Mercy has a new curiosity surrounding death. She has brought it up more frequently lately, and I have found myself talking to her about death and resurrection and heaven. I just read an interesting interview with N.T. Wright (and have been following this same discussion on Scot McKnight’s blog as he is currently reviewing Wright’s book, Surprised by Hope) where he shares a bit about Christian beliefs surrounding heaven.
In discussing the sources of our misconceptions about heaven in the interview, Wright says this:
It has, originally, to do with the translation of Jewish ideas into Greek. The New Testament is deeply, deeply Jewish, and the Jews had for some time been intuiting a final, physical resurrection. They believed that the world of space and time and matter is messed up, but remains basically good, and God will eventually sort it out and put it right again. Belief in that goodness is absolutely essential to Christianity, both theologically and morally. But Greek-speaking Christians influenced by Plato saw our cosmos as shabby and misshapen and full of lies, and the idea was not to make it right, but to escape it and leave behind our material bodies. The church at its best has always come back toward the Hebrew view, but there have been times when the Greek view was very influential.
And in discussing why our beliefs about this matter now, he states:
If people think “my physical body doesn’t matter very much,” then who cares what I do with it? And if people think that our world, our cosmos, doesn’t matter much, who cares what we do with that? Much of “traditional” Christianity gives the impression that God has these rather arbitrary rules about how you have to behave, and if you disobey them you go to hell, rather than to heaven. What the New Testament really says is God wants you to be a renewed human being helping him to renew his creation, and his resurrection was the opening bell. And when he returns to fulfil the plan, you won’t be going up there to him, he’ll be coming down here.
I realized that I have defaulted to the more “mythical” way of talking about these things with my daughter, though perhaps that is not all bad for now. At least she no longer thinks that when people die they go to be with our good friend, Kevin (and why does that make Mommy so sad?), which is progress. But I also realized in general how muddled and undeveloped our “life-after-death” theology can really be. Regardless, I’m pretty sure I want to get my hands on Wright’s book.