Developmental psychologists point to a foundational experience in the life of a child whose effects ripple through the rest of life. Not happening all at once, it occurs down at the root of the personality, the tip of the person’s heart. The experience? Owning the fact that he is loved, taking in the truth that she is loveable.
It doesn’t take place all at once or always sink in completely. But much of growing up revolves around the ways this conviction I am loved and loveable gets anchored. Absorbing this truth, the person gains a wellspring that can tap strength and resiliency through the years. To the extent the awareness of being loved gets rooted, it enables the person to face the future with a steady confidence. With this assurance of love, a foundation for hope and trusting relationships is laid.
The pattern carries over into our relationship with God. The more trusting in God’s presence, the more we’re able to put ourselves into God’s hands. It’s been said that the entire Christian message can be summed up, “God, in Jesus Christ, loves us immeasurably.” Grasping this, a believer trusts that God’s loving care will be constant both in this life and indeed beyond it.
Both Testaments attest to this. There are the seven Maccabean brothers whose bravery in the face of their torturers is founded on their unassailable conviction that “The King of the world will raise us up to live again forever.” (2 Maccabees, 7:9).) Paul in 2nd Thessalonians (2:17) prays that “the Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who has loved us, give you everlasting encouragement and good hope.” Then there’s Jesus Himself as he takes on the resurrection-denying Sadducees, “We will rise,” he argues, “because we’re God’s own beloved children.” (Lk 20:36)
In the face of skepticism and indeed denial about eternal life, this claim that in God we live beyond death is under pressure. It’s worth the time to step back and take a firmer hold on our assertion that Christ has died, Christ is risen — and when we die, we rise again with Christ.
There are those who would dismiss this as wish-fulfillment — it’s true only because we desire it to be true. Others admit the possibility but only on philosophical grounds; i.e, something undying in the human soul keeps reasserting itself and that intuition just might be right. Then there are the followers of Jesus Christ who could agree with the theoretical argument but whose reason for hope is moored elsewhere – in the conviction that they are loved, that God has taken each of them as the apple of His eye and will love them into eternity.
Jesus’ counterargument to the Sadducees is built on just this pillar: “My Father looks on us not as outsiders, but as His own children,” as his beloved and cherished family. Paraphrasing, “Just as a parent protects children, my Father will protect you, even beyond death.” Doesn’t Jesus act out this trust at the hour of his dying when he throws himself into the arms of his Father, “Into Your hands I commend my spirit?” He does this from a bed rock conviction about God’s faithful loving, the Father’s undying accompaniment which carries Jesus through death and out its other side to eternal life.
There are various arguments for life after death, but Christians make theirs from experience, their sense of God loving them — especially as played out in the love, life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Like those children convinced of their value by the constancy of their parents’ love, disciples strive to deepen their conviction of God’s parental and undying love for them.
“Drill in” is a phrase writers of the Old Testament put before the Hebrew families, “Drill this into your children’s hearts that our God alone is the one God.” The whole of Jesus’ life would have us drill into our core that God does immeasurably love us, not only until the end but beyond into eternity. One of our own, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, expresses this in her memorable prayer, “…enlarge us with Your grace. Sustain us with Your blessing until through the grace and gate of death, we pass to our joyful resurrection.” (Vol 3a, p.26)
Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again. And with Him, we believe that so will we.