“I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”
In my personal opinion, I think the Symbol of Faith, or the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, is one of the most beautiful works of theology. I absolutely love the Christological, pneumatological and ecclesiological affirmations within the Creed. And I’m deeply moved whenever I think of the men and women who have valiantly lived and died for what the Creed affirms against paganism and heresies.
But my favorite line in the Creed is the last one. Being an eschatological affirmation, it resides properly at the end of the Creed. But because it comes at the end and also stands as a single simple statement alongside the larger complex formulations about Christ, the Holy Spirit and the Church, it almost seems like an afterthought. Yet, I know it isn’t and I anticipate stating this wonderful affirmation every time I recite the Creed at Church or in my personal prayers.
When I was an Evangelical Protestant, I had discovered that my eschatology was severely distorted. If I had even read the Creed back then, I would have equated “the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come” simply as “going to heaven when I die.” The goal of my Christian life was a non-temporal, non-spatial, disembodied existence called “heaven” after I died or after being raptured, just before God destroyed the planet. But that is not the biblical eschatological image within the New Testament.
Rather, the biblical image of the “life of the world to come” is God, through Christ, renewing this creation. This image is communicated in a variety of ways — God’s kingdom coming from heaven to earth (Matt 6:9-10), God gathering all things existing in the two dimension of heaven and earth back together (Eph 1:10), God leading creation in a new Exodus from its bondage into freedom (Rom 8:20-21), God reconciling all things within the two dimensions of heaven and earth (Col 1:19), and God’s city and throne moving from the heavenly dimension to make its ultimate home in the earthly dimension (Rev 21:1-2; 22:3-5).
And it’s within this renewed creation that redeemed humanity will be bodily resurrected and animated by God’s Spirit in order to realize the fullness of our vocation through our resurrected bodies — to fully gather creation and offer it to God and to fully reflect God into creation by our wise stewardship.
Why is this eschatological vision so important? A proper eschatological framework is just as essential as a proper Christological, pneumatological and ecclesiological framework for our life in Christ in the here and now. Proper living in the present requires the proper vision of the future. Knowing and understanding, as best as possible, the telos or goal of God’s Creation, humanity and our personal life generates both the impulse and direction to move in the proper trajectory towards that future. It’s what we’re living for.
Let me use a simple, and albeit weak, metaphor. Let’s say I’ve decided to join a workout club. An essential component of exercising toward a healthy life is to learn how to use the equipment correctly .
Similarly, the Church provides us with many viable resources to train and enter into the life of Christ. The majority of the Creed instructs us how to properly engage in all that the Church offers. In other words, the proper understanding of Christ, the Holy Spirit and the Church provided by the Creed is necessary for correctly entering into and participating in the sacramental, ascetical, and communal life of the Church, which is the life of Christ. And by participating in the life of Christ through the life of the Church, we commune with God and are transformed by him.
But the last affirmation of the Creed — “I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come” — is the reason why I “joined the workout club” in the first place. It’s the ultimate reason why I want to commune with God and thus enter into the life of the Church as reinforced by the Creed — to become competent at dwelling and serving properly in God’s renewed world as he always intended for humanity. The last line of the Creed reminds me that my present participation in the life of the Church is training me to breathe, see, think, talk, relate, work, play and live in God’s coming renewed world. And by training towards it now, I’m actually beginning to live it now. Perhaps slowly at first, but hopefully with ever-increasing proficiency.
As we journey through Lent, the eschatological vision of God’s renewed creation appears on the horizon of my imagination and draws me forward. It is the reason why we journey through Lent. It is the vision that Jesus carried with him throughout Israel and ultimately to the cross in order to trample down death by death. It is the vision that Jesus inaugurated with his prototypical resurrection from the dead and continues to implement throughout history. And it is the vision he offers us as we follow him, commune with him, live in him, train to be like him and participate with him in the continual renewal and reconciliation of God’s creation. And, God helping, I will valiantly embody and affirm this vision as all those who have come before me.