Tuesday, July 17, 2012

C.S. Lewis and Focus on the Afterlife

I've been reading C.S. Lewis's book Reflections on the Psalms, and in it he explains how the Jews perceived the Psalms vs. how Christians perceive them. One thing he addresses is the Christian focus on the afterlife. He says that traditionally in Judaism, there was little to no belief in an afterlife. Then he says this, which I love because it so succinctly states my own objections to scaring people into salvation via hellfire and brimstone: "The truth seems to me that happiness or misery beyond death, simply in themselves, are not even religious subjects at all... the hopes and anxieties aroused are overwhelming. But they are not on that account the more religious. They are hopes for oneself, anxieties for oneself. God is not in the centre. He is still important only for the sake of something else" (emphasis mine).

That is also how I feel about the "Left Behind" mentality. Having been through my own Last Day obsession, I came out of it realizing how little it nourished me spiritually. My focus was on things so literal.

Anyway, he goes on to theorize why, in all God's revelation to the ancient Hebrews, he didn't reveal to them the importance of the afterlife: "It is surely, therefore, very possible that when God began to reveal himself to men, to show them that He and nothing else is their true goal and the satisfaction of their needs, and that He has a claim upon them simply by being what He is, quite apart from anything He can bestow or deny, it may have been absolutely necessary that his revelation should not begin with any hint of future Beatitude or Perdition. Those are not the right point to begin at. An effective belief in them, coming too son, may even render almost impossible the development of (so to call it) the appetite for God; personal hopes and fears, too obviously exciting, have got in first" (emphasis mine).

Brilliant. It shows exactly the theological flaw in using scare tactics to present Christ. I realize some Christians have a "whatever-it-takes" mentality, but I just can't believe that such "salvation" leads to a true understanding of Christ.  It may do more damage in the long run.
I was brought up being taught, and have continued to experience, that the Kingdom is in operation every day, every moment.  Christ is Risen.  And living the Kingdom every day automatically keeps us in a state of preparation because we have the proper focus.


Richie said...

Excellent take on approaching the importance of not focusing alot of energyt on teaching about an afterlife!

C-E B said...

Very insightful piece, Naomi. I just love Lewis's thoughts too. I've read some of his non-Narnia stuff, but not this one. On the list! I first read Revelation as a teenager and have been enthralled ever since. It's some of the most beautiful description (the New Jerusalem part) I've ever written and I've always thought that if you read it kind literally and figuratively together, it seems to downplay an afterlife too. There's a part where the whole earth and heaven is swallowed up into what sounds an awful lot like a black hole and then a new world (new Jerusalem emerges where those who've been saved get to dwell eternally. My interpretation may be way off but I've always felt like maybe the afterlife is a dream the soul has, and then one day this world will become perfect and we will wake up again. Not so much an afterlife as a constant life with a huge nap in between LOL

Naomi said...

Lovely thoughts, Lizzy - especially about the nap! :-)

C-E B said...

Just noticed I said that Revelation had some of the best description I'd ever written! LOL I have too big an ego, clearly... :)

Naomi said...

Hahaha!! I read it as you meant it. That's hilarious!