Tuesday, November 02, 2010
"I loathe my life. I give myself to complaint. I speak from the bitterness of my soul... So leave me alone that I may recover awhile before I go to that place from which we will never return: the land of darkness and shadow, the black, distorted land where darkness is the only light." Job 10:1,20-22
How often do you think about death and the afterlife? For some, it's forgettable compared to the problems of this life. For others, it's a passing curiosity. For a few, it's an unhealthy obsession. And for people like Hereafter's George Lonegan (Matt Damon), thoughts of life beyond death are an albotross around the neck.
George Lonegan desperately wants to rid himself of his psychic "gift" to communicate with the dead - for it rarely ends well for others and it constantly kicks up the dust of death for him. In Hereafter, George tries to live a "normal" life as best he can, but the economy and others' curiosity cause him to revisit his melancholy existance over and over again.
On the other side of the pond, a London schoolboy Marcus (Frankie and George McLaren) loses his brother in a horrible traffic accident - and goes into a morbid obsession with finding answers to this disaster. He rejects his family and society in order to find someone who can show him a way to understand what happened.
The concept of the "hereafter" is one that almost all major religions have spoken about - and serves as the common link between every creature that ever lived on the planet. One day, we will each get a firsthand experience of a life beyond this one.
Hereafter begs the question: Just how much time should we really spend thinking about it?
George is surrounded by its implications - but wants nothing more than to escape its grasp. Marcus was once blissfully unaware of such questions - but now wants nothing more than answers. But perhaps the real course is somewhere in the middle.
In the Scriptures, the character Job is overcome by experiences of death - his children are killed, his health is failing, and his property and livelihood are destroyed. He bemoans: "I loathe my life. I give myself to complaint. I speak from the bitterness of my soul..." (Job 10:1) Like George, he wants these somber thoughts to pass him by: "So leave me alone that I might recover awhile before I go to that place from which we will never return: the land of darkness and shadow, the black distorted land where darkness is the only light." (Job 10:20-22)
There are times in our own lives when death surrounds us. Sometimes after a funeral, we cannot stop but think of death and darkness. When we watch the war, terror, and devestation on the news, thoughts of emptiness and shadow creep into our subconscious. And when our lives seem routine, boring, or sluggish, we wonder if this is all life is meant to be.
Our faith in the hereafter is a simple one, yet our questions and curiosities complicate it. Jesus didn't spend countless passages talking about the afterlife with the disciples; instead, we have a few passages about "many dwelling places" and that Jesus would "prepare a place for us" (John 14:1-2) or a final judgment in the next world based on our compassion and social justice in this one (Matt. 25:31-46).
So what are we to do? To blissfully ignore it or to whole-heartedly obsess over it? Neither. We are called to take a middle road like Jesus.
Spending our daily hours with thoughts of the afterlife, good or bad, means we don't get a chance to appreciate and live our lives to the fullest right now. If we're constantly worried about if we're going to get to heaven, we just might miss the chance to do something in this life that would guarentee our entry there (see that Mat. 25:31-46 passage for details).
On the other hand, if we never acknowledge an existance bigger than this one, how small our world will be! If we alone are the sum total of everything in our lives, how do we explain the magnificence of creation?
So instead we are called to a middle path - like the one taken by French journalist Marie (Cecile de France) who - once caught in a tsunami and momentarily killed before being awoken by villagers trying to save her life - now seeks to live in both worlds. The book she writes on her encounter with the hereafter is a source of comfort to both Marcus and George - and reminds them of the middle path.
Perhaps God gave us two eyes for this simple reason: to keep one looking to the present life - its everyday experiences and relationships - and to keep the other fixed on the next life - and its promises of eternal joy and happiness.
Let us pray to walk the middle road until the time when that road reaches the heavens.