The Resurrectionist

27 06 2009

Does anyone ever pray for the dead?  I’m not talking about the Mormon practice of praying for ancestors, or the old Catholic practice of buying indulgences to get people out of purgatory.  Does anyone ever pray that the dead will be resurrected, or is our faith in death stronger than our faith in God?  If Jesus could bring Lazarus back from the dead, and if the bones of Elisha can bring some stranger back to life, then a prayer for a dead man is not beyond the limits of our doctrine.  People have been brought to life again.  My grandfather, a pastor of a small church, prayed for a dead man, and that man came back to life again.  He had been certifiably dead.  My grandfather didn’t expect anything to happen, but it did.  He only prayed because members of his congregation insisted on it.  People have been to Hell and back.  People have been to the gates of Heaven and back.

As with any miracle, the deed eventually becomes undone with time.  The resurrected eventually die.  The final resurrection at the end of time will be another matter, but for now all things are temporary.  However, God’s purpose is never temporary, so while we aim for a second chance at life, he aims for a second chance at eternal life, either for the one brought back, or for those who knew him.

People pray for the most terminal of illnesses, but they draw the line at death, the most terminal of all illnesses.  However, the last signs of life are still barely going in a corpse long after death.  Your hair and fingernails will long outlive you.  They grow very long on a dead body.  When does the last living cell finally become aware of its fate and follow suit?  In a sense, death is only a systemic illness, destined to win over the entire body, eventually.  The brain is dead, and the spirit is gone, but something in that darkness yet shines.

To be sure, the miracle of resurrection could not happen much of the time even if everyone prayed for every fatality all of the time.  Miracles that happen daily are taken for granted.  We don’t even call them miracles anymore.  Every breath is made possible by an act of God.  The breath of a dead man is no farther beyond God’s ability than the breath of a living one.  The question is not whether God can do it, but whether or not God would do it.  A man brought back from Hell, would he do more harm than good to the world?  A man brought back from Heaven, would the world do more harm than good to him?  If a person were brought to life outside of prayer, then who would get the glory?  Perhaps every case is different, and perhaps even among similar cases different treatment would be advised.

But a man need not be a model citizen to be brought back.  No one, in fact, deserves a second chance.  The only achievement  that all can claim is that we have all managed to increase entropy during our stay on this rock, and we’ve all managed to botch our theology in one way or another.  We all sin.  We’re all selfish at heart.  People are not often shocked at the suggestion of Hell for an unusually evil man, but everyone is shocked at the suggestion of Hell for themselves.  It’s like the poop in a toilet crying out, “Why me?!” as it flushes into the sewer, “Take the diarrhea; take the constipation, but don’t take me!  I don’t deserve to get flushed!  I’m a supple, well-formed log!”

I would argue, though, that every dead body should at least get one prayer.  Let God decide the outcome, but endeavor, at least, to ask.  I’m not talking about the prayer where we pray for Heaven to open its gates to the soul of the departed.  That prayer really is pointless.  Either the soul is going to Heaven, or it isn’t.  I’m not talking about the prayer for comfort to those left behind, good as it may be.  I’ve never really understood why we should be comfortable with death, though.  It is the wage of sin.  It’s definitely a bad thing to its core.  When a man clearly went to Hell, why do we stand around and comfort ourselves with platitudes?  This is insane.  A soul in Hell is an utter outrage.  No, what I suggest is that we get in the habit of praying for resurrection, and all other kinds of healing.  If we lose our faith in the miraculous, then the Spirit of God will surely pass over us and continue on its way.

It’s easy to have faith in the healing of a living person, though it isn’t a hope for the miraculous so much as it pretends to be.  Praying for a dead man is a real test of faith.  There exists no natural mechanism for making that happen, so that when it does happen, there’s no easy way to rationalize it away.  Praying for a broken bone to heal is easy.  Praying for a corpse to sit up and talk takes guts.  The vast majority of the time nothing happens, and that takes a spine of steel to deal with, but every now and then something does happen, and that’s no easy matter to sleep on, either.

But God is a master of the miraculous, and we treat him like a hamster, running in his wheel, going nowhere.