit illogical. For me it leads to another question: What’s really going on?
I have a suspicion that when folk like the Sadducees and the New Atheists ask straw man type questions they in some way reveal tensions they have not really resolved within themselves.
The Sadducees seek to create a patently ridiculous notion of the after-life, one which will continue to be governed by human laws and institutions, the New Age Atheists create a notion of God I too don’t believe in and, engage with Scripture using a method shared with the worst of religious fundamentalists.
But, groups like the Sadducees and the New Age Atheists do in some ways provide a real gift to the Church and, believers. They invite us to respond and, clarify what we really believe. Its a bit like when teachers say ‘don’t be afraid to ask any question, however silly.’ The sub text to this, of course, is ‘if you keep your mouth shut folk might think you don’t really get it, or you could open your mouth and remove all doubt.’
So, what do I believe about death? And, this is a pertinent question to ask at this time in the Church’s year.
Well as I say at most funerals I do believe that the immortal soul lives on, and that it lives on in two ways:
First, in the memory. We all leave an indelible footprint. This is good news for in itself it affirms that our lives have real meaning. Most of us leave a predominately positive footprint, sadly a few don’t. One of the things we can do is decide what sort of footprint we would like to create and live our lives accordingly. The best footprint to leave is of course a Christ like one.
Secondly, I do believe in the ongoing life of the immortal soul. I can’t explain in terms of the natural sciences how, but I can say that Scripture and, the person of Jesus Christ point towards life beyond death. I don’t believe that life beyond death is just a mere wish, or psychological crutch. I have faith, and hope, that God’s purposes are eternal and we are all part of that eternal plan. And, that’s enough for me. I don’t feel the need to know more.
I supposed if really pushed I would give the answer that C.S. Lewis gave to the question of immortality. He suggested that there are only really two types of Spirit: those who ultimately gaze God lovingly in the eye and say with utter conviction ‘thy will be done,’ and those who God looks in the eye and says, again with utter conviction,’ ‘thy will be done.’
To live in heaven with God is to rest in His eternal purposes. Amen.
Rev. Andrew Lightbown