Orthodox Christianity is certain that it needs a physically resurrected Jesus as clearly and unambiguously stated in its creeds and doctrines. The teaching is that because Jesus was physically raised from the dead so all who believe in Jesus [and can say the 'magic' words of repentance] will live forever in an eternity praising God. However, many followers of the Jesus Way have no need of a bodily raised Jesus. A physical resurrection is irrelevant to our discipleship.
Since my book ‘Setting Jesus Free’ was published I have been asked many times, “Well, do you believe in the resurrection of Jesus and of eternal life for believers? Yes or no?”
My answer is like that of the many politicians who all compete for our votes come an election: “Well, it’s both ‘yes’ and ‘no’!”
This response is often followed up with a supplementary question that goes something like, “But the creeds of the church tell us that Jesus was physically raised from the dead, so, do you believe in a physical resurrection of Jesus to be followed by our own physical resurrection into an eternal afterlife?”
My answer is “Physical? No, I don’t.”
The conversation often then progresses to the next supplementary, more of an accusation than a question: “Then what do you believe about resurrection, eternity and life beyond the grave?”
My response is always, “I believe, most emphatically, in the ongoing presence of the same sacred spirit that was in Jesus also being in you and me. It is the same sacred spirit as that within Hinduism and referred to as the Namaskaram / Namaste Spirit that indwells all people. The metaphor that appeals to me is borrowed from Buddhism: that the sacred Spirit is like an eternal river that has no beginning and no end. It flows continually. At a given point we were each created as body [each one a genetically modified version of flesh and bone] and mind [created through the nurture of our particular culture, education and family situation]. These are the ‘hat’ and ‘coat’ of that which we call ‘soul': the eternal Spirit indwelling each and every one of us.
As I understand it, the Christian emphasis seems to be that the body and mind are the central parts of what it means to be ‘human’ and it is almost the subservient soul connecting us to God. But I approach this from the other direction, that what it really means to be human is the soul, and the body and mind are subservient to the soul.
The fact that I was born and raised in a ‘Christian’ country meant that my gateway into the sacred experience was and remains the Jesus of the Christian Church. Had I been born in Mumbai my gateway may well have been through Hinduism. Had I been born in Karachi my gateway would probably have been Islam. Had I been born in Tel Aviv the gateway more than likely would have been Judaism. And so on.
But no matter what label is attached to the gateway it is the same sacred Spirit within us all. The day will come for each one of us when the ‘hat and coat’ are no longer necessary and both are cast away in death. But the eternal Spirit [the soul] that Christian teaching has called the Alpha and the Omega continues to flow as that metaphoric sacred river that is without beginning and without end. In taking this line:
An email was sent to me in the lead up to Easter 2010 by a reader of the sermons on my website. Although I have taken poetic license and edited his email, he summed up where I am in the following words: “The point is to be Jesus, not just a follower or believer in, but to walk in his shoes. Whether the stories are true isn’t the point. The point is to learn from the parables, myths and stories to help you to lead a better, more fulfilled, caring and socially motivated and connected life and to feel closer to whatever is the mysterious energy that we call god.”
So is there an afterlife and if so, what is the nature of eternal life?
My answer again is, “Yes there is eternal life but it is not to be interpreted literally as being endless time spent in the celestial city paved with gold, with each of us raised to incorruptible bodies that will have cleansed minds recognising loved ones.”
I am convinced that the eternal after life is the same as the eternal before life. It is the soul within each one of us as that metaphoric river without beginning and without end. Our body and mind [the hat and coat of the soul] will die at the moment of death. But the essential part of each one of us is that eternal soul that has always existed and will always exist.
However, to interpret body, mind and soul in this way we need to rethink the centrality of the soul and the subservience of the body and mind. Although my body will decay and my mind will cease to operate, my soul [which is the Namaskaram / Namaste Spirit that indwells all people] was never born and can never die. It is from eternity that my soul has come and it is into eternity that my soul will continue simply because my soul [and your soul] is the eternal sacred.