As I was reading Deanna Thompson's memoir of her battle with metastatic cancer -- a memoir that engages her journey theologically -- she speaks of the need to do more work on eschatology. She points out something that I've noticed myself -- there is a strong aversion among progressives/liberals to talk about life beyond the grave. Let's focus on the present, they say! Talking about the afterlife distracts from engaging the present. There are certainly escapist eschatologies out there, but affirming the possibility of something lying beyond the grave need not preclude being concerned with the present.
I get the desire to focus on the present. As a cancer patient who’s also a theologian, I see a need for more theological work on how to talk cancer while talking faith. Indeed, the gospel’s main attraction—Jesus—spends most of his time not just talking about God’s future but in siding with the outcasts and healing the sick. We need to talk more about how contemporary incarnations of the body of Christ—like my experience with the virtual body of Christ made possible through the CaringBridge website—side with those with cancer and participate in the possibilities of healing in the here and now.
At the same time, there’s more to the story. [Thompson, Deanna A. (2012-05-01). Hoping for More: Having Cancer, Talking Faith, and Accepting Grace, (p. 145). Cascade Books, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.]
When you are dealing with the possibility that death is a likely companion, you will likely start thinking about whether there is hope for more, for something beyond the grave. With that in mind Deanna writes:
In the scientific postmodern age in which we live, people in my line of work spend significant time emphasizing the limits of knowing what lies beyond this life. While Christian faith talks of heavenly feasts and bodily resurrection, many of us wonder how to set these claims alongside the science of decomposing flesh or suspicions regarding the possibility of continued consciousness beyond death. In light of these tensions that govern contemporary understandings of materiality and death, what should Christians be saying about our future life with God? [Hoping for More (p. 146).]
Deanna doesn't provide a fully developed eschatology in this memoir, but as she walks with the possibility that her cancer could lead to her death, she raises the question. What I'd like to suggest is that perhaps we should at least take up the subject of the afterlife. Perhaps there is nothing beyond the grave, but there is at the same time a strong sense/belief/need for some sense that there is more to reality than this realm. When I preside at a funeral for a person young or old there is a strong desire to hear the promise of resurrection. Thus, it maybe time for some conversation about eschatology.