What Does Life After “Death” Look Like?
Almost everyone gets it, one way or the other. And I don’t mean “gets it” in the sense of understanding something. I mean “gets it” in the sense of getting-it-between-the-eyes. Almost everyone gets the big hurt; and, in the words of The Doors, “almost no one here gets out alive.”
Whether you say of your experience: “Life happened.” Or “Now I know what the big hurt is.” Or “What I had heard with my ears, I have now seen with my eyes” (Job 42:5 but in a negative sense). No one here, or almost no one here, gets out alive.
I’ve often even said to myself, while observing some professionally successful person in his or her late 30s or early 40s, “I wonder when it’s going to hit them?” Or “When they are going to be taken down?” For it almost always happens.
How many of my friends in the profession of ministry have finally just hit their stride and gotten the “Big Job”—the big parish—that seemed to be “worthy” of their gifts only to be demolished by a lawsuit or an illness or a lost child or something from their past or a marriage partner who’s had it? You fill in the blanks.
Many who receive a great deal from Tullian and Stacie’s ministry are people “of sorrows, acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3), from whom the world—or their world—has turned its face. Some have lost their ministry through a combination of sin and accusation. Some have been appalled and even numbed by the rapidity of sudden friendlessness and seemingly unanimous desertion. Some have done it to themselves. Some have had it done to them. Some thought they were “in the clear” and could look forward to a peaceful, non-alone retirement. Some were almost relieved when the hidden reality of their life became exposed. Some are absolutely innocent victims, on the other hand. And some are compulsive actors-out, to their own worst interest.
Wherever it comes from, one can be assured that “almost no one here gets out alive.” We’re talking “Apocalypse Now” (1979). And remember, Francis Ford Coppola edited two different endings for that fun little movie. One ending bore a little hope, and the other ending bore more or less no hope.
But the point of this piece is: what lies beyond? What lies after? After you “crash and burn,” to use today’s uncompassionate phrase for it—when you’re all “sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground” (“Fire and Rain,” 1970)—then what?
Mary and I were watching a lovely 1959 movie entitled “Green Mansions” the other night. It stars Anthony Perkins and Audrey Hepburn and conveys the beauty and appeal of the “Bird Girl” ‘Rima’ as she spreads light and unity, and particularly specific love to the hero, within the Venezuelan jungle. The movie’s ending (which is more upbeat than the novel’s ending on which it is based) posits a lyrical and necessary resurrection on the part of ‘Rima.’ It is touching; really it is. But Mary (who is no pessimist) said at the end, “That seems a little easy”—which was to say, perhaps, the scriptwriter just wrote in a happy ending to help the audience feel better.
In other words, resurrection from the dead is really something, when or if it ever happens.
That is one of the reasons I am looking forward to visiting Jerusalem this Fall. This time I want to sit in the Garden Tomb, really sit there, for a while, not rushing and hopefully without scores of people around. I’d like to reflect, with no rush or other destination, on the actual Easter Morning of Jesus. What was it like for the Marys and Salome? For Mary Magdalene? For Peter and John? What was it like for Christ Himself?
If it was a real resurrection—I believe it was, mainly because I’ve seen risings-from-“the-dead” in my own life—what was the continuity and what was the discontinuity of the Man with the marks in His hands with the Man Who had died? How like the “old” Jesus was the “new” Jesus; and how unlike? (C.S. Lewis talks about this in his book on miracles, and I recommend that chapter.)
And now to you and me. How like the old you is the new, “dead” you? And how un-alike? (‘Spock’ in “Star Trek” always used to say “un-alike” when he meant “un-like.” Do you like Spock?) But seriously, what is the new, “dead” you like? What does he or she look like?
And how, incidentally, does he or she make a living?
Well, I might say a few things.
First, the new, “dead” you should probably not be looking for work in the old, dead line of work.
In other words, if you were a parish minister, you may well never serve as one again. But that’s fine! The institutional church is often a millstone around the neck of actual Christ-like representation and service in the world. Even if you never got into trouble when you were serving a parish, it may have been an extremely compromised institution even in the best of times.
So rejoice and be glad. Remember John Profumo! He had to stop being a British cabinet minister, but his decades of work with disabled people after his disgrace truly qualified him to be called a Saint of the 20th Century.
Second, don’t try to “come up with” or “dream up” a new line of calling. Rather, let it come to you! Well, maybe not always, but most of the time. God is a “Friend, Come Up Higher” Entity, not someone to whom you have to “send in an application.”
Let your future come to you! Look for it, pray for it, be open to it, but don't work on it or try to manufacture it. We don't do enough sitting and waiting, but are constantly out there fussing and “tweaking” and dropping hints. I know!
Incidentally, you may well be a Black Sheep from the standpoint of mostly the entire world in which you worked and served conscientiously for years and years. But there's another world, which you probably don’t know yet, that would probably love to have you! I know this may sound a little Paula-White-tweet-ish, but I believe it! Listen to Bob Dylan’s song with the line that leaps out, “Wherever I am welcome is where I'll be” (Aaron Neville covered it, and the song’s title is “Saving Grace”). It blows me away when, on the one hand, I'm treated like a leper by some former co-religionists, but, on the other hand, I'm welcomed home like a long-lost son by others. You have to be willing to wipe the dust off one of your feet while letting the other foot be washed tenderly from the other side.
Finally, and synthetically, the whole “hope of glory” that awaits the person who has been killed by life but is still alive physically and emotionally cannot be constructed, or even be foreseen. You’re really a new person now, and what is coming to you could well be truly another life. Remember the main character in “Tender Mercies” (1983). He was a famous country music singer at one time, and then…life happened.
Fairly late in the movie, which you have got to see if you haven’t already, a lady comes up to him, played by Robert Duvall, on the street, and says, “Weren't you Mac Sledge?” His reply, “Yes, Ma’am, I was.” And look what happens to Mac Sledge! Everything happens to him that could be called good.