Salvation and the Afterlife
As I've been pondering the idea of salvation this week, especially the Eastern Christian idea of theosis (deification), I began thinking about the way in which Process theology envisions the relationship of God and the world. The word most often used to describe this is panentheism (God in everything). Panentheism is not to be confused with pantheism, wherein God is everything and everything is God. The question that I wanted to raise had to do with whether there might be a connection between the idea of theosis and Process understandings of the divine-human relationship, and how that related to ideas of eternal life/life after death.
I knew that Process envisioned God being enriched by humanity as God essentially evolves, drawing us into God. But is there more to it than that? At death do we simply become part of a divine database (memory), or could there be something more?
As I contemplated this in preparation for the sermon I turned, as I often do when thinking about what Process Theology might say to an issue, to Bruce Epperly. Bruce notes that Process Theology typically focuses on this world and not the next. Bruce however is willing to venture across the divide, drawing on a number of resources including Process.
In thinking of life after death, he notes that following late Hebraic and early Christian understandings, "the afterlife is profoundly relational in nature." That is, we can think of some kind of community continuing across the divide. He also can conceive of the continuance of personal identity, which "continues in an environment which nurtures freedom, creativity, growth, and relationship with God and others" [Process Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed, p. 152]. He can envision something like what is conceived of in terms of purgatory, at least metaphorically, in which "our journey toward God is incomplete at the moment of death, but will be completed through our post-mortem encounters with God. Our personal growth in relationship with God requires that we let go of everything that has kept us from following God's vision and experiencing God's abundant life" [p. 152].
If we were to bring the Eastern Christian idea of theosis into conversation with Bruce's Process oriented relational vision of eternity, where growth continues to occur as we cross the border imposed by death, could it be that what Athanasius and Irenaeus envision is full communion with God is the same as what Bruce conceives of as continuing our journey/holy adventure in God post-mortem? It is an adventure that begins in this life in maturing relationship with God that crosses the boundary into the beyond. Of course we have to wait on the fullness of the journey!