The Resurrection World

The communal aspect of the end state of God's new creation was stressed by Hick in the final chapter of his book, Death and Eternal Life.41 He suggested there, with reference to eastern as well as western thought, that the overcoming of ego-centredness will lead to the transcendence of individuality and the transformation of personal existence into an interpersonal corporate life, reflecting the communal nature of the triune God. This latter point can be made all the stronger, the more we go along with the social analogy in trinitarian theology, as explained in chapter 5. Hick himself has grown less and less inclined to press this analogy, admittedly. But it is interesting to find him making the point in this relatively early work. There, he went on to illustrate the perfected community of mutually open centres of consciousness with a telling quotation from John Donne, in which the poet uses the metaphor of the book of life:

All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated: God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God's hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again, for that library where every book shall lie open to one another.42

The relation of this corporate consummation to Christian belief in the 'body' of the risen Christ will be discussed in the final section of this chapter.

That the resurrection world is not simply a communion of selves in relation to each other and to God has already led us to speak of the environment of heaven. Here we turn again to Austin Farrer, who discussed the matter briefly in the last chapter of his Saving Belief.43 For Farrer, as for nearly all the authors mentioned here, resurrection is God's gift of grace, and the communion of saints is sustained solely in relation to God. But this must entail a created sphere in and through which God brings our story to its intended consummation. This new creation, including our resurrection 'bodies', can be 'as dimensional as it likes', says Farrer, without being spatially related to our present universe. For 'space is a web of interactions between material energies which form a system by interacting'. The 'stuff of glory' of which heaven is composed is not such as 'to interact with sticks and stones, with flesh and blood'.

I myself have offered, in an earlier book, The Christian Hope, some speculations about which aspects of creaturely life and existence are susceptible of translation into the imperishable condition of the world to come. Some present goods are inherently perishable: a rose, a cathedral, a mountain. Many such goods could be retained only in memory and idea. Here, Process Theology's talk of the divine memory, in which we may hope to share, perhaps comes into play. Personal and interpersonal values, by contrast, including all creative and cultural values, are, no doubt, translatable into the new imperishable environment. But present experience of such values, as has already been said, offers no more than hints of what form their future, imperishable 'embodiment' will take.

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