What Will Happen When We Die?

Soon and very soon, maybe tomorrow or even today, at the twinkling of an eye, with the blowing a trumpet, like a thief in the night, Jesus will come again.  The moon will turn blood red.  Mountains will crumble. Two will be in the field and one will be whisked away and the other left.  Disembodied souls will rise from graves or from the flesh prisons they presently indwell and fly away into the sky.  The earth, sky, our mortal bodies, and all that is physical will burn up in the largest bonfire ever.  But there will be no more tears, no more pain, no more sorrow because there will be no more tear ducts, no more organs in which cancer can metastasize, and no more bodies.  Then somewhere beyond the clouds in a spiritual realm undiscoverable by science, our souls will gather around the great throne of God for a never-ending hymn-sing of praise to the one true King.

Well, maybe not.  Maybe this isn’t actually biblical.  Maybe this conglomerative sketch of the Hereafter is not accurate at all.

So argues J. Richard Middleton in his brand new book A New Heaven and A New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology.  Middleton dares us to find where the Bible argues that our future eternal home is up in heaven.  He asserts that the spiritual–physical dichotomy is more Platonic than biblical.  The earth is far more cherished by God than the popular, modern Christian view of Heaven would let on.

While this may sound like something a Jehovah’s Witness might lay on you as you awkwardly try to close the door of your house, actually Middleton’s assertion is nothing new in traditional Christianity.  N. T. Wright reintroduced it to Christendom a decade ago.  It was the clear belief of the Early Church before Augustine.  Many of the founding fathers of my own denomination – the churches of Christ – were ardent supporters of this view that Middleton calls “holistic eschatology” (see this series of posts from John Mark Hicks of Lipscomb University on this last point).

I intend to resurrect my blogging (briefly? for a time?) by documenting what I cull from Middleton’s insightful book in support of this view that I have come to believe is, in fact, very biblical.  I no longer long to “fly away” to that “far distant shore” in what is more an act of escape from my troubles than a longing for glory.  I no longer see this world as a discardable lay-over between the perfection of Eden and our final destination of Heaven.  I am far more interested now in the happenings of this globe because it would appear this place is more my home than I first realized.  I am not satisfied with a world plagued by racism, genocide, cancer, and starvation, but the answer is not to wait for the cosmic God-train to “back, back, and get its load.”  Maybe, like our Jewish friends are apt to say, we have the task to heal this world (tikkun olam) as our work here replants the very trees of Eden.

Most provocative is how Middleton starts his book.  Our views of what is to come at the “end of all things” (that is, eschatology) are not just speculative imaginings of little consequence on everyday life.

Eschatology is inevitably connected to ethics. . . . What we desire and anticipate as the culmination of salvation is what truly affects how we attempt to live in the present.  Ethics is lived eschatology (p.23-24).

It would seem what we have always thought may not be exactly right, and it would seem the truth really matters.