I know Stanley Hauerwas is a provocateur who is often given to hyperbole, but I am having real trouble with something that he said at the 2003 Emergent Convention. The recording of the lecture is the latest download from the Emergent Village podast. I wonâ€™t attempt to critique the entire talk, but there was one sentence that jumped out to me:
To suggest that hope in afterlife is a way to deal with death is about as stupid as suggesting we ought to have children because theyâ€™re our hope in our future (Stanley Hauerwas, 2003 Emergent Convention).
Is Hauerwas really suggesting that hope in an afterlife is sub-Christian behavior? Does he really want to say that Christians should not war against the dread of death by remembering the promises of future grace that are available to us in the gospel?
Was it not the apostle Paul, after all, who time and again exhorted Christians to do the very thing that Hauerwas says is â€œstupidâ€? I have in mind a whole truckload of texts to this effect, but consider for example 2 Corinthians 1:9-10:
9 We had the sentence of death within ourselves in order that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; 10 who delivered us from so great a [peril of] death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us.
It is clear in this text that Paul and his companions were looking death in the face. Indeed they had already â€œdespaired of lifeâ€ (v. 8 ), having given up all hope that they would escape their persecution with their lives intact. Yet Paul saw his way through the terror of death by believing in a God who promises an afterlife. Or, to put it like N. T. Wright, he believed in a God who promises life after life after death.
In other words, Paul overcame the despair of death because he trusted in a God who â€œraises the dead.â€ God had powerfully raised Jesus bodily from the grave, and Paul had seen the resurrected Christ with his own eyes (Acts 9). Paul knew that Christâ€™s resurrection was the prototype and promise of his own resurrection from the dead. Jesus Christâ€™s resurrection had already shown that believers had nothing to fear from death. There might be a sting, but there would be no poison (1 Corinthians 15:55-57).
To say that hoping in an â€œafterlifeâ€ is â€œstupidâ€ goes beyond the pale of acceptable hyperbole. As a matter of fact itâ€™s downright asinine. We all use overstatement. I just hope our overstatements will have a trajectory toward the gospel and not away from it.