heaven and other beliefsPosted: June 23, 2014
I don’t know what happens when people die
Can’t seem to grasp it as hard as I try
It’s like a song I can hear playing right in my ear
That I can’t sing
I can’t help listening
— Jackson Browne, “For a Dancer”
I have had more than my share of death and mortality of late. When we were in Southern California at the end of May we learned of the death of my cousin’s husband. He had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer earlier in the spring and died not long before our trip south. We also learned that a young family member, barely into his thirties as best as I can calculate, has an auto-immune disorder that leaves him perhaps six years.
I was debating whether or not I really wanted to write about all this when I learned on Saturday evening about the death of our bishop’s husband in a bicycling accident. Bishop Mary’s husband shared my name.
Interestingly, the folks at Bible Study and Christian Life had a blog entry this past week about heaven. The author pointed out that the concept of heaven is not to be found in the Bible. He refers to the passage in 1 Thessalonians about the resurrection of the dead at the time of the Second Coming. Early Christians borrowed the concept from first century Judaism and believed the dead would be physically raised from their graves when Christ returned.
1 Thessalonians is one of Paul’s first letters and one of the earliest books of the New Testament. In the Gospel of John, which is one of the later books of the New Testament, we see a similar belief where Martha tells Jesus after the death of her brother Lazarus, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” This certainly must have been a reflection of the beliefs of the Johannine community at the end of the first century.
The idea of heaven arose later, made possible by the adoption of the Platonic theory of the soul.
When noting someone’s death many of my Episcopal friends on Facebook have been known to write, “Rest in peace and rise in glory.” This is a reference to that earlier belief. Whatever the reality is we have no way of knowing, but I find this a wonderful way to honor the one we have lost.