Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Lazarus and Dives

Because the parable of Lazarus and Dives (Lk 16:19-31) contains one of the more detailed depictions of the afterlife that you find in Scripture, it's been strip-mined by some Christian theologians to reconstruct the nature of the afterlife. 

Some people think this is an account of an actual event. Lazarus and Dives were real people. And this is what happened to them, in life and death. If, however, you take the story at face value, then this is what it teaches:

• Abraham is God's spokesman in the afterlife, assuming a role like Charon

• When poor Jews die, angels taxi them to the waiting arms of Abraham

• When rich Jews die, they suffer punishment

• The saints and the damned can see and hear each other–they have conversations with each other 

• The intermediate state has a geological barrier ("chasm") separating the two groups

• The chasm is wide enough so that denizens can't leap across it, but narrow enough so that denizens can see and hear people on the other side 

• The "heavenly" side has water while the "hellish" side has fire. Both groups have bodies with fingers, tongues, &c. 

To me, this is picture language. I think it's a fictional story combining elements of popular folklore to make one or more points. 

Some people think its about rich and poor. But that's simplistic. On the one hand, merely being poor isn't a ticket to heaven. On the other hand, Abraham was rich by the standards of the day. 

It's tricky to isolate the point of the story is, because it doesn't have much context. We don't know much about what Jesus was responding to. But the moral of the story would fall apart unless certain things were true:

• Departed souls are self-aware, conscious of their surroundings, and remember their former life. 

• Some people are punished when they die while others are rewarded.

• The afterlife rights the scales of justice.

• Death sometimes results in a reversal of fortunes

• There is no postmortem second chance. Death seals your fate.

• You can't escape eschatological judgment. Once you're sentenced, that's that. 

• Your postmortem status is forever fixed. You can't be promoted from "hades" to "heaven" or demoted from "heaven" to "hades." 

• What we do in this life queues us up for the afterlife. 

• People will be held accountable for how they respond to God's revelatory words and deeds (i.e. Scripture, the Resurrection). 

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