On the ‘intermediate state’

Posted on April 11, 2008

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At Spring Harvest I was sharing the ‘Radio 4’ sessions with Ann Holt of Bible Society every morning (they offer the teaching material in several formats, named after radio stations to give a flavour of the style; R4 is thoughtful and academic; ‘Radio 2’ mainstream and popular; ‘Edge FM’ deliberately alternative; and ‘Talk FM’ very interactive; it’s a nice way of dividing people up). I was also doing various lectures and discussion sessions on ‘heaven and hell’ in the afternoons and evenings, sharing with Steve Chalke and Russ Rook amongst others.

The theme was eschatology, ‘One Hope’. The teaching material stressed the ‘this worldly’ nature of Christian hope (looking for the resurrection of the body and the transformation of the Earth, rather than the immortality of the soul and our removal to heaven). Most people bought this quite quickly – the Bible and the Creed are clear enough on the matter, after all. And hearteningly few were of the opinion that anyone not carrying a pledge card from a Billy Graham crusade was immediately and necessarily condemned to everlasting torment.

Oddly, the question that arose, and obviously bothered people, was the ‘intermediate state’: what happens to us between death and final resurrection? In theological terms, it is an abstruse and rather irrelevant question, however, I quickly found some material Mike Higton and I prepared in a paper on ghosts we published a few years back, and gave a bit of input on this, but found myself wondering why it obviously concerned people. (My flippant response, before I spotted how much it was mattering to at least some, was ‘the destination is clear and certain; who cares if the route is slightly obscure in places?’)

Talking to folk, I think the reason for the interest was fundamentally pastoral: people want to know where Grandma is now. And that matters–it speaks to people of God’s love and care. A useful reminder of the need for theology to be responsible to the churches.

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