13 What comes after death is not what people expect or imagine
I am reminded of one of the prayers of the Anglican tradition:
you have prepared for those who love you
such good things as pass our understanding:
pour into our hearts such love toward you
that we, loving you in all things and above all things,
may obtain your promises,
which exceed all that we can desire;
Whatever Heraclitus may have intended, for me this fragment is pure promise. Compared to the all-encompassing love of God, our horizons are so short, our hopes so weak. The promise of God in the Christian tradition is of a new life after death which is better than we can either imagine or hope for, not worse. It is one of the tragedies of the history of the Church that it became obsessed with trying to threaten people into the kingdom with the torments of hell, rather than learning to invite them in with a vision of paradise.
If the pandemic makes us reflect more on our own mortality, perhaps it may be with a sense of hope. While death is always grief and loss, and before its time is tragedy, it need not be despair. The prayer above claims that what God has prepared for us is beyond our understanding or our desire, and it is true that we are often mistaken about our own deepest and best desires. The many stories of the granting of three wishes to some lucky (or usually unlucky) person illustrate the fact: there’s always a twist, an unexpected outcome which turns the tables. The challenge of the prayer is to place ourselves in the hands of the God who knows better than we do what it is that will most completely fulfil our potential and give us greatest joy.
Doing that – and this is the trickiest bit – involves recognising that we can’t do it ourselves. In this time in which we have realised that we aren’t as powerful as we thought, it’s possible that a little humility might begin to grow in our souls; and that might be the ground in which the seed of God’s promise can grow.
Fragments on Fragments are written by the Right Reverend Jonathan Clark, Bishop of Croydon in the Church of England. He introduces the whole series here. Alongside the words is an image by Alison Clark of a broken sand dollar, gilded in reference to the Japanese practice of kintsugi: you can find more of her work here.