Bishop John Spong approaches the idea of death and existence after death from a different perspective. For him, the essence of our transformation after death is that we “die into God.” During our life, we learn to walk “into” God. The path is internal, not external: it is essentially a journey into ourselves. After a radical deconstruction of the traditional Christian approaches to death and afterlife, he invites us to approach the issue for the point of view of the experience of the mystics.
He first proposes a tentative notion of God: God might be conceived, not as a being, but as the process that calls personhood into being, and then calls us beyond personhood. It is possible that personhood is not the end-point in the evolution of self-conscious life. Individuation would be just a step in the creation of a wholeness that enables the individual to be both unique and part of the greater whole. God is the presence in which we “live and move and have our being.” God would then contain the sum-total of human experiences as part of a universal consciousness.
Thus, the human quest for life after death is not based in any sense on the claim that my life or anyone else’s is immortal; it is based on a new awareness that self-conscious human life shares in the eternity of God and that, to the degree that I am in communion with that ever-expanding life force, that life-enhancing power of love and that inexhaustible Ground of Being, I will live, love and be part of who God is, bound not by my mortality but by God’s eternity.
He suggests that the surest way to develop a firm belief in our continuance in some form or another after our death is to experience a unity with God now during our life, through any number of spiritual practices. For him, having the personal experience of our oneness with the divine ensures that we develop the deep conviction that as we die “into God,” what matters most about us will be preserved.
He develops this experiential approach to God: this view has been expressed by generations of mystics: Eckhart says: “God’s being is my being and is the being of all beings. My me is God.” The classical mystical view is that we are part of who and what God is and God is part of who and what we are. The key to this approach is to transcend our personalist language. There is a source of existence that flows through all things but comes to self-consciousness in humans. That source is a part of who God is. As engaged mystics would have it, the more I live the more God becomes identified with my life. If there is a general force of attraction throughout the universe that can be expressed analogously at the physical, chemical, biological and spiritual level as “love,” then the more I am able to love the more God becomes part of me. To this extent, I participate in the being of God
God is not a separate reality but the “depth dimension” of being itself. This new understanding of God requires that we live it, not just think it because we experience God more fully the more we love and the more we are deeply aware of our unity with all things. This is not a head thing but experiential.
The ascension of Jesus into God is the path that each of us has to take
The task of religion is not to turn us into proper believers; it is to deepen the personal within us, to embrace the power of life, to expand our consciousness, in order that we might see things that eyes don’t normally see. It is to seek a humanity that is not governed by the need for security, but is expressed in the ability to give ourselves away.
Adapted from Spong, J. S. Eternal Life, HarperOne 2009