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What Really Matters in Life?

What Really Matters in Life? Reflections on a lecture by David Field. The resurrection, redemption story, and nature of our personal identities make what we do of eternal significance.
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  What Really Matters in Life? What follows is an article written for my church newsletter. It is heavily influenced by thoughts prompted by David Field’s “Not the Least Lash Lost”, 1 which I consider to be a simply superb and must-read piece of work. Scripture does not provide us with many details about the afterlife, but it isprofitable for us to think deeply about the fact and nature of it. Absent anafterlife, life is ‘vanity’. The world goes round and round in circles, and whoknows whether our brief lives’ accomplishments will profit the wise or the foolishin the days to come? (Let us eat and drink, for ‘tomorrow’ we die.) Yet, asChristians, we have a sure hope. Our actions and their consequences continue oninto the next world in some way. But in  what   way? Insofar as they are rewarded(or not) at the judgment seat? In part, no doubt. But might there not be moreto it than that? Martin Luther is reported to have said, “If I knew the worldwould end tomorrow, I would still plant my apple tree today”. Would we? It alldepends on how we view life’s continuity-discontinuity questions.Consider the flood. The flood was a major discontinuity in world history. But thepeople who left the ark were the same people who boarded it. Like every otherman in history, Noah was a product of his past life and past decisions. What hedid before he boarded the ark determined the kind of man he would be when heleft the ark and stepped out into God’s new creation. (People, after all, are notabstract entities; they are the sum products of their pasts and past decisions.) So,what about the day of the Lord’s return and of the Resurrection? To what extentdoes our pre-resurrection life affect our post-resurrection life? Might not what istrue of Noah be true of us? Let us put the question in more practical terms. Does everything   we do have eternal significance? Or just some things? Cooking thedinner, disciplining our children, doing a good day’s work, caring for a relativewho may or may not be saved: Are these tasks ultimately irrelevant necessities?Or is there more to it than that? My suspicion is as follows:  everything   we do, insome way or other, reverberates on into eternity. At times, Scripture emphasisesthe discontinuity between the present world and the world to come (e.g., 2 Pet.3), while, at times, Scripture emphasises the continuity between the two worlds.(At Christ’s return, for instance, the kingdoms of the world become  his   kingdoms,and the deeds of the saints follow them into the heavenly realms and clothe in 1 «» 2007 (acc. 2017). 1  preparation for their return, and the kings of the earth thereafter bring their gloryto the city of God: Rev. 11.15, 14.13, 19.8, 21.23-26.) Both sides of the coin arevital for us to appreciate.Consider, by way of illustration, Jesus’ resurrection body—a body whose appear-ance marked the genesis of a new age. Weren’t the hands with which Jesus brokethe bread  en route   to Emmaus in some sense the same hands which were nailed tothe cross a few days before hand? And which fashioned wood in Nazareth? Andwhich Mary and Joseph held as they walked Jesus as a young child? Wouldn’tJesus have looked like Mary and inherited certain traits from her? Didn’t Mary’sactions in that sense at least survive on into the resurrection world? (And mightnot similar things be able to be said of our own hands and what they have done?)Consider, in this connection, Paul’s statements in 1 Cor. 15. The bodies whichwe commit to the earth when we die are the same bodies which are raised. (Con-tinuity and discontinuity again.) Our bodies together with whatever has affectedthem are the raw materials of the resurrection. What grows in the resurrectiondepends on what seed is planted. And, as a result, Paul says, our toils are not‘in vain’ (15.58). Now, does that word ‘vain’ remind you of our initial referenceto Ecclesiastes ( vanitas vanitatum omnia vanitas  )? The reminiscence, I suspect,is deliberate. Precisely those labours which are rendered vain by death—thelabours of planting and plucking up, healing and punishing, keeping and castingaway, weeping and laughing—are redeemed and preserved in value by the resur-rection. As one writer puts it, “When we are raised,...the work we have donein the present, in the service of [our] new master, will, [no doubt to our greatsurprise], turn out to be part not only of who we are, but of the new world hewill have brought into being”.But what about our sins? Well, we will not live in eternal regret at what we didor failed to do in the present life. (Our sins will not be ‘remembered’ againstus.) Of that much I am sure. But just as, here on earth, our consciousness of our sins affects—and even heightens—our sense of gratitude as we worship (Luke7.41-47), so too, I believe, they will do in eternity. When we sing, ‘Worthy isthe Lamb who was slain’, we will know exactly what he was slain for, since themore we know about Christ’s work, the more we will appreciate it. The nature of our failures will inform Christ’s people of the scope and glory of Christ’s work of forgiveness, just as the nature of our frailties and disabilities will inform Christ’speople of the scope and glory of Christ’s work of restoration. We may not allhave the same ministries, bodies, or abilities as one another, but everything wedo in life ultimately matters. 2
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