What Really Happens When We Die?
By Frederick W. Schmidt
What really happens when we die?
We find ourselves in the arms of God, comforted, loved — restored in body, mind, and spirit — returned to those we love. Knowing and known by the One who created us and who loves us better than we love ourselves.
The precise details are more difficult to name. Life beyond the grave participates in the best of the past, the present, and the hoped-for-future; and yet it transcends all three. We will discover deep peace and fulfillment, but we will likely discover that the most important elements of both are also very different from what we might have supposed.
In that way what I believe really happens to us is grounded in a rich biblical and theological tradition that lies at the center of mainstream Christian conviction. It is a tradition that believes in the goodness of creation; our participation in the image of God; our growth in conformity with that image; and eternal life as both present and future possession.
More profoundly however, it is a centuries-old conviction rooted in the goodness of God. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C. S. Lewis, Lucy overhears Mr. and Mrs. Beaver talking about the coming of the lion Aslan who will, at last, restore order and peace.
"Is he safe?" Lucy asks.
To which Mr. Beaver responds, "Who said anything about safe? ‘Course, he isn't safe! But he's good!"
It is on that goodness, and not in my understanding of its out-working, that my conviction relies. Put another way, it is not what I know about the future that anchors my hope; I depend on the One who is the future.
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Frederick W. Schmidt, Jr. is Associate Professor of Christian Spirituality at Southern Methodist University, Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, TX, and an Episcopal priest.