Hope beyond this life

If all we get out of Christ is a little inspiration for a few short years, we’re a pretty sorry lot.  — 1 Cor 15:19, MSG

To be perfectly honest, I don’t think much about resurrection on a day-to-day basis.  Life can be like one long to-do list, and it’s easy to spend every waking hour just focusing on the task at hand (or ruminating on why I’m avoiding it).  When things are humming along smoothly, the goals of this life — of family, career, even ministry — can seem like all there is.

Even when things aren’t going according to plan, it can be hard to raise my sights higher.  Help, God, I might pray.  But the prayer essentially means, Help me with my stuff, my goals; help me get where I want to go.  The whole horizon of my outlook is bounded by my birth and my death, nothing more.

Admittedly, the older I get, the less that’s the case.  Having lived a relatively safe and sheltered life, I find myself confronted with death more often, and with my own creaky mortality.  The perspective shifts; life begins to look a little different once the question of what lies beyond the grave becomes something more than just a fanciful exercise in making shapes out of theological clouds.

As we’ve seen in the last couple of posts, Paul waits until near the end of his letter to tackle a crucial crisis of faith in the Corinthian church: the denial by some of the future resurrection of the dead.  He reminds them of the gospel message they’ve already believed; he uses withering logic to show the absurd inconsistency of believing in the resurrection of Jesus but not the resurrection of the faithful.

But then he tacks on this personal comment: “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor 15:19, NRSV).  Paul and the other apostles regularly find themselves living on the margins for the sake of the gospel; is it all for naught?  Could have, would have, should have: if the hope of resurrection is all just an illusion, if everything I’ve suffered was for nothing, my life has been a waste.  What could my life have been?

Paul, of course, doesn’t believe for a minute that his hope is groundless, and he’ll declare it in no uncertain terms.  But his words force me to think.  My resurrection hope becomes most salient to me when I can no longer take this body, this life, for granted.  And maybe, just maybe, those experiences of marginality speak to me more truthfully about the gospel than I might otherwise imagine.