(Balance In Dealing With Our Mortality)
Theology must, at its root, be about life and living! But, without offering some reassurances about death it is doomed to failure. The myths and revelations help us to provide that comfort, but we must be careful that we do not interpret them in such a manner that we lessen the reality of the miracle of life. Carl Jung tells us that: "It is the role of religious symbols to give a meaning to the life of a man," * which the responsible theologian must always consider their first priority.
But Jung also tells us that our mortality is also a psychological area that needs to be addressed:
It is particularly fatal for such [matured] people to look backward. For them a prospect and goal in the future are indispensable. THIS IS WHY ALL THE GREAT RELIGIONS HOLD THE PROMISE OF LIFE BEYOND; it makes it possible for mortal man to live the second half of life with as much perseverance and aim as the first.
(C.G. Jung, MODERN MAN IN SEARCH OF A SOUL, cl933, plll)
And he also says:
May I remark that, for the same reasons, we cannot know whether anything happens to a person after he is dead, the answer is neither yes nor no. We simply have no scientific proofs about it one way or another...
But here my physicians conscience awakes and urges me to say a word that is essential to this question. I HAVE OBSERVED THAT A DIRECTED LIFE IS IN GENERAL BETTER, RICHER AND HEALTHIER THAN AN AIMLESS ONE, and that it is better to go forward with the stream of time than backward against it. To a psychotherapist an old man who cannot bid farewell to life appears as feeble and sickly as a young man who is unable to embrace it ...
As a physician I am convinced that it is hygienic - if I may use the word - to DISCOVER IN DEATH A GOAL TOWARDS WHICH ONE CAN STRIVE; and that shrinking away from it robs the second half of life of its purpose ...
FROM THE STANDPOINT OF PSYCHOTHERAPY IT WOULD THEREFORE BE DESIRABLE TO THINK of DEATH AS ONLY A TRANSITION - one of a life process whose extent and duration escape our knowledge.
(ibid., p 111 & 112)
This is where theology and religion can play a great role in that it can provide the comfort and hope of which Jung speaks. But too often, when approaching the subject of death from a religious viewpoint, we tend to over glorify it, which can be as damaging as its counterpart. While the myths do imply that there is a transcendent aspect about life and mortality, which we cannot understand, they in no way imply that the experience of living is a "lesser" aspect of this transcendent reality.
In fact, the theologian must be particularly careful as to how he or she approaches the scriptures and myths in regard to this area. We must always keep in mind, the very fact that we cannot comprehend these things, which may transcend life, are the very reason they are revealed in the scripture or myth. It is because of this transcendence that they must be portrayed IN SYMBOLIC FORM in the revelations. The theologian must strive to seek out the principle, the moral, or the hope contained in the word without trying to literalize that which cannot be literalized.
We will touch on this idea of immortality in much greater depth as we delve into eternal life in this work. However, it is necessary here to briefly make some points in order to establish criteria for what will follow.
In the first place, death cannot be viewed as an end, for when you study revelation and myth, such is portrayed as a transformation. Death cannot be seen, at least from an eternal perspective, as the end of life or the beginning of eternal life. It is portrayed as neither; but rather, as a continuation of life in a very different way. Theology must strive to eliminate this opposition of mortality verses eternity, for mortality is the way we are experiencing eternity now. Life cannot be viewed as a separate thing for it is a part of the infinite sphere.
This is why the revelations use concepts of life to convey its message about death, for death is existence; but, in no way comprehendible to our limited forms of human perception. Ideas such as heaven, hell, karma, streets lined with gold: all serve one purpose only. They are trying to convey the idea that existence goes on in some form with a personal identify able to experience the feelings of joy, sorrow, jubilance and anguish in some manner. And while that transcendent may be vastly different from this realm of time, it is analogous to these feelings experienced in life.
Literalism has no place here. As Bach conveys to us in JONATHAN LIVINGSTON SEAGULL: "Heaven is not a place but a state of mind and being." What need would God have of streets of gold, or jeweled walls? These things simply tell us that what transcends a life lived fruitfully is as beautiful as anything we might value in the world we live. These things are symbols that we might relate too; not physical descriptions of the reality in which God exists, or the manner in which life continues after death. They are reassurances that we need not fear death if we are responsible to life. Hell would be the same. The description of the pits of fire are not of a place, but rather a metaphor which tells us if we fail in our quest in the hear and now, we will experience a form of pain and alienation in the afterlife that may be equal to eternal burning.
Jesus helped us to understand these metaphors in many of the sermons he delivered. While theology has complicated many of his words, the simple message was: we are our own judges. What we want and expect for ourselves, and what we hold others accountable for; these are the measures by which we are judged. We are forgiven in the same manner we forgive. Our happiness or hell will be based upon the happiness or hell we create for others. We shall see that Jesus preached over and over that God gives to us what we ourselves have sown and reaped. God may be the judge according to Jesus, but She judges us by the standards we set in our manner of living.
The theologian, as well as clergymen, should encourage the pursuit of life and all that it has to offer in a manner that is caring and responsible. While we can offer the assurance that God has provided for us in some manner, we must realize that life is the key to that provision.
Theologies that see life as only a test, or a stepping stone to some greater existence, miss the miracle and gift of life itself. If we take for granted the numerous blessings that surround us in our perceived reality, what right have we to expect more? Faith requires us to trust that God has meaning to death, not that we should live to die. Nor, should theology encourage people to act for the rewards, or out of a sense of fear. If we truly trust in God we are motivated by love, we are aware of the paradise already bestowed, and, we neither fear nor seek the other realm because we give thanks that we are part of what is.
When theology paints pictures of utopian paradises of the past; or, of a God given paradises to come: they contribute to the very human problems that they claim are a result of our fall. As long as we continue to make the world to come more attractive than the world we live in, we will continue to fail at overcoming the human injustices which exist in our world. When our religious beliefs encourage us to wait for God, or for the next life, to eliminate our problems; they project and reject the responsibility we have toward the Divine for what He has already given.
The Kingdom or
Pharisees asked him: "When will the kingdom
come?" He [Jesus] said: "You cannot tell by observation when the
(Luke 17: 20-21)
It is within us and around us in the here and now. It is not a reward, but rather, a continuation of what we have built in our life. It is a Kingdom of abstracts built upon the emotions of life, built upon love, compassion, unity, equality, tolerance, and sharing. It is the accumulation of these treasures that we take with us on our journey through eternity. Selfishness, hatred, bigotry, exploitation, inequality and injustice make up the Kingdom of hell; and if this is what we choose to live, it is what continues with us.
Like many of the other paradoxes the revelations reveal, we are our own judges in the Divine. This is not to say what we "proclaim" or "believe" determines the standard; but rather, the manner in which we live according to those things.
Jesus makes the rule of sin a simple one, that if we don't want something done to us we shouldn't do it to someone else. This is an ethical standard, which if applied properly to the whole of society, would make a vast difference in the Kingdom of the Earth.
Responsible theology should not pit the earth against heaven, but help us to see the heaven that is present on earth. It should not foster beliefs that attack life as being weak and immoral, but encourage the development of love and kindness that makes life so wonderful. Theology should never imply that the flesh is a tool of the Devil, but, a glorious creation given as a gift to us from the Divine. Responsible theology must never tell us that death is better than life, instead, it should strive to reassure that the transcendent is a continuation of what we build in the here and now. And above all, responsible theology must avoid encouraging any projection that will allow us to avoid our own responsibility for the life we choose lead.
If religion has failed in any way, it is in its encouragement of "projecting" unto God, or the devil, what we should be responsible for - a projection that has led to indifference and intolerance among many of its followers.
Too much of the existing theology makes heaven the goal; whereas, a responsible theology would encourage the remaking of this world the primary goal. The Second Coming of Christ is not an event we should be looking forward to, but rather, and event we can make happen. The second coming of Christ is not a physical prophesy, but a metaphor to tell us that every time we live in his directives he lives in us.
As we continue with this approach toward a responsible theology, many of the initial statements will be supported with scriptural support. But for now we are only concerning ourselves with logical examples of alternate way of viewing revelations: ways that are sensible in our world.
The responsible approach by religion is to reassure about death. It should try to comfort and calm human apprehension about death; but, it fails miserably if it diminishes the importance of life.
Many of the abuses of our fellow man and
against nature, as well as much of the indifference toward our environmental
responsibilities, are psychologically implanted by theological concepts that
have us living to go to heaven. Or, Christ coming again to
remake the earth that we have so badly abused. It is time that theology point out that we have not be
driven from paradise, for the earth is truly that. It is time to face the
fact that our casting from
We were given the paradise in
The conditions which exist in our world have often been compared to hell, and often this is rightfully so. But humans create this hell that we describe. It's in our inability to see that we make poverty, pollution, suffering, persecution, and so much of the "hell" that people must live through. We create it; but, many religions are telling us to expect God to remake it! This truly is not the message contained in spiritual revelations and it is time for theology to put us back on the right track.
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