The Tedium of Immortality

Before we proceed to examine the more specifically theological aspects of Christian hope, it is worth pausing to consider an objection to the notion of unending life after death that has exercised a number of philosophers. Bernard Williams, for example, cites the play, The Makropoulos Case (turned into a splendid opera by Jamcek), in which, unknown to everybody else, the heroine has lived on and on, through one relationship after another, for 342 years, in order to bring out the utterly boring character of the notion of unending life. But such a model of eternal life is hopelessly unimaginative and pedestrian. We cannot think of the life of the world to come simply in terms of an endless continuation of what we experience here on Earth. But there may well be hints in present experience ofwhat life in the resurrection world will be like. Garth Hallett explores a number of such possible analogies in an article on this theme in Faith and Philosophy.37 He is suspicious of the notion of timeless beatitude, for reasons comparable to those already given in section 7.3 of this chapter; but totally absorbed activity, ever deeper awareness and growth, mystical experience, eternal youthfUlness and delight, and creative contentment all provide hints of what might become immortalizable. Hallett points out how mystical experience, though taking place in time, constitutes a kind of subjective timelessness, a state in which one ceases to be aware of the passage of time. However, that can only be one among several possibilities. An earlier philosopher, A. E. Taylor, insisted on the temporal aspects of eternal life:

Even a heavenly life would still be a forward-looking life. . . the blessed would always have new discoveries awaiting them, more to learn than they had already found out of the unspeakable riches of God. . . . Heaven — if a heaven indeed there is — we may safely say, must be a land of delightful surprises, not a country of Lotus-eaters where it is always afternoon. And in the same way, if we are to think morally of Heaven, we should, I suggest, think of it as a land where charity grows, where each citizen learns to glow more and more with an understanding love, not only of the common King, but of his fellow citizens.38

We shall have reason to take up a number of points from this quotation in subsequent sections, but, to redress the balance yet again, let us reflect on the following quotation from a much earlier philosophical theologian, Thomas Aquinas: 'Nothing that is contemplated with wonder can be tiresome, since as long as the thing remains in wonder it continues to stimulate desire. But the divine substance is always viewed with wonder by any created intellect. So it is impossible for an intellectual substance to become tired of this vision.'39

The vision of God is one of the prime notions in terms of which the Christian tradition has tried to articulate the final destiny of God's human creatures. Kenneth Kirk's magisterial Bampton Lectures, with the title The Vision of God, remains the standard work on this central theme of eschat-ology. But the idea of the vision of God captures only one aspect of the consummation of all things. Like the idea of survival itself, it focuses on the individual's future state. This must now be complemented by reflection on the two other key symbols in terms of which the Christian tradition has envisaged the ultimate end-state of creation: namely, the communion of saints and the kingdom of God. It has to be admitted that, with one exception, these more theological aspects of the resurrection world have received less attention from philosophers of religion than questions of individual destiny.

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