27 March 2016

Austin Farrer: Of Heaven and Resurrection


The following is an excerpt from Austin Farrer's classic Saving Belief :

1. To hope for heaven has nothing particularly selfish about it.  No one ever thought he could keep heaven to himself.

2. Heaven is not a cash payment for walking with God; it's where the road goes.

3. Heaven isn't an optional extra; our belief is nonsense without it.

4. Our reason for believing it isn't that nature points to it, but that it leads us to itself.

I should like to develop the last point a bit.  Heaven is nothing that created nature produces; it is a new creation.  Two consequences follow from this.  The first is, that we have no interest in trying to isolate a piece of us called 'soul', which tends to outlive the body's collapse.  Our immortality is the new gift of God, not the survival of our old nature, whether in whole or in part.  It was pagan Greeks who talked about immortal soul; and with reason; for (to put it shortly) they thought the human spirit was a piece of godhead, able to guarantee immortal being to itself.  The religion of the Bible teaches no such doctrine.  God alone can give us a future.  It is better, then, to talk about the resurrection of man than about the immortality of 'soul'.  Belief in resurrection is belief not in ourselves, but in God who raises us.  It is in fact the acid test, whether we believe in God or not.  A God who raises the dead is a real power; he is not just a fanciful name for the order of nature, whether physical or moral.  A God so identified with the natural order that he adds nothing to it is difficult to distinguish from the world he rules, or from the laws which govern it.

Old Indian thought evaded the issue by making the cycle of the soul's rebirths a part of nature, like the seasons and the tides.  And as the lazy mind need not distinguish the God of the tides from the tides, neither need it distinguish the cycles of rebirth from the God of the cycles.  But when we realise that man's person, the living image of God, is bound to be sucked down in the whirlpool of decay, unless God rescues it; then faith in God begins to mean something.  It alters the whole picture.

Austin Farrer
Austin Farrer
Saving Belief .
pp. 120-121
Library of Anglican Spirituality, Susan Howatch, ed.

“Born in 1904, the son of a Baptist minister, Austin Farrer was ordained an Anglican priest and served in Oxford as chaplain and fellow of both St Edmund’s Hall and Trinity College before becoming Warden of Keble College, a post he held until his death in 1968. Austin Farrer was a renowned preacher, philosopher and biblical scholar as well as being regarded for his humour, originality, eloquence and deep spirituality. His life was rooted in prayer. He wrote, ‘Prayer and dogma are inseparable. They alone can explain each other’.” — from The Diocese of Oxford, Church of England.