AND DEATH SHALL HAVE NO DOMINION

In a year of war, tsunami and hurricane, what just happened in the West Virginia mine might feel like a small tragedy, but then again where death is involved there are no small tragedies. And the twist of the knife – the false reports that twelve miners survived, and the premature celebrations – makes it that much more unbearable.

This is the point where Christians often murmur something about the mystery of suffering, or God’s mysterious ways. There is a mystery associated with suffering, but in general the language that David Hart used, following the tsunami, seems more appropriate to me – that “when confronted by the sheer savage immensity of worldly suffering . . . no Christian is licensed to utter odious banalities about God’s inscrutable counsels or blasphemous suggestions that all this mysteriously serves God’s good ends. We are permitted only to hate death and waste and the imbecile forces of chance that shatter living souls, to believe that creation is in agony in its bonds, to see this world as divided between two kingdoms – knowing all the while that it is only charity that can sustain us against ‘fate,’ and that must do so until the end of days.”

There’s a trend in religious thought lately that dismisses the whole idea of heaven, of resurrection and eternal life and a redeemed creation, as anachronistic and spiritually immature. I wrote about it a little bit here, but it’s best embodied by a recent Harper’s essay on “The Scars of a Christian Inheritance,” in which the author, Scott Korb, offers this bit of wisdom:

Focusing on confession and love of the here and now may be just the right way to stomach this Christian legacy I’m living under. I can let go of both the ancient miracle of the Resurrection and the modern miracle Catholics experience when priests change bread and wine into the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. In fact, I must let go of these most basic elements of Catholicism that point to the afterlife, salvation, and personal, eternal reward. But why? Karen Armstrong, a former nun turned religious scholar, who is also not interested in the afterlife, has answered this question well: the afterlife is about preserving your ego “eternally in optimum conditions.” It’s that sort of egotism that God would have us let go of, and that builds walls between people.

You know, I very much doubt that when the miners’ families in West Virginia hope and pray for a resurrection of the body and a life everlasting, they’re indulging in “egotism,” or throwing up walls against God or each other. And yes, I’m taking a cheap shot – but sometimes cheap shots can get at an essential truth, which is that Christianity is about the conquest of death, not its enlightened acceptance, and that in the absence of a resurrection, no pious words can make either the miners’ deaths or our own anything but a horror.

– posted by Ross

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