Resurrection. Life after death. Like so many other aspects of faith, there are lots of differing opinions on what happens to us after life on this earth is done. The Sadducees, for instance, like many people today, didn’t believe in any version of heaven, hell, or life after death. And some people think that though their body may die, their soul never dies but simply goes to heaven. Others believe that when you die, you are dead until the last day—the day of resurrection when all are raised. Still others believe that upon death, our essence rejoins the elemental cosmos in universality. Some believe in a place, while others believe in a state of being. We all think about what happens after we die, but we certainly don’t agree on it.
Sometimes our beliefs are based on hope, sometimes on some scriptural references, sometimes on logic or reason, sometimes even on experiences. But the bottom line is that we really don’t know. So we can look at passages like this one and go, “ok. so?”
But let’s not write this off just yet. There are a couple of things that we can make a difference in our lives here and now.
One is Jesus seems to believe that whatever happens after death, it will be different than what we know here and now. So the Sadducees question in that sense doesn’t matter, because he says there is no marriage after you die.
But the other thing that Jesus points out, and that everything turns on, is when he says, “Now [God] is God not of the dead, but of the living.”
If our faith is based primarily on what happens to us after we die, that’s a faith based on dying, not living. If it’s based on doing things, saying things, or believing things to make sure we “get to heaven” when we die, that takes priority away from what God is doing with the living here and now. If our faith and our theology fail to prioritize living people, real people, what use is it?
As believers in the God of the living, as followers of the risen Christ, we are by definition about those things that bring life. Our emphasis is on lifting up life, improving life, helping the living—because God is a God not of the dead, but of the living. This isn’t easy, and it is not simple When we try to take a very complicated issue like lifting up, improving life for very present people, and pretend it’s a simple black-and-white issue, we become like the Sadducees—justifying ourselves through self-righteousness.
Lifting up life is not easy, and it’s not simple. For example, when my daughter was in college, she worked for a short time for an organization called, “The Feminist Majority Foundation.” Part of her job included working at a booth on campus where she would hand out information about women’s issues to anyone interested. Part of that information included abortion—the legalities, the emotional affects, and where to find help and support and counseling. The policy of the Feminist Majority Foundation was that if a woman, particularly a woman living in poverty, finds herself in the heart-wrenching situation of needing to terminate a pregnancy, she should be able to do it with care, with safety, and with awareness. Emily agreed with that position, and was happy to provide that information.
One night, after she finished her shift and had packed up her material and closed her booth, she started to walk across campus to her dorm. A group of young men began shouting at her, calling her a baby-killer and yelling at her that she was evil. She ignored them and kept walking, so they began throwing rocks at her while angrily shouting and cursing at her.
All alone, and facing a group of very angry men, she was terrified. Her life was potentially in danger. Fortunately, by this time she was close enough to her dorm that she could run for the security door and get inside. Who knows what could have happened?
On that night, in that situation, who was about those things that bring life? One was coming from a place of compassion and a desire to lift up women in poverty who find themselves in an extremely difficult situation. The others were coming from a place of anger and violence and self-justification.
I wonder, on that night, who was taking a stand for life? Who was actually lifting up life, making life better for very present and real people?
God is the God not of the dead, but of the living. And as we trust in this God for life not only after we die, but life right here and now, we are called to lift up all those who are living, not just the ones we like. And that’s not always easy, and certainly not always simple. We share a common desire to follow the God of the living, but don’t always agree on what that looks like. Which is why, as a community, we ought to be listening to one another, sharing our insights together, and learning together.
Not just when it comes to life issues like abortion, but capital punishment, not to mention poverty, disease, hunger, education. All issues that have consequences of life and death. And on this Veterans Day weekend, we consider also the issue of war—certainly an issue with life and death consequences. Again, these aren’t easy, and not simple. So we are compelled to wrestle together with these life and death issues, and together seek the guidance and the forgiveness of the God of the living.
So what happens when we die? We still don’t know. But because God is the God of the living, the God who raised Christ to new life, we live here and now with that promise of new life. We live to lift up the lives of all those God loves. And ultimately, we simply have to trust in the words of Jesus today, that we will somehow be raised to new life where, as he says, “we cannot die, because [we] are like angels and are children of God, being children of resurrection.”
God is God not of the dead, but of the living. That will always include us.