Catch phrases are confusing our religious thinking, and it all begins with the circle.
Of all the shapes it is quite fascinating that we have become enamoured with the circle. As if the points on all others were somehow less than divine, many faiths have seen in its roundness the perfect image for this doctrine or that. And while it would be wrong of me to pick on the preferences of eastern religions or western visionaries, I must say that when a fellow Christian imposes the circle on me to explain the origin and destiny of each one of us, it simply drives me mad. “All things must return to their original place,” I am often told with much vigor. “Like the return of spring after a horrid winter, or the state of the married once they reach heaven, they return to a state of unmarriage”. Add to this “what goes around comes around” and that most famous piece of Scripture we all hear at Lent, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19), and we have quite the monument to a shape with no corners. But wait a minute. These cannot possibly do away with a religion of destination. The forty years in the desert, the via dolorosa, the pilgrims on this earth seeking the City of God. In all of the Christian life, in all of the ancient Judaic life, in all of life for that matter, we and all things move forward.
And what of the objections?
A spiralling forward? Maybe, but a circle? No way.
Of course, no spring is the same as the last one, similar yes, but certainly not the same. What happened last spring has affected this one, but it is altogether impossible that I am reliving the same season as occurred a year ago. So a spiralling forward? Maybe, but a circle? No way.
In heaven there is neither marriage nor giving in marriage, not because God wants us to return to a particular phase in our earthly lives but because in heaven we as Church, the Bride, are married to the Lamb. “For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” Isaiah 62:5 “Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready…” Revelation 19:7
What goes around comes around? Hardly. Unless of course you believe in karma, that eastern doctrine that has an impersonal and unintelligent force handing out punishment and reward to everyone according to their works. Children are suffering? Must be karma. A wife becomes a widow? Must be karma. What goes around comes around? It’s not really a circle I care much for.
Now dust is something I can get my hands on, and while the statement is a powerful one, even a cursory glance at the Biblical narrative will reveal that we do not in fact return to dust – although part of us (i.e. our body) does for a time. Of course, this is part of the Good News, that Jesus the God-man refuses to leave us in the mud. He finds us in our death. He gathers our parts. He brings us into His presence and that of the Father. You see, heaven is our destination not the dust that first received the ruah of God. And if you think I am being too literal with the former ‘expressions’ then you are right, because that is the way they roll off of the lips of many of our contemporaries.
Speaking to the people of our time you might conclude that we are all confused drivers forced to forever spend our gasoline and many pressings of the pedal on the roundabout. Or sailors who think that the only safe form of navigation is to stick to the shore line, unaware that what we follow is an island.
I think we need to be reminded, especially now as thoughts about the afterlife and this life become more and more garbled that God has put us on a highway and He has set us off into the open seas, telling us quite plainly to follow Him (John 10:27).
So let’s move forward, fully aware that something is coming that neither eye has seen nor ear heard (1 Cor. 2:9). And it is being prepared right now by the God who loves us.