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  • Larry Payne

My grief and Life after Death

What do you believe about the afterlife? Americans hold a broad belief in the path to a happy afterlife. A poll by the Pew Organization tallied that 72% of Americans believe in Heaven and 66% believe that Heaven could be attained through many spiritual traditions. It is a part of our cultural tradition to assure the grieving person that the loved one is “in a better place.” This universalism finds a clear voice in the Scripture. Hearing again from Apostle Paul in the book of Ephesians, he makes plain God intends a complete redemption for all persons, “to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ” (Ephesians 2:10) The love, mercy, and creative power of God leads to the confidence that the work of God has extended to billions who never knew the name of specific name of Yahweh or Jesus. The response God has always sought is not assent to a set of doctrines or a once-in-a-lifetime ritual at a certain point during our brief earthly years. Instead, God seeks a relational and transformational response to the offer of unrelenting love and justice. Many believe this response is not completed in our lifespan, holding that in the afterlife God continues to work in each human being, forming and transforming our pitiful and limited faith. In theology this is called “sanctification.” It means God labors to bring our lives to full fellowship through the totality of our existence. As 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 states, God will continue to do a testing and redeeming work after death. “Their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.” To me, it seems apparent that all humans who have ever lived, perhaps 110 billion through the 200,000 years of Homo sapiens, will ultimately be loved into the everlasting kingdom. Jesus declared, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32). I think he really meant it!

Encouraged by such convictions, our grief experience can make a way towards healing. We process the pain by reflecting, talking, praying, and letting go of the old shape of life. We begin to tell a new story about our identity and relationship in the absence of our loved one. We discover and hold to the good memories, the legacy, and the honor granted in the life we shared. Across many days and nights, the Spirit of God does a work of mercy which brings comfort and hope.

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