Thinking Anew – Christ’s message of eternal life
“Death, like life, is a mystery. And in tomorrow’s Gospel we are told that God is the God of the living.” Photograph: iStock
In mid-October I attended the funeral Mass of a 93-year-old man in West Kerry. I managed to visit him in hospital in Tralee a few days before he died. It was an honour and privilege for me that he recognised me and indeed held my hand.
Returning to Dublin after the funeral Mass it was inevitable that I was thinking of life and death and the mystery of our lives. I find that cycling and walking let the imagination run riot; it’s a great time to argue and counter-argue, agree and disagree, and always with yourself.
And just as I was lifting my bicycle on to the train in Tralee railway station, I was thinking of the absurdity of death.
Some days earlier I had been talking to a friend. He believes that any thoughts of an afterlife are absurd as is the idea of God. But then, isn’t death absurd, but that certainly does not make it unreal?
In tomorrow’s Gospel (Luke 20: 27-38) some Sadducees – they were the leaders and wealthy people in society, and they did not believe in the resurrection – asked Jesus who would be teamed up with whom in the afterlife. And they got into all sorts of permutations and combinations. What happens if a man dies childless, and his brothers marry his wife, and on it goes? If she marries all seven brothers whose wife will she be at the resurrection? Of course, it was all nonsense.
Isn’t it a great example of how unwise it ever is to try to categorise or to define God and the afterlife in human terms?
The Sadducees were trying to trick Jesus. Jesus does not walk into the trap. “Now he is God, not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all men are in fact alive”, he replies. (Luke 20: 38)
There are those who believe in God and the afterlife. There are atheists and agnostics. And there are those who don’t ask the question.
The Christian faith takes its cue from the life of Christ and his message of eternal life. It is an extraordinary mystery. But our lives too are an extraordinary mystery. It’s when we experience and are confronted with our fragility, when we see first-hand the suffering of people, that we are prompted to ask and wonder what life is all about. Surely, there is more to us, more to our lives than the fragility, pain, the randomness of our daily experiences?
My job as a hospital chaplain gives me daily tiny insights into the mystery of living, suffering and dying. In mysterious ways the kindness, love and goodness that we see glimpses of here are surely made perfect in the time of resurrection?
The hint of a God, the thought of an afterlife might to many be absurd, but to those who believe and those who see more to it all than this, surely life takes on a new dimension?
Victor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, and an author and a psychiatrist by profession, wrote that without suffering and death, human life cannot be complete. Is it possible to go on and say that human life cannot be complete without belief in God and an afterlife? It is something that many people say. It is an intrinsic aspect to the Christian faith.
On the day that I wrote this column I asked an elderly priest if he believed in God and an afterlife. He replied: “I believe Jesus Christ is God. He promised us eternal life. It would be absurd for God to deceive us; it is against his nature. But to describe eternal life, what it’s like, is beyond us.”
Death, like life, is a mystery. And in tomorrow’s Gospel we are told that God is the God of the living.
It is interesting to note that in a time of so much unbelief, it is now customary for people to avoid using the “death” word and replace it with “passing”. Is it an anomaly, fashion or a statement of subliminal belief?
Last Saturday we celebrated All Souls Day. We recalled and prayed for those who have gone before us.
We prayed in thanksgiving for their lives. But we also prayed to them to help us on our journey to God.