I lie awake in bed and wonder what will happen to me after I die.
On the ceiling, a ticker-tape litany of saints rolls by. Not the kind you hear in church on Easter Vigil but the 2019 vintage. The college friend killed in the car crash. The other college co-worker killed in the car crash. The college acquaintance hit by a car.
Grammarly’s writing assistant on my work computer has an AI “tone detector” now. This means next to the icon that tallies your errors, a small emoji appears: the love-struck eyes emoji, a pencil, two shaking hands, or, as now the blue-foreheaded gasping emoji, which the hover-text informs me symbolizes “worried.” My tone is worried. I hate the Grammarly AI tone detector (a wincing emoji has now appeared, informing me I sound “disapproving”), as it is often distracting while writing, but I respect its soulless algorithm-fueled poetic sensibility.
I am worried, Grammarly Tone Detector. I am worried as I stare up at the ceiling and wonder how I had decades of my life of waking up without wondering if this night or this morning would be my last. This sort of fear is crippling: you can co-exist with it, but you can’t really live, so I decide that, given that it’s the ending of the liturgical year, November, and a haunted season of life, to read Benedict’s Eschatology.
I have picked up this smooth burgundy book and opened up its first pages countless times. Each time, I have failed to make any meaningful headway into the first chapter. But this time, I began in the second section, not the first part—death—but that second, more amorphous subject: eternal life. What happens on the other side of these sudden sunderings? What is waiting for me in what only—now—can be seen as darkness?
Benedict’s gentle march through the shades of Sheol, hades, immortality, and resurrection is a pastoral accompaniment through and through. We are, through Benedict, led back constantly to the one answer to our many, still-unanswered questions.
What is Sheol? What is Hell? It is the cessation of communication. The shades in Sheol cannot praise God. To praise God, to communicate with God is to participate in the truth, in reality, in being and life itself, which is God—that is, love. Communion. God’s presence, in this life and the next, is always defined by the possibility of communion. Who is the communication of God? The logos, the Christ—the man from Galilee. Jesus.
My questions of mechanics still feel unanswered. Fear still seems like a possibility, a certainly rational option. But as I read the answer again and again on the page, the articulated Christian image of any possible end—the Christ—I am, strangely, perhaps even irrationally comforted. Christ is no easy answer.
Christ is not an answer that is devoid of risk. Because Christ, as the form of God’s love for the world, is the ultimate risk—the sign and shape of our own vocation and destiny—to become, like Christ, signs of God’s love and the answer of love back to the God who sends. Christ is love.
And love is risk.
How do men become like God? Benedict asks. How do humans find the immortality they have so longed for through all ages? Not through a grasping for immortality, through our own efforts for our own continuity, but through gift, through acceptance, through the Son. The Son, who is God, and who is God also as a man. Let this mind be in you says Paul, that the form of God is not something to be grasped, rather, you are already in the form of the Immortal One, simply now by the accident of your birth—through the gift of your existence. You are now like God. But to be the Son, to be God, as a human is not to reach for the power of the Almighty or the knowledge or security of the Omniscient Eternal. Rather, to be a human who is like God is to empty oneself, taking on the form of a servant. Submitting to the ravages of time, fate, community, and love even and into and through the moment of death.
To be like God is to submit to the darkness of death. And he calls us out of darkness into his own marvelous light.