Saturday, October 8, 2011

E is for Eternal Life

Historians of religion tell us that the Christian “promise of eternal life” was of crucial importance to its rapid spread throughout the Roman Empire. What is puzzling to me is why so many people back then (and now) consider such a prospect to be attractive. And, while you are contemplating that daunting possibility, consider the Christian doctrine of the resurrection in the flesh. At the “end of times” we who are “saved” are all supposed to return to our fleshly existence here on this planet.

If you were going to be restored to your previous fleshly existence, what age would you choose to be at your return? One gathers that once you select an age, your life resumes at that point and you stay at that age forever. (Who would want to grow old and die all over again?) Would anyone pick childhood or extreme old age? Would anyone really want to be a teenager again? (Maybe those who never lived beyond that stage might select it, not knowing how life improves thereafter.) Or, worse, a parent of teenagers? So, one conjectures that most people would choose to come back to life in their 30s. Not only is it hard to imagine how crowded this planet would become assuming billions of Returners, but then try to imagine a world with almost everyone at roughly the same age. Would people remarry and raise new families? Suppose your children decided to come back at age 35 (say) and so did you? And how would all the reconstituted people find each other? Would you be restored to the zip code where you died? Consider the chaos in Florida! Who gets the house? How would you find your relatives? Better yet, How would you hide from your relatives?

But let’s return to the supposedly less preposterous idea of eternal life spent in heaven. Since heavenly spirits have no bodies and their existence is entirely spiritual, one struggles to imagine what people in heaven do. They are in a state of “bliss” we are assured. Being in the Divine Presence is blissful. And this bliss goes on and on and on and on and on. At some point one expects the Blissful Ones, assuming they are permitted to think, will begin to wonder about the sameness of their blissful existence and wish something else would come along just to end the monotony of bliss for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Or maybe heaven is like an afternoon snooze in which we dream comfortably and, during brief moments of wakefulness, bliss returns and we are reassured to know that yes we are still in heaven, and that God is close by, and we can resume our snooze. 

W. C. Fields had these memorable words inscribed on his gravestone: “All things considered, I’d rather be in Philadelphia.” Eating a cheese-steak with fried onions, tomatoes, sweet peppers and ketchup washed down with Pepsi Cola while ‘50s Rock ‘n Roll music played on the juke box and all my best friends from high school gathered around all alive and well again. Now that would be blissful indeed . . .  but NOT forever.

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