I have read the book I Have a Future: Christ’s Resurrection and Mine by Reinder Bruinsma with great interest — after all I am now 92 years old, and Death is personally closer than ever. But I must confess, that I think of my own End very rarely — I am simply too busy to have time for it — and I am one of those people who the Baroque poet and theologian Angelus Silesius describes as not longing for heaven because they are already in it — in spite of darkening clouds. And there is another reason: Transience is the very core business of so called “serious” music. In one way or another it is always about the joys and troubles of life, but with beauty and meaning, and therefore ultimately with hope.
So, it was a good experience to review again the biblical wisdom on Life and Death as described in this fine book, I Have a Future. All aspects of the problem are covered with clear biblical references. Some puzzling texts are illuminated with all alternatives openly discussed. In all humility it also acknowledges that it does not have answers to all the questions.
I finished reading this book while I was in Salzburg conducting Mahler’s Ninth Symphony.
What a coincidence! With his Ninth Symphony, his greatest, he says farewell to life in the most moving way. Farewell to a world which he loved intensely, in spite of the most painful losses and unspeakable loneliness. But the symphony does not end in despair, it just fades away in quiet acceptance. After every performance the public in Salzburg remained silent for a long minute, with a feeling of gratitude to be alive. In this silence God himself was speaking.
For many people art is the highest form of hope — an act of creativity and thus a self-made bridge to something like eternity. That is also true for Christians of all generations. Just think of the visions of a New Jerusalem and a New World in the book of Revelation, certainly a divinely inspired vision, but steeped in the form of a great poem — thus brimful with art. Thus, Christians can view death with an immense plus: The promise of an afterlife, guaranteed by the eternal Creator himself, through the death and resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ.
In the book I Have a Future, Reinder Bruinsma is the ideal guide in the biblical wisdom about Life and Death. Because the theme is so typically spiritual, it is mostly expressed in symbolic language — which is fine, and often the only way to express it — but also makes it wide open to divergent interpretations. The author mentions many traditional possibilities, and weighs them with the overall message from the total Scriptures before arriving at his final conclusions. I appreciate this method, because there are innumerable ideas that look for support from the Holy Scriptures, some of them completely foreign to the biblical thinking as a whole.
Accepting the principal of “symbolic language” is a must, but a must with limits. Goethe has a passage in Dr. Faustus which parallels biblical wisdom: All that is material has an end, but at the same time it is a parable for spiritual realities that are eternal. (Mahler, by the way, quotes it in his Second and Eight Symphonies!) Dr. Bruinsma tells us where he puts the limit, and I am happy with his conclusions. When the New Testament speaks of the Resurrection it means literally what it says, and that has been at the center of the Gospel ever since. It made its way into the creeds of the early churches, and has stayed there. Sorry to say these “Good News” have been largely forgotten, and today even clergy often tends to interpret them symbolically.
But read the texts carefully, and listen to musical descriptions like the Et resurrexit in Bach’s B-minor Mass, or in the final Choral of his St. John’s Passion, and you will be swept away by the power of God’s Word and the conviction of his believers.
A very sympathetic trait of Dr. Bruinsma’s book is his modesty. He does not pretend to have all the answers. He is a seeker, and only seekers are trustworthy. We should beware of those who think they already have all the ultimate truth. Even St. Paul, direct disciple of Jesus Christ, confessed that his knowledge was only “in part,” and as if seen in a mirror. He knew that he would have full insight only after actual resurrection, and said:
“So then, encourage one another with these words.”
These comforting words could also apply to Reinder Bruinsma’s book I Have a Future.
Herbert Blomstedt is a Swedish orchestral conductor.
A version of this review originally appeared in the August 30, 2019 issue of Messenger, the official journal of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the United Kingdom and Ireland. It is reprinted here with permission of the author.
Book cover image courtesy of Autumn House Publishing.
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