I know that my Redeemer lives! What joy this blest assurance gives…goes the classic Easter season hymn.
When it comes to public perceptions and impressions, Catholics in the United States aren’t exactly known for radiating joy of having a “Blest Assurance” in Jesus Christ. Why is this? Throughout this Easter season we’ve talked about modern-day manifestations of erroneous belief in earning our own salvation and scrupulosity that’s Lent without Easter. In this final piece of the series, we’ll explore one more barrier to this joy of blest assurance—a deep question—do we really want to live eternally?
At first this doesn’t seem like it should be a problem or barrier. I mean, obviously we want to live eternally, right? But, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wonders about this in the modern world, explaining:
“Perhaps many people reject the faith today simply because they do not find the prospect of eternal life attractive. What they desire is not eternal life at all, but this present life, for which faith in eternal life seems something of an impediment. To continue living for ever —endlessly—appears more like a curse than a gift. Death, admittedly, one would wish to postpone for as long as possible. But to live always, without end—this, all things considered, can only be monotonous and ultimately unbearable” (Spe Salvi, 10).
Benedict’s words are sobering.
In the Christian life, we can speak often of “eternal life” as if everyone should be excited about it. As if everyone’s an insider like us, who knows what this means. But genuinely wanting, yearning for true eternal life is not obvious, it’s not something we should take for granted among those we converse with. Here’s why, “life” as we see it (and many experience it!) is full of suffering, injustice, heartbreak, natural disaster, illness—you name it. Endless earthy life would indeed be “monotonous” and “unbearable,” as Benedict observes.
And this is where our message matters. How do we speak of eternal life? How do we share this deep theology in a way that resonates with the modern mind?
Benedict offers a highly pre-evangelistic approach. Language that connects with deeply felt human experiences. He explains, what we want is true life. True life is what we “yearn for,” beyond all that “we can experience or accomplish” on earth. This yearning is the thing, the “true hope” that “drives us” (Spe Salvi, 12). True eternal life is a hope that every human being experiences, though many push the desire away or lack the words to name it. This life that is hope is connected to love, since “whoever is moved by love begins to perceive what ‘life’ really is” (Spe Salvi, 27). Eternal life is “the true life which, whole and unearthened, in all its fullness…simply life” (Spe Salvi, 27).
Knowing that Jesus Christ is the Redeemer who has conquered death matters because it is He who makes this eternal life possible. Right now, in the flesh, we are not able to love perfectly. The non-Christian as well as the modern-day Christian can confirm this through human experience. What Jesus Christ the Redeemer, the Blest Assurance, does for us is offer us an “encounter with him” that “is the decisive act of judgement”–in this encounter “all falsehood melts away,” we “become truly ourselves” (Spe Salvi, 47).
There’s an element of mystery to this. And maybe that makes it hard for us to share this joy or communicate our eternal hope in a way that’s not cartoon images of heaven as rainbows and harps in the clouds. But remember, it centers on love. True love. True love and true life. As John states in his first letter:
“See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are…Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:1-3).
We shall be like him–like God, our divinization. We will be able to love and live perfectly, fully, and authentically because we will be like the one who is Love, the one who is the Divine Reason for human existence. This Blest Assurance is meant to give us great joy. Not to scare us. This Blest Assurance is meant for us to share, to share with every human being that has a yearning, a hope for something more.
Copyright 2016, Colleen Vermeulen