Chapter 5: Heaven and Hell
Man dies and his death is both the end of his life, biologically speaking, and the qualifying characteristic of his life, marking him out as mortal, as aware of mortality, as responsible in that mortal existence, an existence during which he is intended to actualize himself as a lover, becoming what he is made and meant to be. He is under appraisal, both by himself and his fellows and by the God who has provided for him his ‘initial aim’ and who will either receive the good which his becoming has achieved or find necessary the rejection of that which does not contribute to the creative advance at which God Himself aims.
And each man, in every age and at every time, like the whole race of men, and indeed like the whole creation, is faced with two possible ‘destinies’, one or other of which will turn out to have been his, in terms of the direction he has taken in his mortal existence. Nor am I speaking of ‘destiny’ here in a merely futuristic sense, as if it were coming after a long time or at ‘the end of the days’. It is in the now that these destinies are made present as possibilities. For just as the myth of the creation of the world is significant in its existential confrontation of man with his dependence and with the equal dependence of the world, so the talk about the last things is essentially a matter of existential import, if I may be permitted that odd combination of words.
The possibilities which are presented are blessedness which comes from self-fulfillment and the acceptance by God of that self-fulfillment -- all of this, of course, in relationship with others and not in any presumed human isolation of self hood -- or the disintegration or failure which comes from self-destruction or rejection by God because there is nothing to be received by God in His consequent nature for the furthering of His purpose of good in the course of the process of creative advance. If ever this double-presentation of possibilities has been portrayed in literature, it is to be found in Dostoevski’s Brothers Karamazov. In that novel, the great Russian writer shows Ivan, Aloysha, and Dmitri as caught in this dilemma of choice; and they are appraised, in their personal quality, as blessed or damned, as we might put it, not by the arbitrary fiat of a deus ex machina, but by the ineluctable working out of what they have made of themselves, what they have become, as this is evaluated in terms of what in an earlier chapter we called whatever ultimately determines and assesses true values in the scheme of things.
Thus for each of us, the exacting and inescapable question, which must be faced and answered, is the question of our total mortal life as we are now living it, a question which arises from our mortality with the responsibility which that entails, which puts itself to us in the form of our measuring up to the possibility of becoming authentically ourselves, and which issues in our realization (not so much in thought as in deeply felt experience as existing men) of blessedness, as we know ourselves becoming what we truly are, or in destruction or damnation, as we know ourselves both frustrated men and failures in our human fulfillment. Heidegger in his own way has made this point about men -- not about men in the ‘mass’ or ‘lost in the crowd’, but about each and every man -- although he has made it in his own way. So also have others, many others. They have seen that each of us is a mortal project, so to say, responsible for our actions and for the character which both reflects them and which they reflect, and hence either ‘blessed’ or ‘damned’.
The Christian faith speaks to men who are in this situation. When it is true to itself it does not gloss over the facts, nor does it sentimentalize them. Above all it does not deny them. On the contrary, it is exactly at this point -- in the context of such facts as we have been outlining and with full awareness of the concern, the uncertainty, and even the despair which can come to every man as he looks at himself with unblinking eyes and in utter honesty -- that the Christian gospel has its special relevance and the faith which it awakens has its special significance. In the sequel we shall say more about this. At the moment it will be useful to speak of the presuppositions with which that faith starts in giving its account of men in such a situation.
I wish to notice three of these presuppositions, although I am aware of the fact that they are not exhaustive. The three which we shall consider are: (a) that man is indeed a sinner but that he is also capable of ‘redemption’ and hence of ‘glory’; (b) that history is not a senseless enterprise -- someone has described it as ‘meaningless meandering’ -- but a purposeful movement; and (c) that the natural world, in which history and each human life in community with other human lives have their setting, is not evil but good and also shares in ‘redemption’.
As to our first presupposition, or (a), the truth of man’s sin is surely given in our experience. Only a little observation and a little introspection are sufficient to bring us to see this. The associated traditional doctrines of ‘the Fall’ and ‘Original Sin’, with all their historical absurdity and however much we may wish to put in their place some better way of stating what they affirm, tell the truth about man. He is indeed a sinner, fallen from ‘grace’; he is not ‘able of himself to help himself’. This is not a statement of ‘total depravity’, at least as that idea has been commonly interpreted; what is at issue is the patent reality in every man’s experience of something very seriously wrong with him. In the sort of language we have used in these pages, man knows that he should be on the road to love, but he finds himself frustrated on that road; while at the same time he knows very well (once he is honest with himself) that he has so decided, often against his better judgement and in contradiction to his deep desires and purpose, to reject the opportunities to love and to receive love, that he is a failure. Oddly enough, as it may seem, it is precisely those who to others appear most adequately to have realized in their lives (to have made actual) their possibility of love -- it is precisely those who are most conscious of themselves as failures.
The truth about man is that while he is indeed created ‘in the image of God’, he is in a state of spiritual insufficiency so pervasive and so disturbing that he cannot live authentically as a man, much less as a ‘son of God’. In the divine intention, he was made for the fulfillment of himself, with others, in free and open relationship to his Creator. In actual fact, he lacks that capacity for communion with God and his own fulfillment -- which are the same thing, seen from different angles -- and in his concrete humanity he is frustrated and, what is more important, he is responsibly aware of having made himself, by accumulated decisions, incapable of right relationships with his brethren. In this way he has succeeded in putting himself in the position where he is privatus boni, ‘deprived of good’, and vulneratus in naturalibus ‘wounded in his natural human existence’. Of course he is never completely ‘deprived’ of the good which is God, nor is he destroyed in the ‘wounding’ of his human existence. But his situation is such that he feels this most intensely; and in consequence he finds himself possessed by a tendency which makes him rest content (save in moments of deep awareness) with the lesser ‘goods’, with the immediately obtainable goods, a tendency which perverts his best instincts, and which prevents him seeing things ‘steadily and whole’.
But this is only one side of the Christian picture of man. As someone has put it, if the first volume of a study of man’s existence is about his ‘fall’ the second volume is about his ‘redemption’. Indeed the whole point of Christian faith is here, so far as human experience is concerned. Man can be redeemed; or rather, man has been redeemed. Man’s possibilities are tremendous. He was indeed created ‘in the image of God’; that image has been damaged but it has not been destroyed. When St. Irenaeus wrote about this he took the text from Genesis: man as created ‘in the image and likeness of God’. He distinguished, in bad exegesis, between ‘image’ and ‘likeness’. The Reformers corrected the exegesis but they did not see that despite his exegetical mistake St. Irenaeus had hold of a profound truth. For he had said that the ‘image’ is not lost, but the ‘likeness’ is. In traditional terms of Christian theology, what he was asserting was that man still has the capacity, but he lacks the power, to be ‘righteous’ -- that is, to be authentic. To say that the capacity is lost would be to denigrate God’s creation of man as good.
Thus when we have admitted all that we must admit concerning man’s helplessness in his concrete situation, we must go on to affirm all that we can affirm concerning man’s possibility of perfection -- which means, in this context, his potentiality for becoming completely (‘perfectly’ or in full actualization) the man who loves. Human mortality shows plainly enough that this ‘perfection’ is not achieved in the span of our mortal life and under our present circumstances; that is true enough. But it remains as the possibility; what is more, Christian faith declares that God already accepts those who acknowledge their failure and commit themselves utterly to Him -- so that they are already, as we might put it in mythological language, ‘in heaven’ or in other words discover themselves to be ‘blessed’. Hence no Christian can despair of any man, even of himself; for each man is ‘a sinner for whom Christ died’, each man is loved by God, each man can direct his life in response to that love made manifest in diverse ways but ‘re-presented’ (in Schubert Ogden’s word) in Jesus Christ. Therefore each man can ‘work out his salvation in fear and trembling, for it is God that worketh in him both to will and to do his good pleasure’.
A silly optimism about man, such as we knew ‘between the wars’ and in the ‘golden days’ of the liberal era, is not Christian. Our contemporary theologians often appear to wish to revive that optimism, perhaps in violent reaction from the other extreme which appeared between the wars in certain of the dialectical or ‘neo-orthodox’ theologies. But they are lacking in realism. On the other hand, the total pessimism of much traditional Reformed theology, whether Calvinist or Lutheran, and its more recent revival, as well as the perverse denigration of humanity not stated but implied in Catholic penitential theology with its fear of human impulses and its dread of sexuality, is not Christian either. I think that one reason for this, on both sides, is that a look at man, as he is, may give us too much confidence when we are superficial in our looking or too much despair when we only regard man’s condition as ‘cabin’d, cribb’d, confined’ and as failing so terribly in its accomplishment. If by ‘heaven’ we mean the possibility of blessedness, whatever else we may find it necessary to say on the matter, it might be asserted that if we do not believe in the possibility of heaven, we shall not believe in the possibility of good for man. But more about this will be suggested at a later point.
Our second presupposition, or (b), was that history is a purposeful movement. The origin of that presupposition is deep in the Jewish conviction that ‘God is working his purpose out’, despite everything that appears to deny or impede that activity. Once again, in reaction from a notion of ‘progress’ which was a secular substitute for this Christian conviction when Christian faith had become an absurdity to so many, recent theologians have ‘given up’ this belief to all intents and purposes. Not all of them, but some of them, have transferred ‘the divine far-off event’ to some realm outside history altogether. They, more than any other thinkers perhaps, have indeed ‘emptied out the baby with the bath-water’, to return to the image we have used earlier. But it ought to be clear that ‘the increasing purpose’ is neither automatic progress without relapse or defection, nor ‘heaven’ in the sense of a completely non-historical state. ‘The hope of heaven’, as I shall argue, need not mean this at all; I should say, ought not to mean this. Too often it is taken to do so. But the purposeful movement in history signifies that every moment counts, every moment makes its contribution of the divine life, and every moment is related to God who is intimately concerned with all the variety and content of history. Furthermore, it signifies that something is being accomplished in history, even if it is not always obvious to us.
Mother Julian of Norwich relates that in a ‘shewing’ she saw the entire creation as ‘a little hazel-nut’. She asked how it could continue, since it was so tiny, so insignificant, in relation to the vastness of God. The answer came that it continued ‘because God made it, because God loves it, because God keeps it’. In respect to history, then, we may say that God sustains its every event and is the chief (not only) causative principle behind all causation. God loves His world and everything in it; He is there, in the world, with cherishing care ‘tending it’ and bringing it on towards final good, while at the same time He redeems it from triviality and frustration. The movement of history is part of that care. Finally, God keeps His world -- there is His purpose which sustains it and moves through it, towards ‘the manifestation of the sons of God’. Whatever may be the remoter intention of God in the awe-inspiring stretch of space and time, it is all of a piece with what He is doing in the historical experience of men -- in a way, that is what the homo-ousion of the Nicene Creed affirms. In the historical realm, as in the natural order (if the two may properly be distinguished in this way), God’s activity is two-fold: first, to secure from each moment and each event the good which may be actualized there; and second, to work towards such a ‘completion’ of the process of creative advance that He may say of it, with a joy that includes but transcends all suffering, that it is good.
Thus the historical realm is characterized by a purpose which is nothing other than God’s incredibly cherishing love, shared with His creatures and moving through their free decisions towards a great end. And when things go wrong, as they do, God is like the sculptor who can turn an artisan’s mistaken and distorting chiseling into a lovely figure. His purpose can make history meaningful even when man has done his utmost to destroy its meaning.
The third presupposition, or (c), insists that the natural world is good and that it shares in redemption. Like the second presupposition, this has its origin in the Jewish insistence, found so clearly throughout most of the Old Testament, on a positive understanding of the creation. As against all Manichean or dualistic philosophies, as also against all those religions which offer escape from the world into an ethereal realm of pure spirit, Christianity has denied that the world of things is evil. It is good, because God created it; it is good, because He loves it; it is good, because He is in it and works through it -- to repeat Mother Julian’s ‘shewing’. Nature is an instrument for the divine purpose, not something alien to that purpose and hence to be rejected or denied.
On this matter the theology of the Eastern Orthodox Church has much to teach the rest of us. For that theology, the whole cosmos is to be redeemed’; everything in it, from the very dirt under our feet to the loveliest configurations and harmonies, has its place in that redemption. There is no reason to fear or hate ‘dirt’, to sniff at ‘matter’ or material things. These may be misused and they can be abused; but in themselves ‘dirt’ and ‘matter’ and the whole world of nature, to which we as men in our history are organic, are ‘good stuff’ and must not be despised nor rejected.
It is interesting in this connection to compare the two greatest English poets of our time. T. S. Eliot seems never to have overcome his dislike of the material world -- he was not like Aldous Huxley, who dismissed it all as illusory, but he hardly appears to have included it in his great vision. On the other hand, W. H. Auden, in his Christmas Oratorio, writes superbly and lovingly of the possibilities of the natural world and speaks tenderly of man as there. The conclusion of that work, with its use of a Whiteheadian theme, is magnificent witness to what I am urging here. Auden writes: ‘At your marriage/All its occasions shall dance for joy.’ It is the marriage of man with God, with his fellowmen, and with the world itself that he has in mind.
We cannot picture or describe or even imagine the way in which the whole creation serves as ‘the body of God’. But to be afraid of that phrase is to be afraid of the deepest intention in what Christian faith has to say about creation and about redemption. The cosmos, as God receives it and uses it, is what the world means to God, in terms of what has been done in it and with it, in terms too of the response made in and by the cosmos. And although what I have been urging is based upon Christian faith, as I anyway understand it, and is immediately related to human experience (for it is from that experience, in its context, that anything we say must begin), the corollary is that the cosmos has value in itself, not just as a stage of man’s existence and for man’s redemptive possibility. Such a cosmic setting for, involvement in, and relationship to what we know by faith about ourselves gives the Christian faith a sweep and range that saves it from the charge of parochialism or mere anthropocentrism. As I have said in the second chapter, this is one of the ways in which a process conceptuality seems to me to be of enormous use in Christian thinking.
I hope that this long discussion of presuppositions has not seemed an unnecessary intrusion into the subject of this book. I do not think it is an intrusion, since it has provided for us some ground on which to stand as we return to the particular topic, heaven and hell, with which we are immediately concerned.
Some years ago a novel appeared with the title All This and Heaven Too. I have completely forgotten the novel but the title has stuck in my mind. When one hears a discussion of Christian faith as promising abundant life, giving meaning to present-day existence, and substituting for broken personality the authenticity of an integrated and forgiven, accepted and accepting personality, one thinks of that title. Can it be, one wonders, that the ‘heaven too’ has significance for us today? I think that it does have such significance. And perhaps I can get at what I mean by recalling a popular saying of some years ago. When young people who wished to convey the idea that something was superlatively good, splendid, and real (‘That’s for real’, they also said -- and it is a significant phrase), they would often use these words: ‘It’s out of this world’.
Now that might have meant that this good, splendid, and real experience or thing was quite literally ‘out of’ the concrete world and in a completely spiritual realm which made that world irrelevant and ridiculous. But such was not the intention with which the phrase was used by young people. What they intended by it was something like this: Here is an experience in which we have found a wonder and glory, a beauty and splendor, such that it seems to be more than, although most certainly not opposed to and in flight from, the day-by-day experiences which are so familiar. I do not wish to exaggerate, but it might be suggested that in the famous line, ‘bright shoots of everlastingness’, something of the same sort is being said. There is a suffusion of ordinary experience with a glory that is very much present, very much here and now, yet unexhausted by the here and now and in a strange fashion evocative of a certain reverence. I am convinced that this ‘more’ in man’s mortal existence is known to people of every type and under every condition, although they do not quite know how to express it. At any rate, it is plainly the case that they do not experience it or express it, for the most part, in specifically ‘religious’ terms.
It is easy enough to interpret what I have been describing in ‘other-worldly’ fashion. It is easy to speak of it as if it had to do with ‘pie-in-the-sky-when-you-die’. A good deal of Christianity has been vitiated by this very unbiblical way of interpreting human life; as one of the recent popes said, ‘true life’ or ‘real life’ is not here but ‘beyond death’. I am paraphrasing here some words of Pope Leo XIII in his very this-worldly encyclical about social justice, De Rerum Novarum; in his writing about that demand and necessity for social justice he could not emancipate himself from this false ‘otherworldliness’. Nor is he alone in this, for it has been very much a part of traditional Christianity as commonly taught, preached, and understood. Yet it constitutes what Professor Bethune-Baker once described as the greatest ‘apostasy’ in Christian thought, for it made it possible to think that we could put off to ‘another world’ what it was our duty to do in this one. But if it is easy to fall into that sort of escapist ‘other-worldliness’, it is also easy to exhaust the significance of the experience to which I refer by entirely ‘humanizing’ or ‘mundanizing’ (if I may coin the word) what it delivers to us. Above all, it is possible to exhaust what the gospel has to say by talking about and working for the immediacies, assuming that there is in that gospel nothing more than an imperative for better relations among men, classes, races, and nations, with the building in the not too distant future of a society in which opportunity of fulfillment will be guaranteed to everybody.
I do not wish for a moment to decry the stress on the ‘secular’ import of the gospel nor to seem ungrateful for all that men like Harvey Cox and Gibson Winter, to name but two, have been teaching us. Nor do I wish to reject the truth of Bonhoeffer’s insight about the gospel being concerned with life, right here and right now, rather than with some ‘future life’ which is promised to those who are ‘saved’. To put it vulgarly, I am all for this recognition of the ‘secular’ import of the gospel in its impact on a society that is becoming more and more secularized’. And I agree that this relative autonomy of the ‘secular’ is a consequence of the whole development of the Jewish-Christian understanding of God and of history and of the world. At the same time, I believe that precisely in the ‘secular’ as we live it in a ‘secularized’ society, there is something ‘heavenly’ -- if I may phrase it so. But I must explain what I am trying to say, lest I be completely misunderstood and my meaning misinterpreted. Perhaps I can best do this by commenting on a passage from one of St. Augustine’s sermons (Sermon 256, section 3). He used these words:
‘O the happy alleluias there . . . There, praise to God; and here, praise to God. But here, by those who are filled with anxious care; there, by those who are freed from care. Here, by those whose lot is to die; there, by those who live eternally. Here, on the way; there, in our fatherland. Now, therefore, my brethren, let us sing -- not for our delight as we rest, but to cheer us on in our labor. As wayfarers are accustomed to sing, so let us sing and let us keep on marching. For if you are going forward, you are indeed marching; and to go on marching is a good thing, if we go on in true faith and in right living. So, brethren, sing, and march on.’
That is a beautiful passage, as we shall all agree. But what is wrong with it? I should say that what is wrong with it is that it seems to urge that the ‘there’ is after this existence and only so. But we need not to read it in just that way, although doubtless that was the way St. Augustine intended it. We can just as well read it as speaking of the double nature of human experience as men exist in ‘true faith’ and as they seek after ‘right living’. In the very here of our existence there may be the there of blessedness; and if perhaps something is added about what happens after that, it is no contradiction of what happens now, here, in this present moment of our Christian belonging. There is more in man and in man’s experience, there is more in history, and there is more in the natural order than meets the eye. There is ‘the whole creation groaning and travailing in pain’, as it is being ‘delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God’. All things, as St. Paul says in another place, are somehow of God, for God, to God, ‘whether they be things in earth or things in heaven’; and the ‘heaven’ need not be seen as a ‘beyond’ which is not also in the world in its travail, moving as it is in creative advance under and in God who is love.
Exegetes may say that St. Paul did not ‘mean’ what I have been saying, any more than St. Augustine meant what I have said is a possible way of using his words. Very well, I admit this. But just here I recall to you what I have urged earlier about the need for ‘in-mythologizing’, in the attempt to make clear to ourselves, what the case actually is as we can see it, if men like that, in their time, under their conditions, with their patterns of thought, spoke as they did. At the very least, I should claim, what I have been saying is a possible interpretation, for ourselves, of what they were driving at in their own way and in their own terms. So far as I can see, this is the only way in which we can be delivered from a literalism of the text which so often prevents us grasping what might be styled ‘the deep intentionality’ which is there. What is at stake, in my own conviction, is the seeing that it is not so much beyond, as it is in and through, ‘the flaming ramparts of space and time’ that redemption, re-integration, and the fulfillment of the divine purpose of love takes place. It is in this way that I should wish to understand the point of that eschatological motif which is so much a part of the biblical picture.
Christian faith affirms that man’s action and character in this world have a determining quality in respect to himself, history, the world, and God -- or so I am convinced. This confronts us again with those two ‘destinies’, those two ‘ultimate possibilities’, for man.
The first possibility which we shall consider is that he shall so terribly and persistently fail, in his ignorance and impotence and in his own decisions, that he must suffer a continuing rejection. That is hell; by definition, it is the absence of God. Hell is always a real and live possibility, although I shall wish to qualify this later and to say something on behalf of ‘universalism’. None of the Church’s theologies, however it may have been with this or that particular Christian writer, has consigned any single person to that fate. But the possibility of willful alienation from God, and persistence in that alienation by free decision, is there. And since God cannot, by His own nature, coerce any man, but must win that man by His love, there is always the possibility that the offer of acceptance may be declined. Notice that I have said, throughout, ‘the possibility’.
The other possibility is enjoyment of God, in which God accepts and receives into Himself the man who, in his ignorance and impotence and by his free decisions, has yet been possessed of the kind of ‘becoming’ which makes him thus acceptable and able to be received by God. Everything that was said in the last chapter is relevant here, in respect to these two possibilities or possible destinies. We are not talking about some state ‘after this life’; we are talking about the negative and positive prehensions by God of what is going on in this existence. That granted, the traditional scheme was right in speaking of ‘heaven’ as it did, with the ‘beatific vision’ and the bliss or happiness which is granted through that vision. Furthermore, popular hymnody was right, however unfortunate its images, in picturing this in terms of full satisfaction; it took the best moments of contemporary experience and used them in an eminent fashion to describe what this would mean. Homely fields in Green Pastures, the ‘heavenly city’, ‘being with those I love’, ‘gardens and stately walks’ in the Elizabethan lyric -- all these were symbolic and suggestive of fulfillment. ‘When I wake up after his likeness, I shall be satisfied’, says the Psalmist. Such pictures need be misleading only if they are taken to be purely futuristic in reference, as if what was meant by ‘heaven’ was only compensation for the pains of earth. But we have already rejected any such way of understanding the deepest intention here.
The assertion of hell and heaven in the out-worn scheme of the last things confronted men with these two destinies or possibilities. But what about that other, found in Orthodox and Catholic theologies -- ‘the intermediate state’? I believe that this too says something important and meaningful. I should put it in this fashion. If any occasion or ‘entity’ is accepted by God, for His own enrichment and for His use in the development of further good in the process, it is accepted with and in its obvious imperfections and its partial but real failures. It requires ‘purification’; which is to say, it requires the negation of those elements or aspects or factors which are not acceptable and which would not enrich God nor provide material for His employment in the creative advance towards further and fuller good. To say it figuratively, those who might be prehended in an entirely negative way are those who have in them nothing -- but are there any such? -- which is enriching and useful. Those who are acceptable, precisely because there is a good which is enriching and useful, are not however perfectly ‘good’, as they themselves would willingly and honestly admit in the light of the appraisal with which our last chapter was concerned. Yet they can be accepted and received, they can be enriching for God Himself, and they can be employed in His purpose -- but only if and when, in a phrase of Rupert Brooke’s (in a different context but not entirely unrelated), ‘all evil’ is ‘done away’. That ‘evil’ is negatively prehended; but the occasion as it is constituted, because it has such ‘good’ in it, is positively prehended. Nor do I think that such an interpretation is fanciful; indeed, I believe that it is precisely in this manner that the creative advance does go on, under God and with God participant in it, with God Himself ‘in process’ (if I may again use here the title of a book of my own which sought to say this in a relatively popular manner).
The very natural and very human desire to ‘pray for the departed’ might also be fitted into this pattern. Such prayers need to be cleansed from the medieval superstitions about them, to be sure. But if they are genuinely ‘remembrance before God’ of those whom we have loved, they are by way of adding our strong desire for such use of accomplished good as may be possible by the great cosmic Desire-for-Good which is God Himself, for such reception to God’s enrichment, and for the ‘communion’ of those who have prayed with that same God, so that they too may have their share in that movement of love which is what God is up to in His world.
Finally, we must speak of the imagery of the ‘resurrection’ and of the ‘consummation’. This rich imagery, found especially in I Corinthians 15, cannot readily be transposed into the language of prose, yet if it is taken literally it seems to most of us impossible and absurd. Traditional theologians attempted to put what the images portrayed into a system of concepts that hardly fit together and that for us today are as absurd as the literal pictorial presentation. Yet something is being said here, something which is integral to the Christian faith.
I suggest that the important thing that is being said is that the love which God manifested in the life, death, and victory of Jesus Christ is indefeasible. What is even more important, in the way in which the picture is presented to us, is that this love is indeed victorious -- the story of Christ, we may recall White-head’s saying, is told ‘with the authority of supreme victory’. Love, ‘the love of God which was in Christ Jesus our Lord’, reigns -- but reigns as love can only reign, not in the grandeur of some oriental Sultan’s court nor with the coercive omnipotence of a dictator, nor as a ‘ruthless moralist’ who imposes his righteous will, but in the sheer fact of loving faithfully and unceasingly, through all anguish that His creatures know and that He shares. The ‘joy of heaven’ incorporates and transmutes but it does not deny that anguish.
Second, I suggest that the talk about ‘resurrection of the body’ is an assertion that the totality of the material world and of human history, as well as of every man in that history who, with his brethren, has achieved good in his existence in the world, is usable by God who through it has been enriched in His own experience without changing in His supremely worshipful deity -- the God unsurpassable by anything not Himself, but open to enrichment in being what He is and in terms of what He does.
Thirdly, I suggest that the ‘body’ which is ‘raised’ is Christ’s body. I do not mean here the chemicals, the biology, of the flesh which walked in Palestine two thousand years ago. I do mean the wholeness of that which Christ was, taken into, received by, enriching to, and usable for, ‘the glory of God the Father’. Those who have shared in the life of Christ as the diffusion of His love in the world are by that very fact ‘members incorporate in his mystical body’, as the Prayer Book phrases it. Which is to say, they live in his love and they are a part of his life. The resurrection is for them a sharing in Christ’s being taken into, received by, enriching to, and usable for God the Father. Thus the resurrection is not something that will take place in the distant future, when the ‘scroll’ is opened and a grand assize held. It is a present reality in the faith of the Christian. The ‘Christian hope’, grounded in the Christian faith, is a present experience; indeed, that hope, like the love which is participant in Christ, is in that faith. The living in Christ -- by which I mean, as I have indicated, living ‘in love’ as a human possibility which has been ‘re-presented’ for us in the Man Jesus -- as Christ lives in those who respond and hence know what love is: this is, at this very moment, ‘our hope of glory’.
What this comes to in practical experience needs to be said, as we close this chapter. It means courageous trust in the God who ‘raised Jesus from the dead’ and has given us confidence and hope. It means profound concern for and dedicated action in the world, yet with a certain ‘detachment’ which gives us perspective on what we undertake. It means the adoration of God as our ‘refuge and strength’, with the implementation of that adoration in daily experience, so that the faithful man becomes ‘an other Christ’ in this mortal existence, a personal channel through whom the ‘Love that moves the sun and the other stars’ is an almost tangible reality in the affairs of life. It means a life which, in New Testament idiom, is ‘in the heavenly places’ even while it is lived here; for belief, worship, and action are seen as worthwhile, since they can never ultimately be frustrated or useless -- God receives them, enjoys them, employs them, to ‘his greater glory’, which is nothing other than His continuing loving action in the advance of the creative process towards the good. He is indeed the supreme affect, as well as the giver of all initiating aims.