We Are Immortal

by

by Laurie Gudim

Luke 24:36-53

Don’t you sometimes wish that certain loved ones who have died could put in an appearance like Jesus did with his disciples after his resurrection?  Luke describes it in such succinct but evocative detail: how he was suddenly standing in their midst, saying, “Peace be with you,” how he invited them to touch him, and how he ate a piece of broiled fish.  (I wonder how he enjoyed it, the broiled fish.  Did they all stand around him in gaping amazement while he licked his fingers and made “yum” noises?  I wouldn’t be surprised.)

I would love to have my friend Mary suddenly with me in the flesh once more.  She would look at my latest accomplishments, give me her lush, deeply appreciative smile.  “Isn’t that marvelous!” she would say.  I miss that.

There are millions of stories in which those who have crossed the threshold of death communicate with their loved ones.  I just heard one yesterday in which a new widow was driving home after saying goodbye to his wife’s body.  She was a woman who loved a corny joke.  Several of her favorites were mentioned in her eulogy.  Well, as he was approaching a busy intersection, three rabbits bounded into the path of his car and just sat there – unusual behavior for bunnies.  He stopped.  He didn’t want to go around them, afraid of inadvertently causing them to be injured by other autos, so he waited.  Eventually they bounced back to safety on someone’s lawn.  He drove on up to the intersection – and noticed that the restaurant on the left side of the street was IHOP.  He knew then that his wife was speaking to him.

There are all sorts of ways of explaining away these stories of communication from beyond death.  These days even Christ’s resurrection is dismissed.  The skeptics postulate that the grieving disciples imagined something that they then embellished into a bodily appearance, or, worse, that they made up the resurrection so that Jesus’ teaching would still be credible after he had been crucified.  The whole thing is myth, they would say – although they might add that this doesn’t necessarily make Christianity an invalid faith tradition, as such things go.

How we understand Jesus determines who we believe ourselves to be.  Sometimes it is better to listen to what our hearts have to say than to think things through with our brains.  Our rabbi eating that broiled fish with his disciples – it means that we, ourselves, are immortal beings.  Imagine that!  Death has no power over us.  And while we can’t get our limited monkey-minds around what might happen after we die, we can count on the fact that we do go on – and not as some nebulous energy or poof of stardust but as ourselves, our true selves, our essential selves.

And while the stories of post-death contact with loved ones cannot be scientifically proven, our hearts know that many of them are true.  Imagine that!  We recognize the reality of those – often creative – attempts to tell us something.  My friend Mary will most likely never show up in physical form to have a little fish with me, but I know she lives on.  And she does visit me in other ways, often.  I know she is immortal.  So are you.  So am I.

 


 

Laurie Gudim works is a religious iconographer and writer in Fort Collins, Colorado.  You can view some of her work at Everyday Mysteries.She has recently published her novel, Loving the Six-Toed Jesus, available from Amazon.

 

Image: Life of Jesus

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18 Responses to "We Are Immortal"
  1. Our immortality is not innate. It is bequeathed on us by Jesus having undergone our eternal death in our place and including us in his resurrection through faith. This, among other realities, is what makes Peter say, regarding Jesus, that "There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

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  2. This is a very different theology from mine. I think salvation is about a deep recognition of who we are and how our unique being depends utterly on God. Jesus does indeed include us in his resurrection, because it is our path as well.

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  3. To me, immortality or morality is immaterial (does not change the outcome of any decision). I believe that the book of Job is the most honest book of the bible. The best way to read Job is to read the first two chapters, skip to chapter 42 beginning at verse 7 to the end. Then re-read the entire book (Remembering that God says that Job is speaking the truth). Finally note that verse 6 is highly ambiguous. I believe that Edward L. Greenstein's translation in his commentary to the Jewish Study Bible, Second Edition (Oxford University Press, 2014) on page 1555, best matches the context: 'Therefore I am disgusted and I take pity on wretched humanity."

    I am reminded that the first word in verse 2 (the first verse after the introduction) of the book of Ecclesiastes (also known as Qoheleth and also known as The Preacher) and is translated "Vanity" in the Revised Standard Version is the word used as the name of Abel in the story of Cain and Abel.

    I am told that Elie Wiesel wrote a short story about an experience he had in Auschwitz in which the Jewish inmates put God on trial and sentenced God to death. Afterwards they went to sabbath worship.

    The only reward for "being good" is that you are "being good."

    I am reminded of the family story about one of my Native American Great-Great Grandmothers, at the age of 110 (the newspaper story said she was 100). She decided it was "a good day to die" and went for a walk on the railroad tracks.

    I do not have answers. Other people's answers are just assumptions. Several times in the wisdom books of the bible the particular wisdom writer says that death is final. When I was a child, that thought would have been comforting. Instead I heard hell fire. To paraphrase the 4 laws of thermodynamics: First-You cannot win. Second- You cannot break even, Third-You cannot get out of the game. Then they realized they had a logic problem so they created the Zeroth law: You are in the game whether you like it or not! To think about getting out of the game was the ultimate sin. Punished by eternal hell fire!

    Job pictures God as cruel. Even today, when you rarely hear hell fire preached in the Episcopal Church, when you think about what is preached, the conclusion is: God is cruel. John 3:16 only when it is restated as: God so loved the world that he gave his own life for humans. To sacrifice a son is cruel.

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  4. The final two sentences should read: John 3:16 only makes sense when it is restated: God so loved the world that he gave his own life for humans. To sacrifice a son is cruel.

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  5. Laurie--I'd appreciate it if you could show me in the Bible where the general human race are included in Christ's resurrection. My understanding of the Bible is that this is reserved for believing Christians.

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    • In John after "I am the Way" -- Jesus says I have many sheep that you don't know about.

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  6. A 'deep recognition of who we are' would be to realize that we are sinners condemned to Eternal Life without God. (that's what God says --so it's true). When we admit our position as sinners, unable to approach God on our own, we can then accept Jesus' offer of Salvation. [Unless we do that, we are unable to depend on God. ]

    No one 'depends' on something that they don't think they 'need' or 'want'.

    We all are 'immortal'. Free Will gives us choices: Eternity with God, or --without God.

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  7. Ann--Jesus' pronouncement that "I have other sheep that you don't know about" actually occurs in John 10, before the "I am the way, the truth and the life" in John 14:6. It is not a reference to the general human race, but to Gentiles, as he is speaking in an exclusively Jewish context.

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    • Nevertheless we do not know the mind of God and it is not up to us to decided who is in and who is out. YMMV

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  8. Ann--absolutely correct. But we do well to pay attention to what God says.

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    • Mario - you and I have very different ideas about all this - so will leave it there.

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  9. Michael--regarding your characterization of God as cruel. You seem to be making the error described in Psalm 50:21, where God says to Israel, "you thought that I was one just like yourself." Certainly for a human being to give their child for others can be described as cruel--but the Creator of the cosmos is not like us.

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  10. In reply to Mario: As I have said in my comment above, I believe that the book of Job is the most honest book in the bible. As Abraham asks God in Gen. 18:23-25: "Wilt thou indeed destroy the righteous with the wicked? * * * Far be it from thee to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from thee! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" RSV

    In Ecclesiastes 2:16- 17, the Qoheleth says: "For of the wise man as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How the wise man dies just like the fool!"

    In Job chapter 3 Job states that he would be better off if he had not been conceived, or had dies prior to birth or even had been allowed to starve to death shortly after birth. And beginning with verse 7 of chapter 42, God tells Job's friends that Job is correct!

    As to your argument with Ann: I refer you to Mathew 25 31-46. Jesus does not make belief in him the test. The test is how you worked for justice in this world. Why would God make belief a test? There is no independent way (from the bible) to verify the revelation upon which belief in Jesus is based. However, there is a way observe and work for justice.

    Our Jewish friends point out that the commandments given to all humanity are stated in Gen. 9:4-6 or are derived from those commandments (the Ten Commandments were given only to Jews). The fact that humans are in the image of God makes humans of infinite value. And that makes us all guilty of homicide! Our purchase of a product which someone died making makes us guilty of the death.

    Our Jewish fiends have a saying: God made humanity to be his/her partner in creating a just world.

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  11. Mario, the answer to your question is in the interpretation of words. Marcus Borg in his book Speaking Christian says the word we translate as repentance means going beyond the mind you currently have into a new understanding. By the same token, salvation is seeing the light -- a change of understanding or awareness. Putting God first -- realizing that we are in God and God is in us -- is a transformative experience. It is literally mind-blowing. I don't think it's necessarily Christian. God speaks to humans in the language of their hearts. And yet, that does not, IMO, mean Jesus is any less than God incarnate.

    On the other hand, to think that our immortality depends on our own work or effort is a form of gnosticism, IMO. It puts the emphasis entirely in the wrong place.

    I am at heart an evangelist -- but what that means to me is that I am trying to support God in God's mission of making God's self known to individual human beings. Our relationship with God is the most important one we will ever have. Without it we pine away. We are attached to meaningless things, we chase after false idols, we are fearful, and we do not know ourselves for who we really are. But each of us has a different language through which we can hear God speaking to us. Condemning a language I don't like is the same as throwing stumbling blocks in front of little ones. Better we should tie a mill stone around our necks.

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  12. Michael, thanks for the comments. Lots to ponder in them.

    Knowing that I am immortal is important to me simply because then death has no power over me. That frees me to act with courage in situations where it is necessary to speak truth to power -- to right injustices -- to stand in solidarity with those being oppressed, attacked or threatened. I hope I can do this. I hope I could be one of the people standing up in support of the Islamic women being attacked on the bus in Portland, even though it could mean the end of my life. That kind of thing.

    I am a beloved child of God. I am not ended when I die. I am valuable beyond measure. Therefore I must pour myself out for those who need me right now. And I must pour myself out as well in the particular, unique service I was created for.

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  13. Leslie, your understanding of sin is different from mine. Also your sense of where God is in relationship to where we are. I see dependence on God as intrinsic to being human. God is in the fiber of our beings, and always longs to supplant our egos as the One who is in charge.

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