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Evan Hazard: ‘. . . on a rainy Sunday afternoon’

Now in his ninth decade, this prof has witnessed many scientific changes.

For me, the most notable have been our learning the structure and operation of DNA molecules, and that plate tectonics has driven continental drift for eons, planetary systems are common, and our 13 billion year old expanding universe is finite but unbounded.

Such change is usual where new information, technology, and creative insight permit cumulative change in our picture of the physical universe and our understanding of how it works and what its history has been.

Of course, scientists realize such progress is always tentative, subject to revision in light of new scientific information and understanding.

Over those decades, I’ve also had much religious input.

Often new scientific information has been out of sync with long-held religious dogma.

Along with some, but not all, scientists, I am interested in integrating scientific and theological understanding.

I’ve attended a theology workshop most summers since the mid ’90s.

In June, I spoke briefly about trinitarianism and more thoroughly about some implications of science for religions.

For the Trinity bit, I cited Rev. Dr. Bart Ehrman’s lecture 22, “Did early Christians accept the Trinity?” from his 24 lectures on early Christian controversies.

Got the two CDs on sale from “The Great Courses” <>, which has neat CD and DVD courses on the arts, sciences, math, history, etc.  

In the centuries just Before the Common Era (BCE), Israel had been under the heel of foreign nations, most recently Rome.

Many Jews had come to believe in apocolypticism, that the world as they knew it would soon come to an end, that one way or another God would send “the Son of Man” to overthrow their oppressors and restore Israel to its rightful place on Earth as God’s chosen people.

These apocolypticists included the best known rabbi of the first century CE.

In Mark 9:1, Jesus is reported to have said, “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”  

Matthew and Luke report the same saying.

Jesus expected this to be a righteous kingdom on Earth, and expected it soon.

But later he reportedly referred to an afterlife.

Despite disputes over when Jesus meant a New Earth and New Jerusalem here, and when he meant life after death, let’s look at the latter, as various “authorities” have conceived of it.

It turns out there are more specific descriptions of Hell than of Paradise. Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966) wrote, “The human mind is inspired enough when it comes to inventing horrors; it is when it tries to invent a Heaven that it shows itself cloddish.”  

One famous picture of Heaven is in the anonymous last stanza of “Amazing Grace,” a favorite of mine:  “When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’d first begun.”  

Whoopee fizz.

I, and perhaps you, sing this enthusiastically. However, as author Susan Ertz (1894-1985) notes, “Millions long for immortality who do not know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon.”  

Ten millennia, longer than Earth has existed according to some theologs, is a pretty long Sunday afternoon.

Then there are views of the hereafter that sound like just what the recently departed would order.

A Bemidji State colleague, our neighbor across Upper Calihan, died at age 49, and a retired First Methodist pastor, Rev. Clarence Richardson, did the funeral.

He spoke glowingly of Harry being up there fishing. Fine.

Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) wrote, “I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library.”  Great. However, we are told that “in the resurrection, they neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Mt. 22:30, KJV).

That might be fine for Johnny Carson or Tommy Manville, but I object.

Perhaps Elaine would like to accompany me on a journey to earlier times, say the Permian Period (roughly 300 million years ago to 250 MYA), to find out whether the cynodonts (advanced mammal-like reptiles) suckled their young, or which particular artiodactyls gave rise to the  ancestral whales of the Tethys Sea coast in the Eocene Epoch (roughly 56-34 MYA).

I’d even be willing to be docent for any souls required to take such a tour.

We wouldn’t have to worry about provisions.

The composer Gustav Mahler (1860-1911), in “The Heavenly Life” (from “Des Knaben Wunderhorn”) presents a German child’s view of Heaven.

It starts out, “We enjoy heavenly pleasures and therefore avoid earthly ones . . .” but then goes on to list all the fresh vegetables and meats available.

Since we cannot scientifically investigate the transcendant, perhaps the faithful among us had best say we will be in Elohim’s hands, and trust that Elohim is just and merciful.

Personally, I expect to see the unfaithful there, too, even those who don’t admit it.

Peace, Evan  

Evan Hazard, a retired BSU biology professor, also writes “Northland Stargazing” the fourth Friday of each month.