Now there came to Him some of the Sadducees (who say that there is no resurrection), and they questioned Him, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that IF A MAN’S BROTHER DIES, having a wife, AND HE IS CHILDLESS, HIS BROTHER SHOULD MARRY THE WIFE AND RAISE UP CHILDREN TO HIS BROTHER. Now there were seven brothers; and the first took a wife and died childless; and the second and the third married her; and in the same way all seven died, leaving no children. Finally the woman died also. In the resurrection therefore, which one’s wife will she be? For all seven had married her.” (Luke 20:27-33 NASB)
One of the peculiar aspects to the Hebrew Scriptures is the progression of their understanding of “eternal life”. It is my suspicion that much of religious understanding was simply experiential. People died…and remained dead. Therefore people don’t rise from the dead. Except people did. So there is some sort of resurrection, but it only happens on special occasions or to special people.
The thing is that there seems to be some sort of belief in existence after death from a very early human history. It became extremely developed in Egypt, but even so, the earliest human habitation (Jericho) shows evidence of some sort of belief in some of the earliest layers. There’s not a lot of “evidence” for such existence, so how does “experiential religion” account for such belief? And believing in “life-after-death” isn’t the same thing as believing in “resurrection”. So how did some make this connection?
The prophets God sent to Israel seemed to have no problem believing in life, life with others, after death. Isaiah wrote of it, Ezekiel wrote of it, but Elijah and Elisha actually bring people to life. Think about that. Elijah and Elisha didn’t go, “It’s not possible”, they just did it, believing that God makes it happen. How did they know if it had never happened before? I suspect that it had done it before but it didn’t make it into the annuls of Scripture. It wasn’t germane to the story of God’s work with His people, so it was left out; in much the same way details of King Omri were left out (1 Kings 16:16-30).
I think Levirate Marriage is one of those progressions toward believing in resurrection from “life-after-death”. It’s not spelled out that it came from that, but I think the importance it had indicates it does. So here’s how I get there:
Eternal life can be understood in terms of living in the memory of your offspring. You live in their minds and therefore live eternally. If life is defined relationally, then this makes a degree of sense (see earlier entries on this topic). So, if a man dies childless, unless the rules of Levirate Marriage are carried out, his eternal life is over. When someone refuses to carryout the process, they are, in effect, taking his eternal life from their brother or relative. It’s serious seen from this point of view.
So while the Sadducees didn’t believe in a resurrection, they did believe in eternal life; just not some sort of “spiritual existence”. They stopped at the Levirate Marriage rule with their understanding of “eternal life”. This would make a certain amount of sense for “priests” for whom lineage was everything. Their understanding would be simply that people die and experience nothing, but live on through their offspring. Resurrection would imply the possibility of experience after a physical death. And if death is relational, then death becomes true only from one perspective, the perspective of those still on earth.
Here’s my point, God has revealed to us that there is life, existence and relational experience, after our brains stop waving. So, why do we focus so much on this one? Why, if we know that there’s more to follow, do we let this life distract us from that one? I think it’s because we know so little of the one to come. We fear what we don’t know, and know more of the loss of this life than the gain in the one to follow. And if you think about it, God has set it up that way, and perpetuates the lack of knowledge of what’s to come. We can surmise about His motives in that, but we’re still left with a blind-spot about what’s to come. What we do know is that it’s life with Him. I believe He wants that to be enough.
So, is it enough for me? Is it enough to know that I have eternity with Him facing me? Will that define my actions and decisions today? Will that modify my attitude at work, with my co-workers, with my customers, with my circumstances? Or will it affect how I deal with my wife and daughter? Will my belief that this is nothing compared to what I have coming change how I deal with my day and those I encounter in it? Will it change how I face my future, the future of my church, my community, and my plans? If it does, how will it change or affect these things? How is my faith in my Master actualized in my behavior and attitudes? How is eternity with Him driving my point of view, my paradigm, and my life direction?
To put it another way, why do such petty stupid things get me upset if this is nothing to compared to what’s to come? If I believe that why do stupid things bother me? Why do I fear? Why do I get angry? Why do I have any other emotion than joy all the time, because I have an eternity already. What more is there that can compare with that? Why am I tossed off kilter by the small things when I have such an enormous thing already secured?
The truth is that I believe, but clearly need help with my unbelief. The faith I profess hasn’t yet become so thoroughly pervasive in my life that I know nothing else. Not yet.
What’s your view through the fence this morning?