Those who form relationships with God experience a transformation in their lives. Scripture often reflects on individuals who achieve new life from such relationships, individuals who dare weave faith into their daily experiences.
Yet when we reflect critically on our Sacred Authors' treatment of these transformations, we're amazed to discover different notions about the life God offers. Since we traditionally learned about this life from catechism-based instructions and not from Scripture, we're often amazed at the biblical diversity on the topic.
We find it difficult, for instance, to identify with most authors of the Hebrew Scriptures, Jews who follow Yahweh without any knowledge of an afterlife. They know and anticipate only this earthly existence. A relationship with God doesn't "get them into heaven"; it simply adds to the quality of their everyday life. But there are some rare poetic breakthroughs during this time of limited faith, as we hear in Sunday's first reading (Ez 37:12-14).
No event challenged the ancient Israelites' quality of life more than the Babylonian Exile. Only a return to the Promised Land would significantly change how the captives lived. While some prophets promised such a return, they also had to deal realistically with those who wouldn't live long enough to experience it.
Addressing this problem, Ezekiel reminds his people that their earth-bound expectations can't limit Yahweh. "I will open your graves," God promises, "and have you rise from them, and bring you back to the land of Israel....I will put my spirit in you that you may live."
Though Ezekiel knows nothing of an afterlife or a general resurrection of the dead, he knows God's power is beyond comprehension. He's certain those who chance becoming one with God will eventually benefit from that power.
Paul, basing his faith on the same premise, gives himself totally over to Jesus (Rom 8:8-11). In contrast to those who believe we'll get into heaven by performing actions designated to get us into heaven, Paul's convinced he'll be raised from the dead simply because he's become one with a person whom the Spirit of God has already raised from the dead.
"If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you," he writes to the Romans, "then he who raised Christ from the dead will bring your mortal bodies to life also through His Spirit dwelling in you." Basic Christian belief is simple: True life comes from being joined to someone who has secured life.
Here and now
John the Evangelist carries this truth one step further (Jn 11:1-45). He believes we don't have to wait until our physical deaths to experience the life Jesus offers; we can acquire it right here and now.
The grieving sister of Lazarus reminds her friend, "had you been here, my brother would never have died."
"Your brother will rise," Jesus assures her.
"I know he will rise," Martha responds, "in the resurrection on the last day."
Then, opening a whole new field of Christian faith, Jesus proclaims, "I am the resurrection and the life; those who believe in me, even if they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die."
John is Scripture's most famous proponent of "realized eschatology:" the belief that what we're expecting from God is already here. Without denying the existence of heaven, he encourages his community to focus on their present lives, to see in their everyday joys and pains the kind of life which a belief in heaven promises.
In a way, John completes the circle of faith back to the earliest Jewish followers of God. Life isn't just a necessary evil which we must correctly endure to get into heaven. Life has a built-in, God-given value. Of course, we discover that value only if, like our Sacred Authors, we spend our life building and developing a relationship with God.