Why is it the death of Jesus, and not some other act, which saves? Why is it his undeath which completes our salvation? Because it is from death that we are saved, to death that we were enslaved and from death that we are now liberated. “Death took a body, and met God face to face;” God’s incarnation into life becomes at last an incarnation into death, but for God to join death is for him to abolish it, because he is life. It is said “the grave could not hold him”; as soon as he descended to hell, he ruled it, because his nature is rule. He did not rule it by creation because he did not create it: man created it. But he came to rule it by conquest, in the act of descending into it and taking it up into himself.
God brought life into death, and he himself is life. Therefore God died, and he also raised us from the dead. Incarnation is the price of saving; resurrection is the wages.
At all points it seems to us this way: that death is a supernatural force, and the dimensions of Calvary extend beyond the universe. This does not mean that they extend beyond the real, but that they extend beyond the comprehensible into the realm of the unknown, and beyond the deterministic into the realm of the unpredictable. But that is not to say that that part which we can see and understand, which took place within the universe, was unnecessary. Had it not been in the universe, it would not be of the universe, and had it not been in space, it would not be of space, nor would it have been of time had it not been in time. But to understand why it was necessary, we must look beyond the universe.
God, who is supernatural, and the supernatural force of death must join through the immediate. Man cannot be an incarnation of God in the immediate, and anyone who is an incarnation of God in the immediate does not need to be saved. But only if man is both an incarnation of God and himself can he be saved. Through the supernatural, the incarnation of God can become the individual while remaining different in the immediate, thereby satisfying the necessary conditions for salvation.It is like two marks on a two dimensional sheet which cannot ever touch without moving on their plane. But if a third dimension is added they may be brought together while retaining their distance along the plane, by curving the plane.
If physical death is the price to be paid, and physical death that from which we are saved, why does the Christian still die? He does not die: his body dies, but his soul has life everlasting. And it is said that his body will undie in the fulfillment of salvation. (Physical life is something that grows out of the overflowing aliveness of his soul, like a leaf from a tree.) But what sort of life is this, which is returned to the living, retained by the dead, and culminated in the resurrection to life? For even some of the living lack it, and even the spiritually dead are to be resurrected. Why was the death of Jesus’ body necessary to restore this life, which is not the life of the body? And why do we call it “life” and treat it as life, if it is shared by the living and the living dead, but lacked by the dead in spirit?
Because it is life: the dead in spirit are dead in body already, the living dead alive in body already. What exists in despair uncreates itself in its existence if its will has any meaning; what exists in faith even for a moment endures for all eternity. Anything that ever is, is in eternity; but anything which in its only moment of existence denies itself does nothing more than deny itself in eternity. Once again the scope of our drama lies beyond the world, reaching to the far shores of the unknown. Because man is not an automaton, constrained entirely by the cold clay of matter, he lives and dies by the supernatural. God is life, or rather, life is God; sin is death; or rather, death is sin. Because the self exists by and for God, the self which rejects God does not rightly exist; it commits cosmological suicide. The self which lives for God is itself, and the self which is authentically itself is living for God.
Those who exist, but will not be themselves or love their lives are not living their lives. Those who do not exist at the moment but once did, and when they did loved their lives, exist in eternity as beings who lived their lives.
These are the true stakes: our souls, and the battleground is supernatural. Our subjective experience is our life, but determinism is only the part of our life characterized by immediate contemplation of the immediate. The supernatural is the greater part of our life characterized by immediate contemplation of the unknown. The unknown made immediate will be supernatural in itself, and it will define the direction of our determinism.
I believe that the universe is deterministic not because I have any proof that it is, but as a leap of faith and an offering to the unknown. Once I have made this leap I may try to understand anything: I believe so that I may understand. Without this leap I understand nothing, for it illuminates everything. Everything that I come to believe on the basis of evidence constitutes a further act of worship and marks a further commitment to this leap of faith.
Is mankind God? No, mankind is an abstraction, and God is not an abstraction. Others are God to you, because the intermediaries of God are God (though they are God showing you his relationship to you, and are not God showing you his relationship to himself), but you are not God to yourself. The self is eternally not God, though in the state of life it is eternally becoming God. God is eternally God, and he is also eternally becoming God. Now that mankind exists, now that there has been an incarnation and a redemption, God is also eternally becoming man.
Those who die in Christ do not die at all, they endure forever as the living dead. The saints live on supernaturally, but all humans are immortal deterministically. This, though a person’s immortality is something less than their mortality: it is far better to be mortal than merely immortal.The bond of love can never be broken, even by death, because the one who dies will live on forever within the ones who loved them. And those with whom we share a world will never be the same for having met us, since each of us is unique. When those we knew in turn involve themselves in others’ lives, what those others take from them cannot possibly be the same thing that they would have taken had our friends never known us. They would not have been the same people. The second generation, too, will be forever changed, and on and on, as long as there are lives.
So those who say that their ancestors guide them are not far off. Though they are dead, they have never really left. Now we are pushed forward by an avalanche of ghosts, unaware of the vividness which they give the color of our lives. The weight of countless billion personalities which forms the spiderweb of our world can be a powerful force for self acceptance. Too often we instead make it an overriding force that overwhelms the individual personality. There is room for more in the world: that is what we must remember. Identity is not exclusive.
The beliefs “there is a heaven, so I need not improve life on earth” and “there is a heaven, so it is better if I die” are untrue. The belief “I have nothing to lose by risking my life because of my love for God. If I live I live, and if I die I enter paradise” is true. The belief “there may be a heaven, so I have nothing to lose by risking my life because of my love for God. If there is no heaven, I am no worse off than I would shortly have been anyway forever, and if there is a heaven, I either live or enter paradise” is even more true. And the belief “there may be anything, but if there is anything other than a heaven devoted to love, it isn’t worth its place above all else and I don’t want to go there. So I will risk my life because of my love for God, because if I live I live, and if there is a heaven and I die I enter paradise, and if there is not and I die I count it no loss” is more true still.
These beliefs are true because even if there was no heaven, the person who believed them would live a better life than the person who did not. The earlier beliefs are untrue because even if there was a heaven, such thoughts could not be a part of it. It is not that any belief which might logically follow from “there is a heaven” is true, because logic is itself a leap of faith, and some seemingly logical conclusions which we might make about God are based on the very opposite inclination to the leap of faith, and are therefore antithetical to that of which they would have to be a part in order to be logic. This is why we should not excessively systematize theology, but instead concern ourselves with theology as action.
There are many true beliefs that a person might hold about the afterlife, but ultimately it is more so in the present that salvation is affected and for the present that it is valuable, because it is affected in the eternal and valuable in the eternal, and the eternal intersects not the future but the present.
Is the resurrected human perfect? They participate in their eternity in the present- eternity is composed exclusively of presents. The resurrected person’s life is heaven already, the spiritually dead person’s life hell already.; this life simultaneously contains the potential to be heaven and hell. In that sense undeath is perfection. But the resurrected person is not God, and they will never be God, not in all eternity. It is the opposite: they are perfect precisely because they are not in denial of their own inability to control their lives. They are perfect precisely because they are aware of their own incapacity to judge and don’t try. No one who is not God by nature can judge.