Questions that hurt

A few years ago I came across something online called “Eternal Earthbound Pets;” pet insurance for the rapture. For $135 for the first pet (and $20 each additional at the same address), a group of well-meaning and well-organized, animal-loving atheists will care for your pet for the duration of its life, if you are raptured up to heaven in the end times. 

The frequently asked questions page considered such things as,
“How long will it take someone to get to my pet, after the rapture happens?” 

“Since we assume chaos will reign immediately after the rapture, we can make no precise predictions as to response time, but have committed certified atheist pet rescuers in a certain mile radius from our clients.  Your animal will be rescued in as timely a manner as possible and after no more than 12 hours.”

“What if it turns out a relative of mine is left behind and wants to care for my pet?”
“Unless otherwise specified, unraptured relatives will have the right to claim and care for your pet, but if they choose not to, we guarantee to fulfill the contract and provide quality care for your earthbound pet.”

This arrangement struck me as a delicious win-win for all involved.
For Christians planning to be raptured, what a great service this is!
And sure, it’s a bit of a gamble, because while the end times certainly could come in our lifetime, there is no guarantee – so you may be out $135.  But isn’t it worth $135 for the peace of mind that you have knowing you’re a prepared and responsible pet owner?  Because really, who wants to come into glory worrying about poor Fido starving to death back home in a post-apocalyptic nightmare?
How much better that all the doomed humans fighting it out against the anti-Christ and his evil minions have something good to occupy themselves with besides their own too-late and terrifying circumstances? 

(Although, if we’re completely honest, it’s a bit of a double bind, because of course, you’d like everyone to be saved, and you’d may even make some effort in this life to share the gospel with as many people as possible, but secretly, you hope that if anyone is stubborn and unfortunate enough to hold out on God it will be your pet-rescuer.  What a disaster it would be if, when gathered in the golden streets at the throne of our Lord and Savior, you were to turn your head and see your certified atheist pet rescuer standing right there next to you among the saved?  God-forbid!)

Thankfully, because the atheists involved sign a contract guaranteeing they do not believe in Jesus Christ as Lord, and are in fact committed avowed atheists, mutual trust joins mutual stereotyping to create this almost foolproof system and you, and Fido, will probably be all right.

But let us not forget that is a win for the Atheists as well!  Those who volunteer to care for the pets of raptured Christians, of course, have nothing to lose and everything to gain, since in their mind they will never be called to fulfill this extreme and, let’s face it, kind of big commitment, as they do not believe such an occasion will ever actually arise!  It’s a small gamble for them too, because of course, they could be wrong, but they’re preparing for that, so all in all, pretty risk-free, if you think about it.[1] We’re all just anonymously benefiting from each other’s faulty belief systems.

That is what the Sadducees question to Jesus today reminds me of. Supposedly high stakes, but utterly risk free questioning.

Sadducees were in charge of the temple. They were educated and devout- united with Pharisees in their hatred of Jesus, but divided from them over many other things, including belief in resurrection. The Sadducees saw authority only in the Pentateuch, the first 5 books of Scripture, believed to be written by Moses. And since the Pentetuch doesn’t mention anything about it, resurrection after death must not be real.

The stage is set.

And now the Sadducees approach Jesus with a riddle of sorts, a real stumper.  And the catch is, they’ve got nothing at all invested in the answer. They don’t even believe in resurrection to begin with! It’s a nothing to lose question for them.

So here goes the question.

Woman’s husband dies.  Law of Moses says the brother should marry to continue the family line for the husband. Brother marries. Brother dies childless. Second brother marries.  Dies childless.  This goes on seven times, (one bride for seven brothers). Now in the “resurrection,” they say, whose wife will she be?
You can imagine, when they’re finished setting up the scenario, that the listeners and onlookers are silent and grinning, watching the hot ticket rabble-rousing Rabbi Jesus as he is confronted with this resurrection-busting question, “Oooh! What’s he gonna he say?!” 

But something goes awry.
Jesus doesn’t take the bait.
Instead he goes underneath their whole argument to the very foundation of what’s real, what’s at stake for us all.

Those who belong to “this age” Jesus says, deal with this marriage thing.  But in the age to come there will be no need of it.
In other words, this thing we call marriage? This social contract to protect widows, this mechanism to continue the family line, this law to preserve and protect people? That’s completely irrelevant and unnecessary in the resurrection.  In fact, Life itself will not be recognizable. 

With our limited imaginations, and locked inside time and space, and our own human constructions, we can’t even begin to fathom that life means anything other than what life means to us right now.
The Sadducees assumed life eternal just means this, only longer.  This, forever and ever.  More eating and sleeping and working and raising kids and paying parking tickets and planning anniversary parties and feeding pets and seeing chiropractors and asking for raises.

Once, as I was planning a difficult visit that dearly I wanted to go well, a wise friend reminded me not to keep adding days on in attempt to make it go better, “Kara, remember, it’s not about quantity, it’s about quality.”

Resurrection makes that shift, taking us out of quantity and into quality. It alters substance completely, it changes all the rules, not merely a never-ending quantity of the same lurching efforts, it is qualitatively different than life as we know it.

The resurrection is, to the Sadducees, just an idea, something to argue over, something to debate, something that separates them from the people around them, the fools, who believe in this silly notion, and something which others, who do believe in it, can use to judge them. It’s hypothetical and risk-free, and ultimately requires nothing from them.

And there is so much irony in this moment, not least of which is that when Luke reports this story, the temple itself, meant to last forever, is gone, and along with it, the role of its caretakers, the Sadducees; there is no more need for them. They have fallen out of collective consciousness enough that Luke has to remind his readers who they were and what they believed.  And yet, here they stand in their time-groundedness, throwing around their hypothetical arguments as though they’ve got no skin in the game of life and death.

No way is resurrection real and dangerous; they’re confident of that.
What’s real is this business of people dying – that’s indisputable. Marrying and being childless are real. Having mouths to feed, a legacy to leave behind, a widow to care for.  Dying young with nothing to show for it, being forgotten generations later, that’s frighteningly real.
What’s real is that each of them is making their way in the world in their own connections and isolation, loss and fears, relationships and obligations, duties and dreams, and the cold hard truth it all comes down to that ultimately, every one of them, like every one of us, will one day die.  And the truth is not a single one of us knows what happens after that.
And instead of bringing questions from those real and vulnerably places, they stand there with their clever riddle, and it is inconceivable to them that resurrection would have anything to do with you and me right here and now. 

But Resurrection, it turns out, is the realest thing there is.
And he is standing in front of them.
The most gripping irony of all in this conversation is that the one whom they question about hypothetical resurrection, is in fact the real embodiment of it. The love of God alive and in the flesh. They can’t imagine or accept that there is anything beyond the life we see and know here and now, even though right here and now, God eternal is in their midst.

And then he says this startling and wondrous thing: God is the God of the living, not the dead. God is the God who comes in and shares life.  God brings life out of death, is always creating anew, takes what is dead and shaping new life. The God of the living is with us, even now, as God is with all those who’ve gone before, whose lives are taken into the living one as well.

Our faith, our trust, our hope, is not in something that we guess or argue may or may not happen after we die.  It’s not in our own strength of belief or lack of doubt, our foolproof arguments or racked up good deeds, our hope is not in any other form of insurance we’ve got for our own souls, or for those we love, to make sure we’re not overlooked now or left behind one day.  Our faith, our trust, our hope, is in the living God, the God of the living, who is deeply invested in life with us, who’s got skin in this game.

And one day, when time is no more, these broken and patched together systems we’ve set up in this life to try to ensure people’s security, protect people’s humanity, offer a chance at something like wholeness, will cease to be. They will not need to be. The barriers to wholeness will be torn down, and with them our meager human attempts to create, uphold, or mirror it. 

So, whose wife will this hypothetical (and may I add, unfortunate) woman be when all is said and done? They ask Jesus.
In other words, Whose property? Whose responsibility?  Questions of status quo. Questions of the dead. Questions of theory and making do, and life going on forever just exactly like it is now.
Not whom will she love? Who will she share her deepest self with, who will accept and know her, who will she embrace and uphold? What might life be like when all the dying is past? Who is with me in my losses and when I think I can’t go on? Not questions that face their own humanity and hers, not questions of the living.

My friends, he answers, you misunderstand, completely. 
Marriage, he says, is part of this side of things. 
In its very best manifestations, it is a sacred covenant between us and God that tries to surround and protect here in the temporary realm, something of the eternal. It creates a vessel that can hold and tend the eternal core of it all, which is love. 
But love itself is what abides.  Love, wholeness, life, each person fully known and completely cared for, each person joyfully contributing, and the harmony and balance of all things once again in sync, as we live side by side and face to face with our Creator.  Life - completely, qualitatively different.

So instead of the risk-free questions that require nothing from us, the ones that that separate us out from each other and let us walk away unscathed and unaffected and unseen, let’s ask the real questions, the ones that shake us to the core, that fill us with hope and dread, that bring us face to face with ourselves and each other, and the anxiety of not knowing.  
 The God of the living is with us in life. 
And Resurrection happens. 
So we might as well raise the life and death issues, the things that make and break us, the places of death that cry out for life.  Let's ask the questions that hurt.
Because whether we realize it or not, friends, we’ve got it all invested. Everything.
Like it or not, we’re all in. 
 And so is God.

[1] The owner of the site was recently forced to publically declare it as a joke, admitting that it began as a kind of social experiment and was not real, when the New Hampshire Department of Insurance subpoenaed him to come in discuss complying with insurance policy law and register the product. Since then the site has, unfortunately in my eyes, closed down business.  But it tapped into a market, and now there are several altruistic, all-volunteer versions of the service available to fill in the need if and when it should arise.

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