I recently finished reading N. T. Wright’s book, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Hevean, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. Wright, a leading contemporary theologian, examines common beliefs about heaven, the afterlife, and the resurrection, both in Christian traditions and from the secular perspective. What is often passed off as ‘orthodox’ thought, simply isn’t Biblical.
Wright goes to great lengths to emphasize that “dying and going to heaven” is not the real Gospel. As good as that idea might be, it’s simply not good enough. It falls short of what our real hope (and the real power of the Gospel) is. Our real hope and power is the resurrection. One of my favorite phrases Wright uses is “life after life after death.”
Resurrection, Wright contends, is a statement of God’s commitment to the restoration of all creation. It’s a work begun in the resurrection of Jesus and will continue until all is fully restored. We are part of that process. Not only do we have our own resurrection to look forward to, we get to be co-laborers in the work of God’s kingdom. The resurrection makes all of our life relevant, important, and significant.
Paul exhorts us, at his masterful conclusion of his argument for the resurrection, “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58).
Of the many statements I could point to, this one stands out foremost:
“You are—strange thought it may seem, almost hard to believe as the resurrection itself—are accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world. Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one’s fellow human beings and for that matter one’s fellow nonhuman creatures; and of course every prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in the world—all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will someday make.”