The common belief of most educated persons of the time was that, if any reality was bodiless in the absolute sense, it could be only God or the highest divine principle. Everything else, even spirits, had some kind of body, because all of them were irreducibly local realities.
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The bodies of spirits may have been at once both more invincible and more mercurial than those with an animal constitution, but they were also, if in a peculiarly exalted sense, still physical. It was generally believed, moreover, that many of these ethereal or spiritual beings were not only embodied, but visible.
The stars overhead were thought to be divine or angelic intelligences as we see reflected in James and 2 Peter And it was a conviction common to a good many pagans and Jews alike that the ultimate destiny of great or especially righteous souls was to be elevated into the heavens to shine as stars as we see in Daniel and Wisdom , and as may be hinted at in 1 Corinthians In the Jewish and Christian belief of the age, in fact, there really appears to have been nothing similar to the fully incorporeal angels of later scholastic tradition—certainly nothing like the angels of Thomism, for example, who are pure form devoid of prime matter and therefore each its own unique species.
In fact, it was a central tenet of the most influential angelology of the age, derived as it was from the Noachic books of the intertestamental period, that angels had actually sired children—the monstrous nefilim —on human women. It is even arguable that no school of pagan thought, early or late, perhaps not even Platonism, really had a perfectly clear concept of any substance without extension.
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This is almost unimaginable for us, of course. But, still, all the various possible meanings would have been audibly present in the text for its author and for those who heard it read aloud in the earliest Christian communities. Even if we are aware of this, however, we are still likely to read the verse as a kind of play on words—at most, an illustrative simile.
And, needless to say, our fully formed theological concept of the Holy Spirit disposes us, on grounds of piety alone, to see it as such. But it probably should not really be taken as wordplay at all. For Paul, both psychical and spiritual bodies were in the proper sense natural objects, and both in fact are found in nature as it now exists.
The first man out of the earth, earthly; the second man out of heaven. As the earthly man, so also those who are earthly; and, as the heavenly, so also those who are heavenly; and, just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly man. For this perishable thing must clothe itself in imperishability, and this mortal thing must clothe itself in immortality. Wright, however, seems to imagine something like two different phases of some variety of Cartesian dualism, one mortal and the other immortal, but in either case involving the combination in a single composite of an animated material body and an animating immaterial force.
This is the purest anachronism. Worst of all, in his translation the central opposition between the two distinct principles of soul and spirit—which runs through the entire New Testament and which is crucial to its anthropology, theology, and metaphysics—has been entirely lost. But Wright has his own understanding of resurrection, one more or less consonant with the casually presumed picture today, even if it is one entirely alien to the world of first-century Judaism and Christianity.
His categories are not those of Paul—or, for that matter, of the rest of the authors of the New Testament. Certainly, his may have been one of the standard Pharisaic views of the matter.
Admittedly, some older translations rendered this passage incorrectly, as saying that the Sadducees believed neither in the resurrection, nor in spirits, nor in angels, but that is obviously not what the Greek means. The passage plainly has nothing whatever to do with any idea of some intermediate state between death and resurrection; it is the resurrection itself that is described as the assumption of an angelic or spiritual condition. It is difficult not to think that here Jesus may be telling the Sadducees that the theology of resurrection that he shares with the Pharisees entails no notion of a revived animated material body; it asserts, rather, that the raised will live forever in an angelic manner, an angelic frame.
Again, however, for the peoples of late Graeco-Roman antiquity, it made perfect sense to think of spiritual reality as more substantial, powerful, and resourceful than any animal body could ever be. It was this evanescent life, lived in a frail and perishable animal frame, that was regarded as the poorer, feebler, more ghostly of the two conditions; spiritual existence was something immeasurably mightier, more robust, more joyous, more plentifully alive. Though he has never met the child, Warren begins to write letters to him, expressing his frustrations and deepest emotions about his life.
In one letter he says:. I am weak and I am a failure. Relatively soon I will die. Maybe in twenty years. Maybe tomorrow. Once I am dead and everyone I knew is dead as well, it will be as though I never existed.
What difference has my life made anyway? None at all. Shortly after, Warren receives a letter from the Catholic sister responsible for the care of the sponsored boy.
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She explains that even though he cannot read, the small six-year-old orphan keeps his letters and thinks of him every day. Enclosed is a picture, drawn by the boy, of Warren and himself. The movie finishes as the realisation begins to sink in that maybe something of his life has mattered. Warren Schmidt is right about his life. Much of it has counted for little. His relationships with his family, workmates and friends are largely broken and dysfunctional. Retirement has only accentuated the dismal lack of meaning.
And yet, in the midst of all this gloom, there is something positive. Warren is able to appreciate and understand the difference that small acts of kindness can make to the lives of others. We too long for significance and yet so often we stumble through life with serious questions about our lives. Do they really count for anything? The book of Esther in the Bible provides a fascinating true-life contrast to Warren Schmidt.
Eventually she becomes his Queen. It all seems like a fantasy come true….
But a storm is brewing. Haman is advisor to the King, and Mordecai has refused to pay homage to him.
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Haman is furious and turns his anger on Mordecai and his people. He is determined to rid the land of all Jews. Up to this point Esther has kept silent about her Jewish background. But now Mordecai turns to her for help. He implores her to intervene and try to influence the king in order to avoid impending disaster. Initially she is reluctant, fearing for her life, but Mordecai is emphatic.
He sends her a message…. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this? The story ends well. Esther takes the risk and gains an audience with the king, where the evil intentions of Haman are exposed. He orders Haman hanged on the very gallows he has erected for Mordecai. The Jews are saved. And Esther, once a poor Jewish child, having saved her people, continues to live as Queen of the super-power of her day.
Esther is not alone in her experience of divine destiny. Down through the ages countless men and women have risen to the challenge of particular tasks that seemed to be part of their destiny. That towering figure of the twentieth century, Winston Churchill, is another example. His morale-boosting strength of character and his magnificent oratory impassioned and inspired a nation to stand against the evil of the Nazi empire. Churchill was 66 when he became Prime Minister. Inspiring as these true stories may be, they often have the opposite effect for many of us.
Frustratingly we end up thinking that this level of meaning and significance is simply the preserve of a fortunate few. As we have talked with hundreds of Christians through the years we have found, sadly, that plenty feel that way. However, God does also call us to join him as partners in his work. In fact, his intention is for every part of life to be meaningful — not just employment, but all the work we do, as well as our relationships, our rest, our enjoyment, our learning It all counts. Sometimes we develop romantic notions of finding the one thing we were created for.
But it would be foolishly simplistic to think we could ever reduce our lives to a single function. That there needs to be a rich diversity in our lives. These days even careers are no longer for life.
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Easy to say! Of course, to make it happen the first step is to understand what God is doing. Now to be sure none of us knows the mind of God, but what we do have is a Bible chock-full of examples of God at work … and Jesus as our prime model! And when you have consciously seen how you can work alongside God you will come to appreciate how you are participating in something of far-reaching significance.
Whatever you are doing and wherever you are, as you begin to understand and put into practice your SoulPurpose, your faith and your life will gain a real sense of direction. This can even happen if the situation you live or work in falls woefully short of your dreams. A SoulPurpose will stimulate you to make your life increasingly creative and satisfying.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. In making you the way you are, God has taken exceptional care.