Polkinghorne on a Destiny Beyond Death (RJS)

This last week I have been spending my commute listening to the audio recordings of a series of lectures given by John Polkinghorne last November at Point Loma Nazarene University (available on the PLNU website here). There is much to ponder in these lectures, and fuel for several posts. The lecture on Prayer and Providence is one I will come back to in the future. Today, in the wake of the discussion of universalism and Rob Bell’s upcoming book, I would like to consider the final lecture in the series where Dr. Polkinghorne ruminates on the subject of A Destiny Beyond Death.

In some sense the question is quite simple. We know that there will be a continued existence after death, Jesus in response to the Sadducees, when confronted with a puzzle about the confusion that an afterlife must cause, put it quite clearly:

But regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God: I AM THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, AND THE GOD OF ISAAC, AND THE GOD OF JACOB’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”  (Mt 22:31-32)

The resurrection is an integral part of Christian belief, not simply the resurrection of Christ, but the bodily resurrection of all.

But digging deeper into the topic there are a number of profound questions. Dr. Polkinghorne is quick to point out that he may be mistaken on some of his positions. These are questions, for the most part, where we cannot know the answer with clarity and confidence in this life. Yet we can and should consider the questions and the potential answers.  Perhaps the best we can do is to offer some idealized models, thought experiments, that  help us to ponder the nature of God and his reality.

Dr. Polkinghorne rests his thinking here on two pillars – the faithfulness of God and the way that faithfulness was demonstrated in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. This lecture, like all of Dr. Polkinghorne’s lectures and writings, is thought provoking and full of insights. I don’t agree with Dr. Polkinghorne on all of his positions, but he is always worth careful consideration and interaction.

What is the most perplexing question raised by the thought of a destiny beyond death?

What do you think it will be like?

Continuity. One question brought to the forefront when considering a destiny beyond death is the form the continuity between our existence in the world today and our existence in the age to come, in traditional Christian terms, this is the soul. Dr. Polkinghorne considers the soul as something not detached or detachable from the body, we are a package deal, psychosomatic unities. We are animated bodies, not incarnated souls. The Platonic ideal of a soul freed from the flesh at death makes no sense scientifically or theologically. The soul, that which makes us human and unique as humans, is the sum total of our thoughts, deeds, character and relationships. The human soul has no natural immortality and a human life after death must include a re-embodied existence by act of God. The Christian form of our hope for the future is resurrection.

Discontinuity. While there is continuity between the present and the new creation there is also discontinuity. This discontinuity is in the form and matter of the new creation and the material constitution of the resurrected body. The presence of death and decay is a necessary part of universe we live in today. The new creation will not be an evolving creation subject to drift and decay with time. The new creation must be a new form of matter governed by a new set of laws.

Of course this immediately raises the question: If the new creation does not involve death and decay, if God can create such a world, why did God bring into existence an initial  creation with death and decay? Dr. Polkinghorne suggests that this is part of God’s plan – if not a philosophical necessity, a practical one. This is the way that God, in his infinite wisdom and love, deemed best.

(20:44) I think the answer to that question lies in recognizing that God’s creative purposes are intrinsically two step. God’s ultimate purpose is to draw all beings who would accept the divine offer of mercy and love, draw all beings into the closest possible relationship with the life of their creator. But they have to enter freely into that relationship. And that means we have to at first exist at some distance from our creator. The infinite presence of God has to some extent to be veiled from the sight of finite creatures because otherwise we would just be overwhelmed by that infinite presence. So God first brings into being in my view a creation, the present creation, the old creation, which exists at some distance from the divine reality. And in which creatures are therefore given the space, the freedom to be themselves, and indeed I would say, to make themselves. I think the theological way of thinking about evolution is that it is the process by which the creators endowment of potentiality is brought to birth by creatures being allowed to make themselves, by exploring and bringing that potentiality to birth. So that is the world in which we live. That is the first step of God’s creative purposes. “

The process of becoming, of growing, of developing character, of choosing, of acting, of being, is a necessary first step in God’s creative plan. Humans, conscious and aware, capable of choice, agency, and creativity, capable of a loving relationship woth each other and with the creator are an intentional product of the creation. The ultimate goal is to draw all into a closer relationship in an new creation without death and decay.

Hell and Judgment. But where does this leave us on issues such as heaven, hell, judgment and redemption? This is one of the biggest questions facing many Christians today. In some traditional views God’s plan for the future is limited only to a few who are chosen by circumstance of time, place, and situation to be aware of and open to the gospel. This seems capricious and contrary to the nature of God seen in the person of Jesus. Jesus tells his disciples in John 14 “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.” and “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.”  We look to Jesus, his life, his teaching, his death and resurrection, to understand God, the plan, purpose, and divine nature of God. This then should shape some of our thinking about hell and judgment. God became man, dwelt among us, suffered and died as a consequence of and for our sins.

Dr. Polkinghorne continues in this lecture to reflect on the nature of the world to come in light of the divine nature of God. He is not a universalist but does see the love and purpose of God as the overall theme that governs thinking about these issues.

(27:55) The next thing I want to say is that I think there is another important continuity between this world and the world to come, a continuity in the divine nature itself. And that is, I think that God’s love and mercy is unending in that respect. So I don’t think that the divine offer of life and of redemption is for this world only. It isn’t and 80 year limited offer, buy now. I don’t for a minute mean by saying that that it doesn’t matter what you think and do in this world.  If you deliberately turn from God in this world, that is spiritually damaging, and it will make it more painful and more difficult to turn to God in the clearer light of the world to come. But I do not think myself, I am sure not everyone here will agree with me about this,  I do not myself think that a curtain comes down at death and if you’re on the wrong side of it God says OK, you’ve had your chance, you missed it. That doesn’t seem to be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. I think God’s love and mercy is not withdrawn in that sort of way because after all there are many people who for many different reasons, geographical reasons, reasons of experience and so on, find it very difficult to hear and respond to the message of God’s love in this world.  … I am sure that God’s love and mercy is not limited in that sort of way.

The life to come will be temporal, will include judgment, will include growth and continuing development coming into ever closer relationship with the infinite God. We will not simply arrive and enter a timeless and static creation of worship.

(33:18) But will everybody be there? that’s the next question I think we have to ask.  I’ already suggested that God’s offer of love and mercy is not for this lifetime only although we have to take it very seriously in this lifetime. But will there be people who will resist God’s invitation forever? While I think that God’s offer of acceptance is never withdrawn equally I think that nobody will be carried kicking and screaming against their will into the kingdom of heaven. I think there has to be in each of our lives a commitment making that journey. And will there be people who resist God forever? Well I don’t think we know really. But it is a serious possibility. And if there are such people, they are in hell. And they are in hell not because they’ve been thrown there by an angry God who’s just lost patience with them, but they are there because they’ve chosen to be there. That’s the tragedy of hell. As preachers like to say the gates of hell are locked on the inside to keep God out rather than on the inside to keep the sinners in. They’ve chosen to be there.

Polkinghorne here refers to and recommends CS Lewis’s The Great Divorce. In his opinion CS Lewis’s greatest gift was conveying theological truth in his imaginative writing.

There is more in the lecture, and more in the question and answer period that followed the lecture. But this is enough for now.

What do you think of our destiny beyond death? How do you think about it?

Where will there be continuity or discontinuity? What will we do?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail@att.net

If interested you can subscribe to a full text feed of my posts at Musings on Science and Theology.

  • Susan N.

    Well, I adore C.S. Lewis and have read ‘The Great Divorce’ along with several other of his books (fiction and non-fiction). And, I have to say, in light of this post, I’m liking John Polkinghorne (whom I had never heard of before this series on JC) more and more!

    Destiny beyond death: I think that the soul is eternal, and being in God’s presence forever is the best case scenario for a human being on the other side of this life.

    Continuity/Discontinuity: I have no idea! Who has been on the other side of death and returned to tell us?

    Hell and judgment: I truly *hope* that God’s love wins in the end. I don’t believe God’s grace is designed to supersede our will to choose. I believe that those who, in this life, had no opportunity to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ, or, did not have the ability to fully understand and make a decision for Him, surely will not be capriciously punished for that. I believe that God’s justice is primarily motivated by His mercy and love.

    I think there will be many surprises in eternity — who’s in (heaven), who’s out (hell), or whether we have even understood that dichotomy completely.

    The less I have come to fear death and the threat of hell in my Christian life, the more I have learned to love God and others. It’s very freeing and conducive to a healthy relationship with God or in community. Certain truths about God I cling to — love being central to what I know of Him. What I don’t know with certainty, the mysteries of faith, I am learning not to sweat. It’s interesting to me to ponder these theological questions, but the unanswered questions don’t shake my faith in what I *do* know :-) And, praise God, that’s progress!

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    The infinite presence of God has to some extent to be veiled from the sight of finite creatures because otherwise we would just be overwhelmed by that infinite presence.”

    Which brings up the old question about whether there’s free will in Heaven…

  • http://growinggrace-full.blogspot.com/ Chris Donato

    I don’t know. I don’t know, and I don’t know. And, oh yeah, I don’t know.

    Thanks for sharing this.

  • Tom

    I have thought this way for a long time, it helps me explain the unexplainable pain and evil in this world. Reading Geoge MacDonald and C.S. Lewis drove home this point. MacDonald seems to think that everyone would eventually make it. (Lilith) I’m not sure that all will, but maybe some will. The Great Divorce seems to imply that most would turn back to hell in the end, even when they had tasted heaven. I guess a lot rests on the term “forever” in scripture. Does forever mean a long time or “forever”. I hope and pray that everyone will eventually make it. I am sure that what ever happens we will be saying “God is just and God is good”.

  • normbv

    As I stated on the Rob Bell post, we simply know very little beyond the grave except that “only” the faithful have been given a promise of eternal existence. [the definition of God’s faithful is up for clarification] It seems we need to learn to rest in that assurance of the Arms of our creator God. We can speculate until the cows come home but to no reasonable avail.

    Much of the OT and ancient Jewish literature described Sheol, Hades, and Hell in various shades of gray at best. The Jews started incorporating their idea of the Pit or Sheol into Greek Hadean terminology after the conquest of Alexander the Great and Christ alludes to this underworld compartment idea in the story of the Rich man and Lazarus. It was not to be understood literally as best I can determine from the ancient historical perspective but this becomes a moot point because Christ destroys this ancient concept by throwing it into the figurative lake of fire in Rev 20. In other words the ancient concept of holding places for the dead underneath the physical earth has been removed from the new Kingdom perspective. This means that our place of holding post mortem has been destroyed and the faithful go directly to God and Christ bosom instead of Abraham’s figuratively. I hope that we can grasp that a holding tank inside physical earth was not a reality but was a mental construct of the ancients to describe otherworldly issues about life and death that they could not answer.

  • bill

    A lot to digest here. Polkinghorne is fascinating! There are a lot of questions I will not have answered this side of the grave! One conclusion I have come to. Our view of Hell has been influenced by popular culture as much as scripture, Dante’s Inferno, for example. I look forward to reading more Polkinghorne and revisiting Lewis.

  • http://www.friends4thejourney.com/ josenmiami

    fascinating post … thank you! by-the-way RJS, do you have a twitter account? If yes, I would love to ‘follow’ you …

  • http://www.thefaithlog.com Jeff Doles

    I think of eternity with God as something like the vision of God in His temple in Isaiah 6. The seraphim about Him cry out to one another, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of Hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.”

    They are not saying the same thing three times. I think that each time they exclaim “Holy,” it is because they have just seen something in God that they have never seen before and it leaves them in fresh awe.

    I think eternity with God will be like that. We will always be discovering something new in God that we have not seen before. After all, He is infinite while we are finite.

    There will be continuity — we do not lose our identities; we will be in resurrected bodies; we will live upon the earth. There will also be discontinuity — no sin, no death, sickness, no injustice. The kingdom of God will be fully manifested, the will of God done, fully and completely, on earth exactly as it is in heaven. Heaven and earth will be completely one.

  • normbv

    Jeff #8,

    Being an evolutionist I don’t believe for one moment that we are going to live eternally upon the earth as it’s not going to last forever. [Ask any physicist] That idea is derived from a physical literal reading of symbolic language speaking about the spiritual kingdom that Christ ushered in. It’s the same mistake that the YEC literalist make about Genesis. We just as well start believing that there are holding tanks under the earth where dead souls are kept also. God will provide for us a place where Christ is now and I am looking forward to it. Now what it will appear like is up to God to provide but if it was going to be a literal reglorified earth then it had better become a lot bigger and all the desert and Polar Regions need to disappear. You see where that leads? Right back into YEC literalism.

  • http://www.worshiptheologically.com Anthony Parrott

    In each of Polkinghorne’s points, I think to myself, “I hope he’s right!” What I struggle with is the Biblical evidence. Does he give any specific Biblical evidence, or is it more of a narrative, far-lensed approach to (what we hope to be) God’s character? Not that I’m disparaging a wider-scoped view of Scripture in questions like these. But in discussions (which inevitably can lead to debates which can inevitably lead to arguments) on matters like these, people tend to demand chapter-and-verse “proof.” Not that I should seek to feed someone’s proof-texting addiction, but is there any simple, Biblical way to explain concepts like these to folks?

  • John W Frye

    Thank you, RJS, for these posts on Polkinghorne’s lectures. I’m only casually aware of him, so I read the wikipedia article which provides an overview of his life, thought and scientific and religious contributions. What a gift he is to the Church and the scientific world!

  • John W Frye

    normbv (#9),
    You’re too dogmatic about us not living on the earth in the cosmic renewal of all things. Just as Jesus’ earthly body was raised into a new reality–same body (with scars) yet different body, so in the cosmic renewal–same heavens and earth, but new is some way. There is continuity/ discontinuity in the same realities. Jesus did not say, “I will make all new things,” but “I will make all things new.”
    If you ask *as a physicist* “how can that be?” ????

  • normbv

    John #12

    I guess you could be right but then if you are then perhaps the YEC are just as correct about their literalization of scripture. The earth must have been paradisical and with no physical death and only 6000 years old. The old rocks and bones are just some kind of mistaken idea of ours.

    My understanding of Jesus raising the Dead and His own ressurection was as a testimony to that generation and all future ones that God indeed has power to bring us to him from a post mortem existence. It was a verification that Christ also had power over the old Coveanant of Adamic Death driven by Law. It was part of the signs and wonders of demonstrations that He and the early Christians were given to establish the new covenant church for all ages. It has nothing to do with establishing a physical realm here on Planet earth. What was established was his Spiritual Kingdom as He constantly reminded folks was His intention.

    Now if God wants to refurbish the physical earth I have no doubt that He can do so but I don’t think that is what scriptures are about. Sometimes a little dogmatism is appropriate. 😉

  • http://www.thefaithlog.com Jeff Doles


    The Bible teaches that there will be a NEW heavens and a New earth. One does not have to be a YEC literalist to believe that. Ask N. T. Wright. We will not be disembodied spirits but will be resurrected bodily, just as Jesus is.

    It seems you are trying to make an argument of guilt by association: If one believes there will be a new heavens and a new earth, they must also be YEC. It is a poor form of argumentation, and if fails here because it is uninformed about the many who believe the Bible about a new earth but who are not YEC.

  • rjs


    Please argue your points without the rhetorical “if real resurrection then YEC card”. It seems to me that you are mixing turnips and oranges and creating mush.

    The resurrection of Jesus is the cornerstone – and the indicator of the future. The idea that the only establishment is a “Spiritual Kingdom” seems antithetical to both the teaching of Jesus and the teaching of the early church. Beyond the issues of scripture though, is Polkinghorne’s observations on soul. There is no soul separate from embodiment. This, I think, is another key consideration. We will not be just memories in God’s mind, but separate and autonomous beings.

  • normbv


    No what I am doing is reminding folks when they are inconsistent about reading scriptures. Wright is just as inconsistent when he ignores the symbolism of Revelation New Heaven and Earth yet embraces it for Genesis. This is especially telling because John in Rev 21 & 22 is pulling directly from Genesis 2 & 3. If you want to understand the biblical interpretation of the Heavens and Earth then I would encourage you to delve into the Preterist exploration of these concepts.

  • rjs


    We are not ignoring the symbolism in Revelation. But we also are not ignoring the reality of the resurrection or the reality of our nature. Look – argue your point, but do so without guilt by association aspersions.

  • Linda

    I recommend an excellent article entitled “Foretastes of the Heavenly Life”, written by C.H. Spurgeon, he writes about what we can expect Heaven to be like, you can read it here:


  • Sean LeRoy

    I have no idea what YEC is…but, as the quote from Matthew above states, God is not the God of the ‘dead’, and it’s not poetic coincidence that John uses this same term ‘dead’ to describe those that will share a destiny (future), not w/ God, but w/ the Deceiver.

  • Linda

    I find the belief that “the gates of hell are locked on the inside to keep God out rather than on the inside to keep the sinners in.” very illogical with the fact that God is all powerful.

  • Will

    Referring to the last block quote, I wonder what it means for a person to continue to resist God beyond death. I like Lewis’ literary skill in presenting this sort of dilemma (Great Divorce), but what does it say about God’s affective/effective presence if we are left muddling through the same old broken formative and psychological residue, awaiting some break-through moment (or some experience that gets us over the hump to enable growth) before we are responsive to the very Creator our existence is contingent upon. Suppose some reject the claims of the church in the here and now because its embodied truthfulness is too shady or questionable/objectionable, would that still be a problem for us moving into the divine presence after death? Humankind’s existence is contingent and dependent upon the Triune God and I’m not sure what sense it makes to suggest that we won’t know (in a responsive way) truth (in a thick sense) when we experience it in it’s most full sense beyond death.

    Does that make any sense?

  • normbv


    Now you are reading positions into my presentations that are not there. Where have I ever stated that we are just thoughts in God’s mind post mortem? I expect God to provide me with a Heavenly body but I don’t think its necessarily going to be retrofitted back to a paradisiacal planet earth, the Bible simply does not tell us this information.

    If we are being inconsistent with the application of scripture then it goes right to the heart of our proper interpretation of them. To not deal with this logically seems to be ignoring a proper and consistent hermeneutic of scriptures. Now if one doesn’t believe that the scriptures use consistent contextual meaning from Genesis to Revelation then perhaps it can be proved that we should shelve such a concept. However if biblical hermeneutics do verify the consistency then many of the ideas in Genesis should mesh with the NT and Revelation as well. It seems that Paul and John seemed incline to believe they were tied to what was going on in their day. I’m sorry if my comparison offends but sometimes it’s hard to get folks to think beyond their current paradigms unless you shake the bushes a little.

    RJS, do you deny the possibility of confusion and inconsistency in understanding sections of scripture? How many different variations of millennium thoughts do we currently have in Christianity? Can all of them be correct? If not then my point stands as it’s well understood that predominantly Young Earth Creationist are also predominantly predisposed to literal Premillennialism and illustrates a pattern. All forms of applied hermeneutics typically bring predisposed ideas from other sections of scripture and that is my comparison point. Is it wrong to challenge people to think outside their current viewpoints?

  • http://blog.emergingscholars.org Mike Hickerson


    1) Luke, John, and the letters of Paul vigorously reject the idea of a non-physical resurrection. To make the resurrection symbolic, you have to do more than interpret Revelation symbolically.

    2) Who says that Revelation refers only to Earth? Hebrew (as well as Biblical Greek and Aramaic influenced by Hebrew) frequently uses pairs of terms to represent a single, broader concept. For example, “alpha and omega” doesn’t mean “the first and last letters of the alphabet and nothing else;” it means “everything” – from A to Z. “Heavens and earth” is another of these. There’s good reason to interpret the phrase “heavens and earth” as meaning “the whole of creation, the entire cosmos.” The symbolism of New Jerusalem in Revelation points to a similar idea, according to some interpretations. I don’t see any strong reason that the “new creation” described in Revelation 21-22 has to be limited to the third planet of Sol, and many good reasons to think that Rev. 21-22 refers to something that happens to the entire cosmos.

    3) From the little that I understand about contemporary physics (based mostly on Brian Greene’s books), I’m not sure that there’s any reason to assume that the “fundamental laws” of our universe are truly fundamental. Proponents of the multiverse theory suggest that physical laws of nature could work very differently in universes other than our own – universes which may be much closer than we realize. If theoretical physicists can propose different physical laws in different universes, why then is the idea of an immortal, physical body so inconceivable? Considering how little we know about the fundamental nature of time, I prefer a “wait and see” approach to the mechanics of resurrection and eternity. :)

  • normbv


    Why did the Pharisees who believed in a physical earthly resurrection try to kill Paul when he told them that they and not the Sadducees were correct that there would be a resurrection in Acts? However after they had time to think about it they apparently realized their physical concept of resurrected Israel was different than Paul’s and they continued with their plans to murder him. If we think we are due to have a literal physical resurrection back to planet earth then we agree with the Pharisaical Jews that didn’t like the Spiritual Kingdom of Christ.

    Concerning Rev 21 & 22. It says that God comes down to dwell with man and that there would be no more physical Temple because God and Christ would be the Light. It says that the Nations would bring their glory into the city and the Nations would be healed. It says that the evil doers would be outside the city gates. Much of this imagery is taken from Genesis and Ezekiel describing in symbolic terms the coming Messianic Kingdom of Christ. Turning the language into a literal understanding is what Christ and the Apostles fought against in the NT days. We fall right back into that old literal mindset that missed the message then if we are looking for the physical here on earth. My point is that if one denies the Spiritual Kingdom endowed by the Holy Spirit that has been given us then we are falling right back into the same old rut of the literalistic Jews.

    Rom 8:9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.

    Rom 8:11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you

    14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.

    Mike the ancients didn’t have any concept of physics and the associated theories. They did not write scripture from that kind of metaphysical philosophy and so those inquires are quite inapplicable to Jewish theology. However again I remind that I do believe in a bodily manifestation provided by God but just not in the ways that many here are trying to frame it back on planet earth.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    I am sure about one thing, if there is nothing to pet in heaven and there is in hell, I won’t be seeing my wife for a very long time.

  • Susan N.

    DRT – my daughter says the same thing, regarding her now deceased pet! Your comment made me smile…thanks :-)

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    I want to support normbv here. What I hear him saying is that it is obvious that we cannot truly know what the new heavens and new earth is going to be like so we should not read the attempted descriptions of that existence literally. I have to agree with that. The resurrected body and life is likely to be so different from our current existence that it really does not make sense to take these images literally.

    I also get the analogy that normbv is making to the YEC view and that taking our current concept of bodily resurrection may be equally narrow sighted as a YEC view. I thought the statement he made, made sense.

    Seriously, what if the resurrected body is more like an artificial organism that has enough repair parts that we can live forever and our memory engrams ( from Star Trek) and imprinted on this artificial life. And it would all be in space somewhere. That is a bodily resurrection of a new heaven and earth but does not follow the literal interpretations of the passages.

  • dopderbeck

    Hopefully I won’t get censored for asking this carry-over question, but: is the view Polkinghorne expresses here “universalism?” I don’t think so because he allows for the possibility that people in the exercise of their free will can resist God.

    Anyway, I have no idea whether he’s right. I suspect it’s a bit more difficult and complicated. But I agree with the fundamental assertion that God’s nature does not change.

  • Jeremy

    Linda – I don’t think that is a statement of what God can do, but rather a statement of what people try to do in regards to God. Think about it this way: How often do we try to deceive God even though it’s a thoroughly pointless endeavor? Locking the gates of Hell on the inside wouldn’t stop Him for a moment, but the attempt says everything that needs to be said about its residents. God is not excluding them as much as they are excluding God.

  • http://toddbouldin.wordpress.com Todd Bouldin

    Dr. Polkinghorne will deliver a plenary address at the Christian Scholars Conference at Pepperdine University on June 16-18th. He also will present at a science and faith symposium at All Saints Episcopal Church Beverly Hills on June 19th-20th. Hope you will join us.

  • http://theologica.ning.com/profile/ShermanNobles Sherman Nobles

    Thanks for the article. I too have come to have a much wider hope that Jesus truly is the Good Shepherd for who 99% is not sufficient, but only 100%. We must recall that Jesus did not come to condemn the lost (us), but to save us; and I trust that He fully fulfills His mission. There are many passages of scripture that affirm the salvation of all humanity, I’m suprised people don’t embrace them in faith, trusting God not only for their salvation, but also for the salvation of others. The Good News truly is Good News. I’m glad Dr. Polkinghorne expressed such a great hope in the Lord.

  • http://www.thefaithlog.com Jeff Doles

    A though occurred to me a little while ago. A question, actually:

    If God created the physical heavens and earth, and us as well, whether by direct creation, by evolution or by some other means, why would it be difficult to suppose that God intends to renew creation and resurrect us to live in it forever?

  • Rick C.

    There’s lots of sub-themes in these types of discussions. I’m not sure where to chime-in. So, (as it was asked): What is the most perplexing question raised by the thought of a destiny beyond death?

    Though Jesus, the Apostles, and/or NT authors taught that there will be a “resurrection of the just and the unjust”, I’m perplexed as to what the ‘resurrection of the unjust’ will be like. They will not participate in the resurrection to life. The wages of sin, (and their sins), is death. Please let me explain a bit more.

    Presently, I do not hold that souls (meaning, “people”) are created immortal. That immortality is for those who seek it, and it is found by-being-in-Christ: “The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” In other words, I hold to Conditionalism (aka, Conditional Immortality).

    The ‘default position’ of Conditionalism, as I’m guessing and suppose it to be, is that the unjust will, indeed, be resurrected (back to life), only to be judged and utterly destroyed forever. Yet the Scriptures seem to clearly say that the unjust will not be resurrected to life.

    I’ve been considering key texts, as well as what Josephus said re: the Pharisees’ teaching about the resurrection (noting that it seems that we Christians are probably in agreement with them in this, as per Paul, anyway). A passage from Josephus re: beliefs of Pharisees:

    “they hold the belief that an immortal strength belongs to souls, and that there are beneath the earth punishments and rewards for those who in life devoted themselves to virtue or vileness, and that eternal imprisonment is appointed for the latter, but the possibility of returning to life for the former” -Josephus Ant. 18.1.3

    The intriguing and perplexing phrase (above) is “the possibility of returning to life for the former.” Leaving aside if the Pharisees believed in ‘eternal conscious torment’ for the unjust–(just curious)–Is anyone tracking with me on this?

    Rev 20:12 (NKJV) And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books.

    Qs: Are the ‘standing dead’ still dead? Will the final judgment occur before anyone is [bodily] resurrected? Do the unjust get [bodily] resurrected?–OR–Is the “[bodily] resurrection to life” restricted to only those whose names are in in the Book of Life?

    I have lotsa work to do on this! Thanks.

  • Rick C.

    Add-On: I mentioned that, since Paul was a Pharisee, believing in the “resurrection of the just and unjust”, and that we Christians are in agreement with whatever Paul taught about these things.

    But, of course, neither Paul nor Jesus agreed with Pharisees across the board. And we have in the NT, the ‘true doctrine’ as taught by Jesus and the Apostles.

    Last Q for now: In Paul’s writings, have you found an actual description of ‘the resurrection of the unjust’? It’s not in 1 Thess 4, nor 1 Cor 15…(is why I’m asking). Paul writes that the wicked will, indeed, be judged. But I can’t find in Paul: their being [bodily] resurrected. Come to think of it: Do we find this in the teachings of Jesus? Thanks.

  • normbv

    Just for additional information to consider about resurrection. There are two kinds of resurrection that are being discussed in scripture; one is National or corporate resurrection of Israel out of the state of separation from God. This resulted from Israel’s bondage to Law found originally in Adam in the Garden story. Think also of Israel as the ancient God fearing church but effusively legalistic in practice and their need for redemption into the redeemed church of Grace. Often times as Paul speaks of the “Dead” of Israel’s need for resurrection he is speaking in a corporate or group sense to bring the faithful ones into the establishment of the faithful church we call the Body of Christ. So we have Israel resurrected into the true Israel that we see Paul speak of in Romans 9 whom are of the seed of Abraham but not necessarily biologically.

    However through corporate resurrection of the old church into the new church we have the members of this corporate Body [1 Cor 12] of the church will find their individual eternal existence also resurrected. This resurrection is to eternal life with God including going directly to God bypassing having a stopover or layover in Abraham’s bosom any more. Christ cleaned out the Hadean realm for the faithful when the old Law of Adam and Israel was annihilated in 70AD fulfilling Abrahams/Israels probation for ascendance to God directly. The Temple curtain veil has been rent in half and there is now access directly to God for fulfilled eternal life that Adam and Israel so desperately sought.