life and death From Darkness to The Dawn by Anton van der Walls, (SCM Press, £8.95).
AS SOON AS we start to reflect on death, life after death and resurrection, we encounter great difficulties, and agonising ones at that. It would seem that human nature has been so fashioned that it seldom allows itself to consider the converse side of Life.
There are times, however, when the question becomes inescapable: what happens after the death of a human being? Fr van der Walls here sets out courageously to tackle the problem with the help of philosophy, theology and biblical scholarship.
The result is fascinating in the honesty of his approach which leads to considerable profundity. It is surprising that nearly half the Christians who say that they believe in God do not believe in an after life. Instead they have set their minds on establishing a heaven on earth with the help of the social sciences. They would like to think that they had done something towards a patch of peace on earth.
The Old Testament does not encourage us on the whole to consider individual survival after death. Fr van der Walls seems to demolish the few glimpses we may have thought to have secured; these are mostly concerned with the People of God as a nation.
But the author takes us through the New Testament, and eventually through the more eminent theologians from Thomas Aquinas to Karl Rahner and Edward Schilebeeckx his master. But he is not entirely happy with any of them, and his critique leads the reader into the depths of faith — indeed it is fides quaerens intellecium.
This approach explains the title of the book — Israel wrestling with God in darkness. The author resorts to faith "only after producing arguments of a generally human and philosophical kind, in order to provide a basis for reflective belief in a resurrection within a constant questioning and searching 'until the dawn'." He• concentrates on the person rather than the soul; he is compelled to consider the whole person in a different way after death. "After death human beings begin to live as human beings in another way"; the soul as a separate entity seems to have flown away and we have proceeded little further in understanding this life after death; we have understood more of the depth and darkness of the subject. Heaven, Purgatory and Hell all come within the scope of this investigation, and the reader is left struggling with the acceptance of the infinite love and mercy of God in view of the infinite depths of separation from God. But Fr van der Walls concludes on a positive and hopeful theme. "In order to make belief in the resurrection and belief in eternal life acceptable, we need the experience of love." It is always in that direction that we shall experience the dawn.
Conrad Pepler OP