The suggestion that the dead would eventually come alive again in restored bodies was not some peripheral, secondary belief. According to [Harvard professor of Jewish studies Jon] Levenson, it was “a weight-bearing beam in the edifice of rabbinic Judaism.”Page 146
The radical claim that Jesus rose from the dead inspired hope in his followers. Death would not have the final word.Page 147
For Levenson and [coauthor Kevin] Madigan, as for so many ancient Jews and Christians, the redemption of the catastrophic–that is, the hope in death–depends entirely on death’s reversal.Page 149
“Death’s reversal” is the Christian and Jewish religious answer that contradicts materialism and transcends spiritualism. (Though modern Jews propose this answer less frequently and stridently than, according to Levenson, their ancient rabbinic predecessors did.) It is the proclamation of resurrection. This answer need not be simplistic or trite. Many learned theologians, both ancient and modern, have spilt much ink upon this subject and the best of them would admit to having only scratched the surface. For Christians, the resurrection of Jesus and the promised “resurrection of the body” (The Apostles’ Creed) are mysteries about which human beings can fruitfully enquire but never comprehend. The proclamation of the resurrection is neither trite nor simple. But it does flatly and starkly contradict our culture’s (explicit or implicit) materialism.
Dr. Dugdale frequently uses the word “finitude” in her reflections upon human death. I don’t think she means that death is in every way final. Throughout this book, she gives her readers reasons to think it may not be. Moreover, there is a way–a natural/biological way–in which death is final. Still, Christian faith in the resurrection contradicts the prevailing materialist affirmation of death’s finality. To the question of how to reckon with death’s finality, the most basic Christian answer is that death is not final. For us, as the Catholic funeral rite proclaims, “life is changed, not ended” by death.
Edith [Blatchley]’s experience is not unique to those who are actively dying. On some level, her story characterizes our culture’s efforts to avoid death altogether. . . . It is difficult for the Edith’s of the world to die well when they go to the grave haunted by questions they consistently chose to ignore. . . By avoiding questions of the meaning of death, we avoid the questions of the meaning of life. By avoiding finitude, we avoid infinitude.
When we think of Mrs. Blatchley, we may feel sorry for her, alone in the hospital ward, clutching her sheet over her emaciated body, failing to rest in peace.Page 147
We have been considering different answers to questions about death and life after death: religious vs. SBNR, Christian vs. materialist, etc. Here Dr. Dugdale reminds us that the answer most characteristic of our culture is no answer. Many people (perhaps most) in our contemporary Western societies avoid confrontations with death and ignore questions about death. However, as Dr. Dugdale illustrates through the case of Edith Blatchley, we cannot avoid death indefinitely. Should we try to, we will end up in confusion and fear, having refused to consider the truth about who we are and for what we are meant.
The phrase “rest in peace” is usually applied to people who have died. It is written on tombstones and spoken in prayers. I regularly conclude prayers for the dead in hospital rooms or funeral parlors with the traditional petition, “eternal rest grant unto him/her O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him/her; may he/she rest in peace; may his/her soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.” Dr. Dugdale’s use of this phase in reference to a dying person in his/her hospital bed I find wonderfully evocative. I would love to get some of your thoughts about the relationship between resting in peace before death and resting in peace after death.
[Christian Wiman] writes:
One doesn’t follow God in hope of happiness but because one senses . . . a truth that renders ordinary contentment irrelevant.[ . . .] “I asked for wonders instead of happiness, Lord,” writes the Jewish theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel. “And you gave them to me.”Page 151
Yes, I just gave you a quote of a quote of a quote. I quoted Dr. Dugdale quoting Christian Wiman quoting Abraham Joshua Heschel. (And I’m not at all sure that my use of brackets was the correct way to distinguish my ellipses from Dr. Dugdale’s.) I think Heschel’s words contribute wonderfully to our discussion of life after death. The joy that Jesus gives (see John 15:11) is both like and unlike natural joy. The joy we have in Christ, which will be perfected in the world to come, is a fulfillment of the lesser joys that come through natural experience, but also transcends worldly joy. That same-yet-different quality of Christian joy can be hard to put into words. “Joy,” “Happiness,” and “Beatitude” are all words that can be used to express the total fulfillment that God gives. But they all inadequately communicate the transcendent otherness of that reality. All words are inadequate, of course. But I love “wonders.” To once again quote the quote of the quote, “””I asked for wonders instead of happiness, and you gave them to me.”””