Q & R: Afterlife

Here’s the Q:

Thank you for the positive influence that your books, podcasts and blog-writing have had on my life. NT Wright has also influenced me so much, and I have experienced such a rich view of God, the Bible, Jesus and our world as a result.
But I have a question, which is really pressing my mind these days. And it has to do with the fact that I find it so difficult to understand, how I can see, from reading the scriptures, that my life and your lives are eternal. I mean, my view of the gospel has changed from just providing the opportunity to get eternal life from believing in Jesus to God’s kingdom coming to us through Jesus so that we can live it today – project heaven and earth, as N.T. Wright puts it, the combined reality. And it is so utterly beautiful to me. But, now and then I tend to get confused, because I fail to see how my own life will be eternal. How can I see this in the bible? I mean, I know it sounds like a very selfish question, but nevertheless this is the ultimate hope we all have – not to die from this beautiful world with friends, families, trees, birds, mountains, avocados, apples, strawberries, etc. and just turn into dust (even though I also see the beauty of becoming the earth, but nevermind). How is it that I can read that we all will be resurrected and live together again in this new world – not meaning heaven, but life after heaven i.e. the resurrected reality after heaven/paradise. It seems so subtle to me so I really don’t know how to understand it. As I have come to understand, eternal life as put in the gospels should correctly be translated to “the coming of the ages”, but what about the eternal life of people in flesh and blood after their death – how can I get some understanding to this relationship between project heaven-and-earth and the eternal life of me and you? Do you follow my confusing description? Hope to find an answer from you some day. Thank you Brian, for all your efforts in this.

Here’s the R:

Thanks for your question. I must confess that like you, I feel less clear on some of these issues now than I did twenty years ago. Many of us have gone on a similar journey. At first, everything was about the afterlife of the individual soul in a “spiritual” realm beyond history and time and space called heaven. Then, we began to realize how much of the Bible was about the transformation of this world in history. People like N. T. Wright helped us see biblical language (the moon will turn to blood, the elements will be consumed, etc.) in a new light, and we re-situated Jesus and the apostles in the larger Jewish story. But what about our own personal future after death? We’re still in the process of putting the pieces together.
I wrote about this subject in A New Kind of Christianity, but decided to take out the chapter on “personal eschatology.” Instead, I put it online. I hope you’ll find it helpful – you’ll find the link to “Making Eschatology Personal” here.