Friday, May 13, 2005

Death and Salvation

Darth Vader was on the front page of today's newspaper. For some reason it made me think of the scene at the end of Return of the Jedi where Vader has just killed the emperor and is about to die himself. Luke says, "I won't leave you here. I've got to save you." And Vader replies, "You already have, Luke."

By any objective measure, Anakin Skywalker made pretty poor use of his life. He may have gotten a little bit of redemption there at the end, but he did live a life of pure evil. Yet apparently it's his final state that matters.

Christian theology generally shares this skewed view. The ultimate fate of the soul is determined by its state at the moment of death. This is affirmed most explicitly in Catholicism, but most Protestant denominations seem to have something like this in their official teachings as well.

It's impossible to refute on the terms in which it is proposed. It's grounded in the very good notion that it's never too late to repent. But I think the problem with this as a general orientation that it's symptomatic of Christianity's traditional obsession with heaven and hell. I don't mean to deny the importance of eternal life, but if who is going to heaven and who to hell isn't your primary focus then you can get beyond this strange fixation with the moment of death and recover a proclamation of life.

The ecstatic poet Kabir says it this way:
Friend, hope for the Guest while you are alive.
Jump into experience while you are alive!
Think... and think... while you are alive.
What you call "salvation" belongs to the time before death.

If you don't break your ropes while you're alive,
Do you think Ghosts will do it after?

The idea that the soul will join with the ecstatic
Just because the body is rotten-
That is all fantasy.
What is found now is found then.
If you find nothing now,
You will simply end up with an apartment in the City of Death.
If you make love with the divine now,
in the next life you will have the face of satisfied desire.
Jesus says it this way:
Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand!


mindflame said...

Don't expect more than you found in the Star Wars series. It is always like culture to take what it likes from religion and when it comes to Christianity everyone is quick to take the comforting parts but want nothing to do with the admonitions and commands. This last Star Wars will be interesting to see because instead of a story about a hero we will see a story about the corruption of a soul. I wonder if such a thing can make a good movie.

Andy said...

I'm not looking for more from the world. I'm looking for more from Christianity.

But you're right, the last Star Wars movie does have the potential to do something interesting.

LutheranChik said...

In my "Loving Jesus" book discussion group with Mark Allen Powell he talks about "realized eschatology" vs. the "not-yet" kind, and how contemporary theologians tend to favor the former. But I don't see the concept that the reign of God has started now taking a very deep hold in the average Christian's mind. Whether that's a function of inadequate Christian education or our just wanting to remain in a passive, "rescue me" mode until the pie in the sky by and by -- or both -- is an interesting question.

Anonymous said...

An amazing insight, that the saying of Jesus means the same as the poem by Kabir. I have personally felt that the idea of heaven can lead people to make this life on earth too hard, to increase bliss by comparison. Like the stark contrast that seems horribly central to Islam now. But even for Christianity, what if we can only experience as much joy and delight after death as we were able to feel when living? What if only "what is found now is found then?"