Sunday, June 7, 2009

Some heavy duty theology

19If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.

 20But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.

 21For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.

 22For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.

 23But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming.

 24Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.

 25For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.

 26The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.

- 1 Corinthians 15:19-26 (KJV)

It begins (v.19) with what's very obvious, in looking around the world we live in.  Of course we're fools if judging by the world's standards.  Each person for themself, follow your bliss, the pursuit of happiness, whatever. . . maybe that system works really well for some people, in some places and fortuitous time.  For others, it's a rabbit trail.

Then a pretty straight-forward, on the surface, description of the order of resurrection (v. 20-23), but that's pretty weird too.  I mean, who can really imagine what that is like? That world, redeemed, those eternal bodies, who can really inhabit that belief?  We've had some talk at church lately about the inadequacy of English to express the fullest translation of what we often call "belief."  The word we translate, in other languages, could more accurately be called "trust."  So, it doesn't matter nearly enough that I say I "believe" in resurrection, if I don't trust it as well.  As an aging, broken, this side of 40-years-old person, it's easy enough to recognize that the bodies we live in now are painfully inadequate.  But how on Earth does one imagine resurrection of ourselves? It seems almost sacreligious even to try.  .  . I can imagine Jesus resurrected easily enough, but He was/is already perfect.  It feels comical, almost pathetic, to try to imagine that for little old me, with this ridiculous flesh housing an even more limited and obsolete consciousness.  Where to even begin?

So let's just move along in our reading, but now it gets even stranger.  In v. 24-25, I like that Paul mostly side-steps the trippy eschatological imagery, fire and brimstone, dragons and cosmic ladies, and deals instead with the earthly powers of men.  Except, he isn't really.  We know there are also the "powers and principalities" as the real enemies, not just theological abstractions but manifested in bones and stones.  Here I get really  irritated, because my conscious imagery has been influenced by too many Hollywood epic battle scenes (I blame Peter Jackson for making LOTR so dang "evocative").  I really don't want to focus on the gore. the rallying cries, but to understand in whatever paltry level what it would feel like to welcome that king, to be part of that following, to step into eternity.

Then again, maybe I don't want to tax my little brain that much.  It's late, and things are bizarre enough.  We see through the glass sooooooo very darkly, or not at all.  And when our eyes are too tired to see, when we can't even bear the over-stimulation of what clutters our retina for this second, we may be allowed to smell it.  Maybe a wordless, subconscious hum we almost heard.  We can't quite understand, we can't entirely say we "believe" because we're so smart and modern and have to explain, define, compartmentalize it before we can trust.

I don't understand.  Except when I do.  Sometimes when it's way too late and I can see the full moon, taste the insomnia, it's almost within reach.  I miss those midnights with my feral nurslings. the raw physicality juxtaposed with acute clarity. Often times now it's so much more mundane; I act like I 'trust" in a resurrected life far too often for it to have been just some good idea I invented.  This journey has far outlasted any good idea I ever had; it started with someone else.  Lately I'm walking more in shadows and clouds (not doubts, clouds) than I have in decades.  Frustrated and irritated all the time, and yet I know it's the only path open.  I"m not aligning with the enemy.  I'm not strong enough to challenge the creator of the Universe, or young enough to play the nihilist/existentialist pose any longer.

So where were we? Oh yeah, we come to the last baffling line (v.26), which is either supposed to be reassuring or just make you scratch your head, I'm not sure.  I'd like to just accept it and go on, except it changes the entire physical/temporal nature of the universe and existence as we know it.  How can consciousness go on after death is defeated, if by "go on" we mean "to go forward in time," when time no longer exists?  And anyway, thank goodness it isn't "us" that goes on anyway, us petty, silly (I'm being charitable) half-blind ghosts (okay maybe I'm being a bit misanthropic . . . ).  I'd want it to be someone far more perfect than us, someone that bears only the faintest whiff of resemblance, and that only as a merciful nod to recognition.  I'd want it to be someone awake enough, clear enough, alive enough to really belong there.  See how even the usual adjectives don't work here?  "Good" and "wise" are so earth-bound and arrogant.  We just can't pretend, right now in this world, to understand or even describe, let alone be those creatures that would inhabit Eternity with Him (a far better writer than me might attempt it, but even C.S. Lewis only dared to be specific in his allegories, not as a literal projection of heaven).

Of course, the other option is to take it at face value, accept that we can't understand it yet at any deeper level, and return to the work of this temporary world we live in.  Serve somebody, knowing it's not nearly enough to make this hurting, F'ed up place as good as it was meant to be.  But it's what we do, it's the only thing we can do, while we wait for the one who will defeat the last enemy.  And when we're really honest, we tremble at the bit of enemy still inside us, that must die.

Have a great week, kids!      : )