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The Creed 6. The Resurrection of the Dead and Eternal Life

Notes by David Monyak. Last update Oct 15, 2000

A copy of these notes in the form of the handout passed out at the meeting can be downloaded from the Download Page.


I believe in . . .

the resurrection of the body,

and the life everlasting.

The Apostles' Creed


We look for the resurrection of the dead,

and the life of the world to come. 

The Nicene Creed



(Questions and topics taken from chapter 6 in Credo. The Apostles' Creed Explained for Today. Hans Küng. Doubleday. New York. 1992:)


1. The heaven of faith

2. The physical end of the world

3. Is world history the world's judgment? The hope for ultimate justice

4, Do we believe in the devil?

5. Is there an eternal hell?

6. The problem of unexpiated guilt

7. Human destiny

8. The resurrection of the body

9. Will we see only God?

10. Another attitude to dying

11. What are we on earth for?



1. The heaven of faith

  • 1. the heaven of faith not the "heavens above"

    • not the "heaven of astronauts"

    • God does not dwell in a local/spatial sense above the world

    • God is present in the world

  • 2. the heaven of faith is not in a reality outside the world

    • not a metaphysical reality in a dimension outside the world

    • not in an "other-worldly beyond"

    • Rather the World is hidden in God

  • 3. the heaven of faith is:

    • not a place, but a mode of being

    • the hidden, invisible incomprehensible sphere of God

    • God and heaven are the same



2. The physical end of the world

2.1. The end of the universe


"Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath; for the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and those who live on it will die like gnats; but my salvation will be forever, and my deliverance will never be ended."

Isaiah 51:6

Second Isaiah of the bible (during the Babylonian exile)


"For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind" (NRSV)

Isaiah 65:17

Third Isaiah of the bible (after the Babylonian exile)


Cosmological models of the Universe suggest the universe is doomed to die



2.2. The end of humanity, caused by humanity

We have the power to destroy ourselves through:

  • nuclear war

  • nuclear accident

  • over-population

  • catastrophic pollution

  • loss of the ozone layer



2.3. The images and visions of the end times in the Bible

Can we find information about the signs of the end-times in the bible?


The biblical statements about the end of the world are: 

  • a testimony of belief in the perfecting of God's work on his creation 

  • an authoritative testimony of faith to the great destination of the universe, its goal in God


Tells us the end has two sides:

  • the end of the old imperfect universe

  • its consummation by the new: the new heaven and the new earth



3. Is world history the world's judgment? The hope for ultimate justice

3.1. There is no complete justice in this world

Hegel's idealism:

  • world history itself is the world's judgment

  • all accounts will eventually be settled in history


But all accounts are not settled in history.

There is no complete justice in this world for nations or individuals


3.2. The Last Judgment

The biblical picture of a Last Judgment:

  • ultimate bringing together to God of all people so that justice is done 

  • gathering of all humanity to its creator, judge, perfector


tells us:

  • all institutions, political, economic, and religious are under God's judgment

  • the meaning of each individual human life will be God's judgment

  • all generations, all human beings must share in judgment and God's justice

  • life's ambiguities and negatives can be overcome only by God

  • Jesus Christ is the last judge



4. Do we believe in the devil?

4.1. Trivialization of the power of evil

two ways to trivialize the power of evil:

  • 1. privatization of evil in the individual, to say:

    • no such thing as evil as a principal transcending individuals 

    • only reality is the evil in human beings

    But evil is substantially more than the sum of the wickedness of individuals

  • 2. personification of evil into a host of rational, individual spiritual beings which take a hold of people: devils and demons



4.2. Demons and devils

  • there is no mention of a devil in the Creeds

  • entered the Bible during the Persian occupation (539-331 B.C.)

  • belief was widespread at the time of Jesus

  • no longer played a role in later Judaism

  • not a belief in modern Judaism



5. Is there an eternal hell?

5.1. The Fear of Hell

Consequences of the fear of hell:

  • any means seemed justified to save themselves and others from eternal damnation and hell fire

  • led to forced conversions, burning of heretics and witches, pogroms against Jews, crusades,

  • the Reformers were equally guilty


Jesus was no hell fire preacher

  • his message was of good news, of liberation

  • Mark 1:14: "Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God." (NRSV)


Hell is absent from the Creed



5.2. Can we believe in a God who would punish a creature for all eternity?

In the early church, prominent theologians and church fathers assumed the punishment of hell would be imposed only for a short time:

  • Origen 

  • Gregory of Nyssa 

  • Didymus 

  • Diordore of Tarsus 

  • Theodore of Mopsuestia 

  • Jerome


543 A.D.: synod held against Origen:

  • defined the punishment of hell as being "temporally unlimited"



  • is a person to be damned forever, unhappy forever for a single sin? With no prospect of redemption?

  • do we have to believe in:

    • a God who looks endlessly at the hopeless, merciless, loveless, cruelly physical and psychological torture of his creatures for eternity?

    • a God of mercy who offers no mercy to the dead? 

    • a God of peace who perpetuates a lack of peace and reconciliation? 

    • a God of mercy and love of enemies who takes vengeance on his enemies for all eternity?


One answer: 

  • God does not damn, 

  • but human beings damn themselves, isolate themselves from God 

  • this state is made definitive by death



  • God rules over the realm of the dead (the Psalms)

  • How can anything be made so definitive that it is immune to the all powerful and all merciful God?


Thus: Küng: 

  • It is a contradiction to accept God's love and mercy and at the same time the existence of a place of eternal torment. 

  • Even the punishment of hell must remain subordinate to God, his will, his grace



6. The Problem of unexpiated guilt

6.1. Purgatory

Problem: how is the purification and cleansing of guilt-laden people possible after death?


One solution: Purgatory:

  • intermediate stage after death before entering heaven

  • a place for purification

  • rejected by the Reformers as having no biblical basis


Idea of Purgatory arose in part to explain the widespread liturgical practice of praying for the dead from the very beginning of the church. What was the good of such prayers if the dead were not in some state that prayers might help alter?


Article XXII of the Articles of Religion in the "Historical Documents" section of the Book of Common Prayer (page 872) condemns the "Romish Doctrine concerning Purgatory," but perhaps not not rule out other forms of a purgatory. The book of Common Prayer includes Prayers for the Dead.


Thomas in Introduction to Theology over the issue of purgatory: "the theologian must probably remain agnostic"



6.2. God's Justice and the Problem of Unrequited Guilt

Problems of unrequited guilt remains:

  • Is dying into God, the ultimate reality, to be the same for one and all? 

    • do all enter into eternal bliss the same way?

    • criminals and their victims the same

    • murderers and their victims the same

    • those who have struggled all their life to do God's will and those who shut out other and done only what pleased them, the same?

  • where is God's justice?



6.3. Another Possibility for Purification after Death

What does dying into God mean?

  • act of the whole person in which we are graciously judged 

  • purified healed by God 

  • made fully and completely human 

  • made whole


Küng: Our purification after death may be in our encounter with God 

  • through the wrath of God's hidden grace

  • God 

    • judges

    • purifies

    • liberates

    • enlightens 

    • heals

    • fulfils



7. Human destiny

7.1. What is Hell?


  • It is a contradiction to accept God's love and mercy and at the same time the existence of a place of eternal torment. 

  • Even the punishment of hell must remain subordinate to God, his will, his grace


Then is there no hell? What is hell?

Hell = exclusion from communion with the living God. 


There is a tension between God's gift of human freedom versus the power of God's love:

  • the human freedom to turn away from God's love

  • the power of God's love to win all people freely


The gift of human freedom means hell is:

  • an extreme, last possibility of remoteness from God which we cannot rule out 

  • the possibility of:

    • forfeiture of the meaning of our life, 

    • exclusion of ourselves from communion with God


New Testament statements about hell remind us:

  • of the unconditional seriousness of God's claim

  • of the urgency of human repentance

  • life is serious business

  • life is the emergency!



7.2. Who will be saved?

Can we presume all will be saved? Hitler, Stalin?

Küng: no.


Superficial universalism:

  • does not do justice to:

    • the seriousness of life 

    • significance of moral decisions 

    • weight of individual responsibility 

  • above all: contradicts the sovereign responsibility of God to save


Double predestination:

  • some to blessedness 

  • others to damnation predetermined


  • God's will for universal salvation 

  • God's mercy and love



7.3. What does the possibility of hell mean for our living?

  • for those taking their individual responsibility lightly: 

    • warned exclusion from communion with God is an extreme possibility

  • for those despairing over the infinite seriousness of their responsibility: 

    • even in "hell" there are no limits to God's grace


Ultimately we must have faith in God's mercy and trust in God:

  • Psalm 31:16 "Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love." (NRSV)

  • Romans 3:28: "For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law." (NRSV)

  • Luke 18:13: "God, be merciful to me, a sinner!" (NRSV)



8. The Resurrection of the body

(from Owen Thomas. Introduction to Theology, Revised Edition, page 223)

The body is:

  • basis of interpersonal communications

    • basis of social life

    • basis of historical life

  • fully part of the natural world

  • manifestation of our individuality


Thus the resurrection of the body tells us:

  • Christian hope is not an escape from:

    • the body

    • social life

    • historical life

    • but a fulfillment of these

  • because the body is part of the natural world, its resurrection points to the fulfillment of the whole cosmos

  • because the body is part of our individuality, implies also our fulfillment as individuals



9. Will we see only God?

How do we imagine eternal life?

Saints sitting on golden chair singing hymns of praise?


9.1. Old Testaments Images of Heaven

Heaven is not: 

  • a flight from the world 

  • a hostility to matter 

  • a devaluation of the body 

  • but a new creation - 

    • either transformation of this world 

    • or a new creation of the old world


"The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall puts its hand on the adder's den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea." (NRSV)

Isaiah 11:6-9


"For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress. No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime" (NRSV)

Isaiah 65:17-20


"I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, 'Know the LORD,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD;. . ." (NRSV)

Jeremiah 31:33-34 



9.2. New Testament Images of Heaven

images of the kingdom of God in the New Testament: 

  • bride and wedding feast 

  • the living water 

  • the tree of life 

  • the new Jerusalem 

  • images of community, love, clarity, fullness, beauty, harmony


all pictures



9.3. What Can We Say and Hope For in Faith?

9.3.1. An ineffable mystery, the mystery of God

The consummation of humankind and the world is:

  • a new life in the unimaginable dimensions of God 

  • beyond our time and space

  • must therefore remain: 

    • an ineffable mystery 

    • the mystery of God 


1 Tim 6:16: "It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion." (NRSV)



9.3.2. What can we say about eternal life and the kingdom to come?

In faith we can say:


Eternal life is truly life

  • the opposite of eternal boredom 

  • includes unimaginable, infinite developments in the sphere of the infinite 

  • the glory of eternal life is new, unimaginable, unthinkable, ineffable 

    • 1 Corinthians 2:9: "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who live him" (NRSV)


The kingdom of our consummation is not a human kingdom but a kingdom of God.

Therefore heaven is a kingdom of:

  • ultimate salvation 

  • the fulfillment of justice

  • perfect freedom 

  • unambiguous truth 

  • universal peace 

  • infinite love

  • overflowing joy 

  • eternal life

because it is God's kingdom.



10. Another attitude towards dying

We will each die a very personal death.


10.1. The responsibility for our dying

Modern medicine, by increasing our powers over death has also increased our responsibility for our dying.


To what degree can we justifiably prolong life?



  • goal must be to help, not simply prolong death

  • therapy is justified only if it can lead to a rehabilitation, a restoration of function and of life

  • individuals have the right to reject treatment that prolongs life

  • the state has no role in decisions (we must not forget Nazi euthanasia)



10.2. An art of dying

What is a death worthy of human beings, of a Christian?

  • to die like a Stoic (emotionally cold, relaxed, without emotion)?

  • but Jesus did not die in impassive detachment, but with a cry of anguished godforsakeness


But through the Resurrection of Jesus, death has lost its "sting"

  • "we do not die into a darkness, a void, nothingness, but into new being, into the fullness, ... the light of a quite different day"

  • in death we "may simply let ourselves be called, led, borne"


Should this not allow another attitude to dying for the Christian?

Perhaps makes possible:

  • a dying in quiet composure, hopeful certainty, in gratitude for this life, despite all evil

    • in faith that our anxiety and trembling will be taken up by a God who is love

    • in faith that our life is changed, but not taken away



11. What are we on earth for?

11.1. The chief aim of human life

What is the chief aim of human life?

  • Calvin, Geneva Catechism 1547

    • to know God

  • Catholic Catechism 1847 

    • We are on earth to know God, to love him, to serve him and in that way to arrive in heaven

  • not asked in the Book of Common Prayer Catechism



  • self-fulfillment? 

  • self-development? 

  • love of neighbors?

  • love of those far away? 

  • daily work?

  • profession?

  • human relationships?


Küng: The meaning of life is:

  • not simply God or the divine, but also for human beings

  • not just for heaven, but also for happiness on this earth

  • not just to know God, but also self-fulfillment, love of neighbors and those far away


But also not merely happiness on this earth, daily work, profession:

  • for what then is our meaning when we can no longer contribute?



11.2. Is being a Christian no more than being a human being?

Being a Christian is:

  • a extension 

  • a deepening 

  • a rooting 

  • a radicalization 

of being human.



  • by grounding humanity in faith in God 

  • directing one's living by Jesus Christ



  • can cope with:

    • and all that is positive and good 

    • but also all that is negative

      • sin 

      • guilt 

      • meaninglessness 

      • death 

  • out of an unshakable trust in God that relies ultimately on God's grace



11.3. Summary of Living as a Christian

Küng's summary of living as a Christian:


  • "By following Jesus Christ,

  • people in the world of today

  • we can live, act, suffer and die 

    • in a truly human way

    • in happiness and unhappiness, 

    • life and death

  • sustained by God,

  • and helpful to fellow men and women."




The Creed


1. God the Father, Creator of Heaven and Earth

2. Jesus Christ, the Son of God

3. The Crucifixion and Death of Jesus

4. The Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus

5. The Holy Spirit, the Church, the Communion of Saints

6. The Resurrection of the Dead and Eternal Life

7. Epilogue on the Creed: Father Joe's Perspectives and Answers to Questions