Ever since I first read N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope, I’ve grown increasingly uncomfortable with the way many Christians (especially in the Evangelical camp I usually find myself in) talk about heaven, basically, as a place we would all like to go to when we die. A final destination, perhaps in contrast to someplace… less pleasant. It locates the Christian hope in a simplistic (and fuzzy) life after death. In contrast, Wright, not unlike Moltmann before him, finds his doctrine of hope grounded in resurrection, or “life after life after death” as Wright likes to put it.
I shared here recently a quote where Moltmann articulates resurrection as something we can experience in our everyday. But how does belief in resurrection also translate into hope for the future? Below is what he said by way of “personal forward” to his recent lecture at Claremont. Probably putting it in stronger terms than would Wright (Wright is fine with talk about heaven as long as it is not understood to be the final destination), Moltmann here explains why he doesn’t want to go to heaven. I’m impressed with how our beloved theologian of hope reflects on the life lived in hope, even in old age.
You may ask: Why is an old man of 87 still fascinated by hope? Is not most of his life already passed by? Should he not prepare for death? or is he still not yet satisfied of life? What is he still waiting for?
My first answer is: Youth and age are not only stages of life and don’t count by the years spent, but they are also attitudes towards life. Some people look already rather old while they are still young. Others are still young in their old age. One is saying “but the youth has a future” but the reverse is also true. Hope is keeping you young and alive. I quote old Albert Schweitzer: “You are as young as your hope. You are as old as your despondency. As long as the message of beauty and joy and courage,and the magnitude of earth, of humankind, and of the infinite, reaches your heart, you are young.” And this is true!
But when then the spirit is tired, and the body fragile, and the legs don’t carry a man along anymore, is it not then time to say farewell? I am now saying something very personal. The nearer I am coming to my death, the more I am reflecting and expecting with the Nicene Creed the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. I don’t want to go to heaven. Heaven is there for the angels, and I am a child of the earth. But I expect passionately the world to come: The new heaven and the new earth where justice dwells, where God will wipe away every tear and make all things new. And this expectation makes life in this world for me, here and now, most lovable.