Connections 02.24.2019: Life after Death

1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50

Who among us has not wondered about the afterlife? Especially when someone we know dies, we cling to the few descriptions the Bible gives us about what we imagine as “heaven.” God is usually depicted as speaking from heaven, as in Psalm 33:13, and heaven seems like a place that is other, separate, and perfect—kind of like God. Isaiah 25 writes of a place where peace will reign, death will be swallowed up, and tears will no longer fall. Jesus pictures heaven as a place where people who were once viewed as the least important will come first (Lk 13:30). He promises that there’s plenty of room in God’s house (Jn 14). John, writer of Revelation, uses exquisite and sometimes strange imagery to describe his own vision of heaven, but even he borrows some words from Isaiah (Rev 7:16-17).

Most of these images are encouraging and beautiful. When faced with the brevity of life and the seeming finality of death, we understandably hope for something more beyond our time on earth.

What will the afterlife be like? People have pondered the question for centuries. In our text from 1 Corinthians 15, Paul hears people wondering about what happens when they die. Some of their questions are specific: “How are the dead raised? What will their raised bodies look like?” His answers aren’t always helpful or even kind. Take, for example, verse 36: “Fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.” First of all, doesn’t he know there are no foolish questions, at least when they’re asked by someone with a genuine desire to know? Second, doesn’t he see how ridiculous it is that something has to die to live?

Of course, Paul was using rhetoric, and the people he was writing to frequently asked pointed questions that were intended to stump him. Also, considering the rest of our lesson text, he seems to appreciate those who genuinely want to know what happens to us after we die. I guarantee you that he wanted to know it too. He gave us the best information he had based on his relationship with Jesus.

For me, this is Paul’s most comforting assurance in our passage: “If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body” (1 Cor 15:44b). If you exist, then you are both body and spirit. You are more than what you can experience with your senses, and you are also more than some disembodied soul. You are both.

We don’t know for sure—and neither did Paul know for sure—what happens after we die. But I believe that the entire witness of Scripture gives us great hope, helping us to live the fullest life possible in our physical bodies on earth even as our spiritual bodies hope for and look forward to the fullest life possible in heaven with God.

Discussion

  1. What is your favorite image of our lives after death?
  2. If you have lost someone you love, what comforts you as you picture them in the afterlife?
  3. Why do you think it is so important to feel confident about what happens when we die?
  4. How do you interpret Paul’s words about our spiritual bodies, and do you find them comforting?
  5. My friend recently posted a Charles Schulz cartoon on Facebook. From the back, we see Charlie Brown and Snoopy sitting on a dock overlooking the water. Charlie Brown says, “One day, we will die, Snoopy.” Snoopy responds, “Yes, but every other day we will live.” As Christians, we can view Snoopy’s comment as applying to both sides of death—life on earth and life with God in heaven. Is this comforting to you? What can you do when you feel afraid about dying?

Reference Shelf

Many of the hymns sung in the church where I grew up were about heaven. “There Is a Land that Is Fairer than Day,” “When We All Get to Heaven,” and “When the Morning Comes” were always called out on “Pick-a-Hymn” night. They are great hymns. They do, however, reflect a longing for the next life that can sometimes become so obsessive that we do not give enough attention to the here and now. Paul did not share that obsession. No one can doubt that Paul looked forward to God’s final triumph and the resurrection of the dead. No one who reads his letters, though, could ever accuse him of neglecting the importance of this life. In fact, in 1 Corinthians, most of what he wrote about concerned everyday matters. Only in 1 Corinthians 15 does he focus on the life to come. If we read the whole letter and look at this chapter in context, we will see that Paul talked about the resurrection because some of the Corinthian Christians were not taking this present life seriously enough. They believed that what they did with their earthly bodies was of no eternal consequence. Paul confronted that erroneous perspective by showing the connection between the earthly body and the heavenly one.

Robert Scott Nash, 1 Corinthians, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2009) 433.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor of Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. She is also the office administrator for Jay’s HOPE, a nonprofit serving families of children with cancer. Kelley enjoys spending time with her daughters, Samantha (14) and Natalie (11), and her husband John. Occasionally, she appears onstage in community theater productions and can sometimes be found playing board games with a group of rowdy friends. She loves Marvel movies and Doctor Who, and she’s still trying to write a young adult novel that her girls will enjoy.

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Comments

  1. Craig H Groce says

    Any discussion of these verses must include the historical context of the members of the Corinthian church. One should look at the beliefs of the Jewish community on afterlife and the Greek community on afterlife.
    Most Jews of the time would view Paul’s view as ludicrous (see Amy Levine”s book, The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus). Additionally, the resistance in the community of Greeks had a belief of a Platonic afterlife.
    This blog seems to take the position of an apologist.