A lot of discussion about Easter, the resurrection, and afterlife focuses on surviving death. Did Jesus return to life? What sort of life? Will other human being do the same? Where do we go when we die? Can a person really hope to live forever? Does the evidence support it?
All of that focuses on individuals and their survival, the number of days, hours, moments in the span of a life.
We can debate that subject ad nauseam, even if not literally ad infinitum, and never make any genuine progress. There is no way that a historian can conclude that Jesus rose from the grave – or demonstrate decisively that he did not. There doesn’t seem to be any way that scientists could ever decisively show that there is a spiritual afterlife – or decisively demonstrate that there couldn’t possibly be. If one is willing to posit the existence of a certain kind of God, then all bets are off, and anything and everything is possible. But the existence of that sort of God is just one more topic that people debate inconclusively.
Perhaps rather than simply take sides in such debates, progressive religious believers ought instead to shift our attention to transcending death. Did Jesus survive death? How could one settle that debate to everyone’s satisfaction? But did Jesus transcend death? There I think that we can provide a definite answer, and that answer is “yes.” Can anyone deny the impact he had on at least some of those who knew him? Can anyone deny that his life and teaching have continued to impact and transform others, and continue to do so? Would anyone say that there is no sense in which Jesus lives on, even if only in the hearts and minds of those who find in him something transformative – whether an example, a Messiah, a savior or a deity?
Even if those who say it is not enough turn out to be right, surely it is essential. If Jesus did not transcend death, then whether or not he survived death would be a mere fact, and nothing more. And the same goes for each of us.
It may be that one does not have to choose between surviving death and transcending death. But one of the two is clearly beyond our power to accomplish – except inasmuch as it depends on how we live our lives, and perhaps on whether we live in such a way that our earthly lives transcend death. While technology may one day prolong life even beyond what it has already accomplished, it will not eliminate it. But again, whether living forever is something that even should be our aim is merely another topic for debate. One work on the afterlife I read recently suggested that an afterlife consisting of endless rather than timeless existence might be hell rather than heaven.
But whatever one thinks about that subject, surely there is is something we can all hope for, and strive for, and acknowledge as something genuinely real and possible and worth pursuing: that we should seek to transcend death, to make an impact that will outlive us, to find a way of living that makes our time spent on the Earth worthwhile.