Can you imagine what it would be like to live without the
knowledge of the existence of heaven or hell? The Israelites
did—for centuries. The only real life they knew was in the
here and now. Asked about immortality, they would answer no
with resignation and finality.
How do you answer the question,
“Are you immortal?” You might answer yes, but let it go at that. But suppose
I press you and ask, “What do you mean?”
Were you to say that you will
live forever, is that a real answer? Who wants to live forever? Immortality
should not be reduced to time; doesn’t it mean more than that?
More Than Forever
Ah, then you recall the doctrine of the resurrection of the body
from the New Testament and say that you believe that you will eventually rise
from the dead. Or you could also say: Although my body will corrupt in the grave,
my soul will not.
So far, you have told me only
the manner of being immortal: by resurrection, or because of the nature of a
soul that will never die. Is that all you mean by immortality?
The author of Wisdom didn’t bother
with the manner. He leads his audience to consider the question of God’s presence
(justice) as central to the afterlife. He breaks the grip of death by offering
a deeper vision—a new and powerful vision—of the life that wisdom promises.
This vigorous claim was never before pressed to its ultimate conclusion.
In Chapter One, taken as a whole,
spirit and wisdom do not seem to be distinct from the divinity. All three express
the way in which God is pres-ent to the world and to humans. In the second-last
verse of that chapter, verse 15, the author does not conclude to immortality
because of the nature of the soul, but rather because of personal justice or
This means our right relationship
to God—here in this life—is of itself undying or immortal. It is another way
of describing what Jesus calls eternal life in the Gospel of John (e.g., 4:14;
6:47; 12:25; 17:3).
What's Forever For?
Yes, you are already immortal, if you remain in union with the source
of life, drinking the water that Jesus gives: “a spring of water welling up
to eternal life” (John 4:14). Our immortality comes from our relationship with
God. We can destroy that relationship, but God will not. God is faithful to
My immortality is being formed
in the here and now with God. As one of the Prefaces for the Requiem Mass puts
it, “Life is changed, not ended” by death.
Wisdom has other references to
the style of our afterlife. In Wisdom 5:5,
we are to be “accounted among the sons of God,” to have our lot “with the saints.”
In the Preface for the Feast
of All Saints, the Church prays, “Around your throne, the saints, our brothers
and sisters, sing your praise for ever....We praise your glory and we cry out
with one voice.” We are only beginning to enjoy this precious gift of union.