After we die, we “see God face to face.” Then what?

Posted by Alice L. Camille
Friday 05, April 2019 | Category:   Doctrines & Beliefs
Afterlife
What unites us with God, ultimately, is love, which is the very nature of God, according to Christian theology.

You’re quoting Saint Paul. In his passage on the nature of love in 1 Corinthians 13, Paul describes our present sense of what’s going on as a dim reflection of the reality awaiting us. Even prophecy doesn’t tell all, and knowledge is imperfect. Death’s “big reveal” leads us “to know God fully,” as we are fully known. At present, God has the advantage in knowing us comprehensively. In eternity, God returns the favor.

If this sounds like a big claim, Paul goes further in Philippians stating that, in the life to come, we’ll share in the glorified nature of Christ. The First Letter of John confirms this, declaring that we’ll not only see God, but we’ll be like God in the upcoming realm. From Genesis, of course, we already knew we bear God’s likeness—but Paul and John’s assertions sound like it’s much more than a family resemblance.

In reflecting on such passages full of celestial hints, theologians arrive at what they call the Beatific Vision. Some prefer to emphasize the beatific part: the very sight of God will be a blessing to us. Others lean into the vision part: the direct encounter with God will open our eyes so that we finally truly see. The goal isn’t merely viewing God (“So that’s what Divinity looks like!”) or knowing God (“Pleased to make your acquaintance!”) The eternal goal is union with God, which is what both Paul and John are driving at.

What unites us with God, ultimately, is love, which is the very nature of God, according to Christian theology. In John’s words: “God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God.” Paul agrees when he declares that only three things persist for eternity—faith, hope, and love—and that love outshines the other two as the greatest virtue. John and Paul reaffirm what Jesus says in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.”

But your question is “Then what?” Beatific Vision unites us with God and allows us “full personal participation in the Trinitarian life of God,” in the words of Jesuit theologian Paul Crowley. Does that sound like enough to keep you everlastingly occupied? The Sister who taught art at my high school used to say: “If God bores you, who in the world will entertain you?” I suspect the Beatific Vision will satisfy.

Scriptures: Genesis 1:26-27; Psalm 8:5-10; Wisdom 2:23; Matthew 5:8; John 17:25-26; 1 Corinthians 13:8-13; 2 Corinthians 3:18; 5:7; Ephesians 1:5; Philippians 3:21; Hebrews 11:1; 1 John 3:1-3; 4:7-21

Books: Seeing God: The Beatific Vision in Christian Tradition, by Hans Boersma (Eerdmans, 2018)

Toward a Theology of Beauty, by John Navonne, S.J. (Liturgical Press, 1996)

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