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July 25, 2012

Excerpt from the writings of Bishop John Shelby Spong.   See Resurrection, Myth or Reality?  (1994),  and  Eternal Life: A New Vision, (2009).

I discover at the heart of our humanity something that is not bound by our humanity or terminated by death. I find it in the human capacity to embrace both transcendence and timelessness, to share if you will in those qualities that relate us to the eternity of God. My problem is not a lack of belief, but a lack of words through which to state that belief. It is much easier to state what I do not believe about life after death. I do not believe in a behavior-controlling system of reward and punishment connected with an after life. I see that as little more that an attempt to create fairness in an unfair world. I have no desire to continue a self perpetuating hoax derived from our self-centered survival-oriented humanity. I also do not believe in life after death just because I have some sense that this life is incomplete without it. If this life is all the life I have, I am quite content. I have lived it long and I hope well. I can, therefore, live without a belief in life after death. Yet I still affirm quite strongly that self-conscious human life has become something more that molecules formed by chance and born only to eat, grow, mate, reproduce, and then die with no meaning beyond that. I believe we were made for something more.

The inability to find words big enough to convey this meaning still eludes me. I struggle to make sense of those experiences that I do not believe are delusional. I have had transcendent moments in which time seems to stand still and eternity is engaged. The theologian Paul Tillich alluded to such things, I believe, when he coined the phrase, “The Eternal Now.” Yet I have only human language, bound as it is by both time and space, in which to make sense out of that experience. I do not know what the time-bound word “after” means when we say “life after death.” I do not know what words like “eternal” and “everlasting” mean, for all of those are time words that make no sense beyond this life. Space words like “heaven” and “hell” also lose their meaning in every effort to speak of that which is not bound by space. There are those who dismiss this problem as nothing more than a word game based on wishful thinking. That is not a sufficient explanation for me.

When life is lived deeply enough, I believe that eternity is experienced and when transcendence is engaged at the heart of life, that for which we have coined the phrase “God” becomes real. Can human beings experience eternity, but not be able to describe it? Can we explore love so deeply that all boundaries fade and transformation occurs? I think we can, and I do not think these things are either delusional or wish fulfillment.


From → Beliefs

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