Today we return to our conversation on rationalizations we use for not becoming involved with the poor.  Last week a friend gave me NT Wright’s book “Surprised by hope”. The book blew my mind and really excited me towards a resurrection-drenched imagination. It’s a meaty book that reframes our mistaken images of ‘life after death’.

In masterly writing and brilliant exegesis Wright rescues the gospel from being defined as an ultimate ‘going to heaven’. He shows how, for Paul and the early Christians their hope was a resurrected body on a new earth and heaven and not a Platonic idea of a disembodied soul somewhere in the skies. Heaven is therefore not a non-physical domain where souls sing praises to God.

For the early Christians life after death was an intermediate stage, followed by the great resurrection. In Wright’s own words, “The ultimate destination is not ‘going to heaven when you die’, but being bodily raised into the transformed, glorious likeness of Jesus.”  Resurrection then is life after ‘life after death’.

Wright shows how your theology of the end will influence your current practices in this life.  Take for instance your stance on the destiny of planet earth. If your theology allows for you to do whatever you want on earth because God will eventually discard it like a flattened coke can – then that will automatically define your stance towards ecological and other related issues.

If you believe that God will redeem creation as well as individuals, and that this redemption started with Jesus’ resurrection then you’ll join in the already-started-project (Wright believes this and I do too). So what does this have to do with our rationalizations for non-involvement with the poor? Everything! 

In one of his most lucid passages Wright talks to people who say that given all the evils in our society there is not “very much they can do”. He also mentions how people get out of their responsibility towards the poor with terms like, "it’s a tricky and many-sided subject", he writes:

"Our response must be that because we believe in the resurrection of Jesus as an event within history we believe that the living God has already begun the process of new creation, and what may seem impossible in human terms is possible to God." p.229

And also,

What would you say to someone who said, rightly, that God would make them completely holy in the resurrection, and that they would never reach this state of complete holiness until then – and who then went on to say, wrongly, that therefore there was no point in even trying to lo live a holy life until that time? You would press for some form of inaugurated eschatology. You would insist that the new life of the Spirit, in obedience to the lordship of Jesus Chrsit, should produce radical transformation of behavior in the present life, anticipating the life to come even though we know we shall never be complete and whole until then.” p.233

This defeatism – a line of thinking that either think the problem is so big that we cannot solve it, or that it’s no use starting because God will take care of it in heaven, must simply be challenged.  I find this rationalization impregnated and birthed in the statement, "Didn’t Jesus say that we’ll always have the poor with us?"  To this statement we will turn our attention later in the week.

PS)  You can read a short intro by Wright here, and a Time magazine interview here.