Those who argue that the same theology runs from the first chapter of Genesis to the last chapter of Revelation hit a brick wall when they reach the Wisdom literature of the Hebrew Scriptures. Not only do we find different theologies; we also uncover a theological debate lurking just under the surface of these divinely inspired books.

The authors of Proverbs and Wisdom, for instance, believe insightful people can surface patterns and structures in God's creation which make His actions in our lives predictable.

On the other hand, the authors of Job and Ecclesiastes seem to look at life more honestly. They contend that any question for divine predictability is futile. God's intellect, they insist, is so far above our human intellect that we can never "psyche God out."

Riches gone

As Qoheleth observes in (Eccl 1:2; 2:21-33), "All things are vanity." The author can't even find a pattern in Yahweh's rewarding and punishing people. "Here is one," he writes, "who had labored with wisdom and knowledge and skill; and yet to another who had not labored over it, he must leave property." Evil people can have more happiness and fulfillment in their lives than good people.

In a parallel way, Jesus echoes Qoheleth's pessimism when He comments on the rich man's impending death in Sunday's Gospel (Lk 12:31-21). "You fool," God says, "this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?"

But before we throw in the towel, remember that a theologian writing in the third century before Christ lacks a dimension of faith which his or her counterpart writing in the first century after Jesus possess: belief in an afterlife.

Shortly before Jesus' birth, some Pharisee Jews reached the conclusion that those who formed a relationship with Yah-weh in this life would continue and grow in that relationship in the next life. Their insight became a biblical Rosetta Stone helping us discover meaning in situations which, before, no one could begin to understand.

It enables Paul to write those famous lines to the Colossians (3:1-5, 9-11): "Brothers and sisters: If you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ your life appears, then you, too, will appear with Him in glory."

Next life

As a good Jew, the historical Jesus emphasized our being fulfilled and happy in this life; but, as a Pharisee, He also pointed us in the direction of the next life. Paul, as a Christian, believes the risen Jesus is the essential part of that next life.

Yet, both Paul and Jesus teach that we have to sacrifice some of this life to attain the next. "Put to death," Paul writes, "the parts of you that are earthly." And in the situation of brothers arguing over an inheritance, Jesus warns, "Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one's life does not consist of possessions."

One of the most important components of Paul's and Jesus' belief about the next life is that we can create elements of our future existence in the way we live right here and now. "Put on the new self," Paul encourages the Colossians, "in the image of the creator. Here, there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythians, slave, free; but Christ is all and in all."

Paul presumes that all the barriers dividing and separating us on earth will be shattered when we gather in heaven. That's why he encourages us to sacrifice the security such divisions offer and to begin destroying those barriers long before we leave this earth. Our question to become one with all people is the clearest sign that we believe in a heaven.

(7/29/04)