Thursday, 15 March 2012

Eternal life

Recent I read NT Wright's "The Resurrection of the Son of God".

I am far from being an uncritical observer of Wright. Several of his positions are deeply worrying. I remain convinced that his position on justification is, if and when pressed to its inherent conclusions, ultimately destructive of the gospel itself.

Nevertheless, this book is both orthodox (barring the implications of various incidental comments along the way, which sadly repeatedly indicate a rejection of Biblical inerrancy - though Wright mostly disguises this under the cover of performing a "historical" investigation) and thrilling. If I am a churl, then it will only reflect on me and not on this book. The book is brilliant and inspirational; it takes on the critics of the orthodox doctrine head-on, and dismantles their every last hide-out. Either Christ departed bodily from his grave in a transformed resurrection life and the implications are that he is the world's one true Lord - or there is some other theory which in 2000 years has not been hit upon; because all the ones that have have fallen far short of explaining the facts we know.

Now to the point of this post.

One suggestion it contains is as follows: when we read the words "eternal life" in the New Testament, we should not read them as the Western church does today. That is, we should not think primarily of "life (or even, existence) that does not end". That is to read it quantitatively. Rather, we should read it qualitatively.

"Eternal life", within the Jewish world view, means "the life of the age to come; the heavenly life; the quality of life experienced by those who are the children of God and empowered by his Spirit". It goes on forever, of course - but that's a corollary of its nature, not the heart of it.

When Jesus promises us "eternal life", he is promising us something that comes down from heaven and reveals to us the heavenly glory, and transforms us according to its own nature. To many Western ears, "eternal life" means "what we now have but without ending", which may not necessarily be good news. Banal TV! Annoying family members! Corrupt politicians! Laziness and incompetence... forever! Erm... what were the other options again?

"Eternal life" means that we are part of God's purposes for his creation. We are part of the age to come and can now taste and will then feast on its glories. The Messianic age has been inaugurated, and we get to partake in its wonders. Jesus is the eternal life; he came down from heaven to earth. And he now offers that life to us to partake in to as we take part in the transformation of all things according to his heavenly purposes.

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