Do some human beings just die and that’s it? Two highly respected theologians I have been reading lately propose that the afterlife may not happen for everyone. Their books affirm and support the reality of Christ’s resurrection and his promise of eternal life for Christians and other good persons, but the wicked may end up simply disappeared.
NT Wright, a noted Anglican scholar suggests in his study of the resurrection that those who have completely rejected their humanity through their evil acts will self-destruct at death. So no one needs to worry about individuals being damned and suffering torments in hell. On reading this I couldn’t help picturing the melting down of the Wicked Witch at the end of The Wizard of Oz. Pffft, and it’s over.
An equally distinguished Roman Catholic theologian also proposes in his new book on Evolution in Christianity that those who reject their humanity and Christ will simply become extinct when they die. Since extinction is the fate of all life on earth only those who participate in Christ’s victory over death will be able to enter with him into the new human evolutionary fulfillment of life with God. The wicked will become as extinct as the Dodo or dinosaur.
Well surely these approaches to the after life are better than the dreadful scenario of the Saints rejoicing in the howls and torments of the justly damned, a la Jonathan Edwards and other Christian theologians. Still, to my mind more thought needs to be given to our evolving understandings of heaven and hell. Those of us who believe that all will be saved, no matter how long it takes, see different possibilities ahead.
First there needs to be a recognition of the interrelated communal nature of the human pilgrimage. We can believe that humans can love and help each other after death in the communion of saints. The most depraved and evil torturer had to start out as a baby and has had some human relationship upon which to build remedial change and growth.
Here we need expanded thinking on purgatory and God’s maternal patience. Can God forget, or ever give up on a lost sheep? The brevity of a single lifespan for learning to become human is recognized in beliefs of reincarnation in other religions. For that matter think how long science informs us that it took cosmic evolution to produce life, much less rational interdependent animals who can argue over the nature of God’s love and life after death. Do I hear any responses?