US Catholic Faith in Real Life

What happens after we die?

“We will all be changed,” according to Paul.

By Alice Camille | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare
Article Your Faith

If you’re hankering for the storybook heaven in which you get your heart’s desire and live happily ever after, the writer of the letter to the Hebrews just may support it. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for” (Heb. 11:1).

Take note: Trust in God is the nonnegotiable price of admission. Eternity as the land of hopes is not a bad way to envision the hereafter. This may or may not include an endless supply of blue corn chips—but for me, heaven would be a nonstarter without them.

After we die, we also get clarity. Whether that’s good or bad depends on the choices we make before the funeral: to seek the light of truth or to wallow in self-deception. If truth is our aim, we will “see [God] face to face” (1 Cor. 13:12). That’s St. Paul talking, and it’s a premise he advances several times with assurance.

Paul describes our present perspective as a cloudy mirror image, unable to reflect the big picture. Prophecy never offers up all the secrets. Human knowledge is forever incomplete. Only Death supplies the big reveal. 

Jeremiah allowed that God knows us intimately before we’re born. Paul claims that God returns the favor in eternity, initiating us into the divine mystery. This shouldn’t be surprising, since we’re made in the divine image to begin with, according to Genesis. If our mirrors weren’t so dimmed by excess of ego, we might be able to glimpse less of us—and more of God—right now.

John confirms this destiny: When what will be is finally revealed, “we will be like [God], for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). John seems to push the envelope further than Paul, beyond “seeing” God to “being like” God. Our family resemblance to God will be burnished and set free at last. Halos, here we come!

“We will all be changed,” Paul declares, as we surrender our mortal selves to immortality like a simple change of clothes (1 Cor. 15:51–54). Paul is fond of this idea, bringing it up again in another exchange with the Corinthians. He compares mortal bodies to tents—as a tentmaker, the metaphor comes readily to Paul’s mind. These fleshy tents are bulky and weigh us down. Our heavenly habitation will clothe us better, free of burden (2 Cor. 5:1–10).

Paul is even more explicit in his correspondence with the Philippians. In the life to come we’ll share in Christ’s glorified nature, as Christ becomes all in all (Phil. 3:21). Does this imply that we’ll each adopt that “fuller’s bleach” (Mark 9:3) radiance displayed at the transfiguration? Exchange that topper halo for a Guadalupe full-body shine?

Fulfilled hope, clarity, liberation, transformation. Does anything else await us after death? Seriously, what more do you want? The sister who taught art at my high school used to say: “If God bores you, who in the world will entertain you?” We can trust that the beatific vision, whatever that everlasting face-to-face with God is, will satisfy. 

This article also appears in the October 2019 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 84, No. 10, page 49). Click here to subscribe to the magazine.

Image: Unsplash cc via Chetan Menaria

Published: 
Thursday, October 17, 2019

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