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Written by Nathanael Vissia
Posted 11.02.2013

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As a child raised in the Christian Reformed Church, I heard a lot about being saved and going to heaven.  My consistent internal response was not what you might expect: “I’ll just wait until I’m about to die and then say a quick prayer.”  

Let’s be clear that I was not being clever by finding loopholes. Instead, my young mind simply could not understand why I should be concerned about what happened after death when I still had a whole lotta living to do first.

These days, I’d like to think that my theological mind is more sophisticated, but to be honest, my thinking has not changed much when regarding the afterlife. However, my reasoning has. And this week’s Children’s Time scripture (Luke 20:27-38) has a lot to do with why.

In the passage, the Sadducees, who do not believe in an afterlife or a resurrection (unlike the Pharisees who do believe in some form of resurrection), were asking Jesus a question that made it sound like they believed in a resurrection. Their intent, here, was to trick Jesus. If Jesus was to consider their question at face value and earnestly answer it, then they could say to the people, “Truly we tell you, this is not a rabbi to listen to – he believes in life after death. He is a fool!”

But Jesus was not tricked. And though his answer accepted the premise of some sort of afterlife/resurrection, the focus of his answer was this, “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.”


We should not be surprised by Jesus’ answer, here, because it is consistent with his overall ministry of proclaiming that the Kingdom of God is at hand.  

In other words, Jesus was telling the Sadducees that there was no need to worry about what takes place after our life, because we can experience God’s presence during our life.  

Furthermore, if we DO focus on the afterlife, then we are no longer focused on the God of the living, but on the God of the used-to-have-been.  What good are we, then, if we choose to ignore God’s here-and-now kingdom because we’re too busy thinking about the kingdom we’ll go to when we’re dead?

The answer: We are NOT of much good when we set our focus on the afterlife. In fact, what we mostly do when focused on the afterlife is squabble about who is “in” and who is “out.”  Which is exactly what the Sadducees and Pharisees often did. And, when we use our time, energy and focus in this way, it does not help us know God in the here-and-now, nor does it help us share that experienced goodness of God’s spirit, love and healing with a world that desperately needs it.

You and I live in a generation taught incorrectly about God’s kingdom by a generation that was also taught incorrectly and so on throughout history.  What we see in this Luke passage is that this fixation with the afterlife has been happening for a long time. It was an issue raising its ugly head even in Jesus’ day. And just like now, it interfered with his ministry and teachings.

But, like Jesus, we need not be slaves to history.  We need not repeat the incorrect theology of our fathers, mothers and teachers. Let us repeat the teachings of Jesus to our congregations and to our children that “God is the God of the living.” That God is with us right now. That the kingdom is at hand. That we can experience the goodness of God right here and share that goodness with those around us right now.  That heaven on earth starts this very moment. We need not wait to know and experience the fullness of God because Jesus told us so. Amen!

The Afterlife Preoccupation

It’s time to stop mimicking the Pharisees and Sadducees