October 25, 2020

On Resurrection and Eternal Life (7)

Christ Healing the Blind Man, Le Sueur

Note from CM: As a hospice chaplain, my work revolves around supporting the dying and their families. I officiate many funerals. I deal with questions about death and what happens after people die. I am asked regularly about mysteries beyond our human experience in this life.

Today, we come back to see more of what Gerhard Lohfink has to say in his excellent book, Is This All There Is?: On Resurrection and Eternal Life.

• • •

Here again the Christian message draws life from the incontrovertible basis of the Old Testament: everything is about this world and this creation. Redemption does not mean flight from the world and de-secularization; it is not a removal to a worldless beyond. It is healing and transformation of this present world, the leading of all creation to its goal.

Is This All There Is? (p. 127f)

When last we looked at Gerhard Lohfink’s study on resurrection and eternal life, we considered his thoughts about what the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) has to say on the subject.

He concluded that Israel’s “understanding of resurrection is that it is ‘firmly anchored in this world.’” This earthly focus kept them from adopting the other-worldly cultic death perspectives and practices of their neighbors in the Ancient Near East. However, in the development of Israel’s thought, as seen in the pages of the OT, there is evidence of a growing confidence that Creator of the world would care for his people even in death — the love and care of God “encompasses even the realm of death and the underworld.”

Lohfink tips his hand a bit when he calls the next section, “What Entered the World in Jesus.” Jesus’ ministry and miracles and especially his resurrection brought something new into the world. This, he will show, is the whole point of the resurrection. In continuity with Israel’s story and perspective, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead did not point to some otherworldly goal but to a transformation of present earthly reality.

He starts with Jesus’ teaching. Jesus announced the kingdom or rule of God, an event that is “coming” into the world through him. His preaching, prayers, and parables all teach about this. The Lord’s Prayer asks that God’s will be done on earth as in heaven. His teaching has a continual focus that is not on an afterlife, but on people preparing themselves here and now to welcome the transforming intervention of God in this world, an intervention that has already begun in Jesus.

For Jesus, it was all about the rule of the holy God here on this earth — a reign that, of course, is something completely different from human self-glorification. The reign of God has no other purpose than to lead creation freely into what God means it to be: a world of justice and peace — and all that not as an event that will only happen at the end of the world, but as an overturning of all circumstances, a revolution that began with Jesus, in the midst of Israel, and since then quietly and unstoppably changes everything. (p. 103)

Jesus also acted, with deeds that “mirrors the reign of God that is now coming.” His deeds of power transformed real people suffering real problems in this world, which led to many of them being marginalized in Israel’s society. As Lohfink notes, “in Israel’s understanding all illnesses, all suffering, and all individual crisis situations were already bound up with the sphere of death” (p. 106). As in the Psalms, when sick and oppressed people spoke of being captive to Sheol, the people Jesus touched were in death’s grip, and when Jesus healed them he was attacking the power of death and renewing life as the Creator God intended. When he raised people back to life from the dead, these signs were not of a different piece. Jesus’ entire ministry was about bringing life into this world of death.

This is what Jesus brought into the world: “…the reign of God, longed for and prayed for in Israel, is now present, and its intent is to change not only hearts and minds, but with them the real conditions in Israel — and through Israel, in the whole world” (p. 107)

Those real conditions = death. What the rule of God in Jesus brings = life. Real life.


  1. Robert F says

    Near the end of my fifth decade of life, I’ve come to the realization that, because of an ongoing and worsening problem with my left leg and foot, I will never again walk normally or without pain. The grief I feel at this loss, and the fear of how much worse the problem may get, are hard to cope with. My coping consists mostly of keeping myself in a state of denial, which gets harder and harder as the problem gets worse. Apart from resurrection, my loss is a permanent and irredeemable one; apart from renewal and recreation of my body, I cannot imagine eternal life that is not just endless prolonging of pain and disability.

    • Christiane says

      Hello Robert F.

      Have you explored all options such as joint replacement/ physical therapy/ hot tub exercises . . . . ? Is there a weight problem that could alleviate some of the distress on that limb? I don’t need a reply, but if you have not tried every avenue of hope, I would encourage it. I limped for three years before a knee replacement and I wondered why it was that I was so fearful that I let the pain go for all that time.

      I hope that there is something for you to turn to. You are too young (really!) for this to happen at your age. You ought to have some good years ahead that are pain free, if possible. You have my prayers for some good help to come. God Bless!

  2. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    He concluded that Israel’s “understanding of resurrection is that it is ‘firmly anchored in this world.’” This earthly focus kept them from adopting the other-worldly cultic death perspectives and practices of their neighbors in the Ancient Near East.

    Looks like Christians fixed that between then and now with their own “other-worldly cultic death perspective”.
    Anyone hear of “earthly focus” and “resurrection” any more?
    Or anything other than Fluffy Cloud Heaven?
    (This world is not my home… I’m just passin’ thru… It’s All Gonna Burn…)

    • Dana Ames says

      Having beheld the Resurrection of Christ,
      let us worship the Holy Lord Jesus, the only sinless one.
      We venerate Thy Cross, O Christ,
      and we praise and glorify Thy holy Resurrection,
      for Thou art are God and we know none other beside Thee.
      We call on Thy Name; come, all ye faithful,
      let us venerate Christ’s holy Resurrection!
      For behold, through the Cross joy has come into all the world –
      ever blessing the Lord, let us praise his Resurrection;
      for, enduring the Cross for us, he has destroyed Death by death.

      This is prayed after the reading of the Gospel in the Sunday Matins service, though not every parish has Sunday Matins. It is an expression of how Pascha (crucifixion + resurrection) means something Right Now – no fluffy cloud heaven, this – and as a statement in its placement in the service that This is what The Good News is. In Rachmaninoff’s “All Night Vigil” (“Voskresenie Tvoye”), it’s sung quite loudly, as a declaration of established fact – quite impressive. I pray this before I go to sleep at night – the best thought to hold in my mind as I’m drifting off, and liturgically it’s already “morning” anyway…

      In every Sunday Liturgy, we rotate weekly through 2 sets of 8 liturgical hymns, all about the Resurrection. Their placement is just after where the Liturgy actually begins historically, right after the priest enters the altar to the singing of “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.” The hymns announce why we Christians are gathered to worship in the first place. (The opening prayers and Psalms and Beatitudes in the Liturgy in its current form are a holdover from what was done very early in the Christian era, as the people gathered and awaited the arrival of the Bishop or priest who would serve the Liturgy.)

      [HUG, if there’s a Byzantine Catholic church near you, you can go and experience this 🙂 You can receive the Eucharist there. Just check in with the priest beforehand; he would want to know which parish you’re in, and also might want to know when was the last time you went to confession, and advise you to do that before you come. And be prepared to fast from midnight.]


  3. Rick Ro. says

    –> “Jesus’ entire ministry was about bringing life into this world of death.”

    I agree, with a qualifier. He also brings an acceptance of death into this world of death. Let’s face it, when he wrapped himself in flesh to go through the same crap we go through, including the trauma of an unjust trial, the pain of torture, and the ultimate darkness of his body dying (in a pretty hideous manner), that allows me to look upon my own death with a bit more acceptance. “God dove into our world and suffered, too” and “He did not stay above it all,” are two of my mantras.

  4. Iain Lovejoy says

    If I am understanding this correctly, the resurrection adds, then, to the thisworldliness of Israel’s understanding of God’s salvation, rather than replacing it: rather than our ultimate end and home being some ethereal afterlife, however pleasant, the promise is that death’s hold is not the last word and that God’s providence in this world extends even to the grave. God will undo all the works of death and keep us safe until he in the resurrection restores us, perfected, to this world when it, too, is perfected by his coming down to it and installing his kingdom here.

    • Well said, Iain.

    • Dana Ames says

      Yes, well said.

      “Jesus’ entire ministry was about bringing life into this world of death.” That sounds like a restatement of Fr Stephen’s “Jesus did not come to make bad people good, but to make dead people live.”


      • Rick Ro. says

        –> “Jesus did not come to make bad people good, but to make dead people live.”

        I’ve heard that quote and love it, but as I stated earlier, I’m now thinking there’s an addendum that’s something like:

        “Jesus did not come to make bad people good, but to make dead people live, and to let dying people know that it’s okay, he’s ‘Been there, done that’.”

        • Burro (Mule) says

          Jesus the Beloved has Himself been God the corpse (inanimate flesh) and God the spook (disincarnate intelligence). Where He has gone I should not fear to follow. Besides, it is merely temporary and soon to be swallowed up in a greater Unity.

  5. I *need* to read this book.

  6. Robert F says

    I belong to the earth
    but the earth does not
    belong to itself

  7. Christiane says

    “Hauerwas wants to remove bibles from the pews because he is worried that individualism—the conceit of self-sufficiency—has thoroughly corrupted American Christians’ ability to interpret Scripture.”

    I remember when our U.S. Catholic Bishops called B.S. on the Romney-Ryan Economic Plan during the 2012 elections because Paul Ryan had said he was inspired by ‘his Catholic values’ when, in fact, he had put more of his love for Ayn Rand into the Plan than anything remotely ‘Christian’.
    Actually, the Nuns on the Bus came after Ryan first, and their words and devotion to the poor shamed the bishops out of silence (yeah, nuns!) and THEN the Bishops kicked Ryan tail with these words:

    “Major reductions at this time of economic turmoil and rising poverty will hurt hungry, poor and vulnerable people in our nation and around the world … The bishops’ conference acknowledges the difficult challenges that Congress, the Administration and government at all levels face to match scarce resources with growing needs. A just spending bill cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor and vulnerable persons; it requires shared sacrifice by all. …
    With other Christian leaders, we urge the committee to draw a “circle of protection” around resources that serve those in greatest need and put their needs first even though they do not have powerful advocates or great influence.”

    I’m all for individualism and self-reliance, but when the common good demands we behave as human beings with souls and consciences, we do owe a Christian duty to come together to help those who would perish without the compassion of others.