Season 8 is in the books, and I think most people have finally accepted Peter Capaldi as “The Doctor.” Now, I’m not saying that I loved how this season ended, but it was definitely a well-written episode with a lot of twists and turns to take in, and certainly tons of theology to with which to concern ourselves.
But first, a gentle spoiler warning: if you haven’t finished the eighth season of Doctor Who, I’d stop here.
The eighth season finale was a two-part story that started with the random death of Danny Pink, Clara’s boyfriend. The episode “Dark Water” saw Clara grieving, quite poorly, by trying to force The Doctor to undo Danny’s death. The Doctor, of course, can’t do that because of a variety of—shall we say—timey-wimey reasons, but he does have an alternative plan: going to Hell.
Or wherever it is that people go when they die.
They set off for the afterlife and find themselves in a rather fancy mausoleum run by the 3W corporation. For his part, Danny awakes in an office where he is being processed for the afterlife, which is life in a place called “The Nethersphere.” As the episode progresses, we are shocked to realize that 3W is a front for an invasion, of sorts, by the Cybermen. Rather than a true invasion, the Cybermen have instead learned how to “upgrade” the dead, turning corpses into living Cybermen. Of course, the Cybermen aren’t clever enough to do this on their own. The Master has returned, though she is going by the name “Missy” now, having regenerated into a female form.
The finale “Death in Heaven” begins with nearly a hundred Cybermen flying into the sky. They spread to the largest cities of the UK and explode, seeding the sky, and forming rain clouds, clouds that only rain over the cemeteries. Once the rain comes, it doesn’t take to realize their purpose—the Cybermen have found a way to convert the long-deceased. If a single drop of water touches a dead body entombed within the earth, it will become a Cybermen, ready for battle.
There’s so much here, and I don’t want to turn this blog post into an ebook, which is a real danger because I’m writing an ebook on Heaven. That being said, let’s look at a quote from Missy and discuss the doctrine of Heaven and an aspect of it that is often forgotten. When she was gloating to The Doctor about her apparent victory and her new ability to form Cybermen out of the dead, Missy made this incredible statement, “The graves of Earth are about to give birth.”
Missy’s words did prove true, of course. Cybermen were soon punching their ways out of the graves, which I found very ironic. You see, most people think of the afterlife in purely non-material, spiritual terms. Sort of like the Nethersphere, which turned out to be a Gallifreyan hard drive where the “souls” of the dearly departed were stored like data. This is how so many view Heaven, the realm of disembodied souls living in the presence of God.
There’s a certain amount of logic behind this view of Heaven. Paul makes it very clear that to be “absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” Of course, we’ve taken that a bit too far. See, the faithful dead are with God, but that’s not the whole picture of what Heaven is. Heaven currently is a spiritual place populated by disembodied souls—with a few notable exceptions—but this is not what it will be. Heaven will become a physical reality, descending from above to rest upon a new earth, restored completely from the fall. And we, likewise, will be resorted, blessed beyond the curse, to live physically and spiritually forever in the fullness of human experience, as God has always intended.
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelation 21:1-4
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. Romans 8:18-23
Creation will be restored; we will be restored. Paradise will be regained as God comes to live among us. Previously, He would visit Adam and Eve in the garden, but we have been blessed beyond the curse, and God will then make His home with us. This is the hope with which we face each day, each struggle. This is the good news that needs to be proclaimed: God is coming in power to judge and to punish, but He is also come to restore, to purify, and to bring peace. Accept His offer of forgiveness, and find life everlasting in Him.
The thought of the dead turning into Cybermen is disturbing, when you really think about it, but how glorious and wonderful when those “seeds” in the ground, as The Doctor called the soon-to-be-cyber-corpses, sprout into a new life, sharing in Christ’s glory after His resurrection. Remember those “notable exceptions” I mentioned above? Jesus is one of them, the preeminent one. Elijah and Enoch were taken to Heaven without dying, but only Jesus stands before God having died and then defeated death itself. Death has been beaten; the grave has been overturned. Our Lord is physically and spiritually alive. We, now, share only in His spiritual life, having been forgiven for our sins and received His righteousness as our own. But—I do love a good contrasting conjunction, don’t you?—but a day is coming when we this bodies bound for death will be remade, like our Lord’s, beyond the reach of death or decay.
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive….We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:20-22; 51-57
The Mistress/Master might have found a way to turn corpses into Cybermen, but only God can actually bring new life, truly “upgraded” life out of death.
“Dark Waters” and “Death in Heaven” made for a great story, but that’s all they are. God’s story, the truth of Jesus, is far grander, and if you take anything away from this, let it be that this grander truth, this “beyond all” good news must be lived out and shared. We don’t live in fear of death, but in patient expectation of what glory awaits us beyond death. So many live fearful lives, so many live lives that are needlessly broken. We have the answer. We have life now in our spirits and life awaiting our bodies—it’s up to us to share our secret with the world.
Have you liked this season of Doctor Who?
Do you agree with my thoughts on Heaven? Where do we disagree?
For a much better explanation and a broader view of the whole discussion, check out NT Wright’s Surprised by Hope
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