As one sort of process theist, I have been inclined to say this about what happens when I die: My whole life up to my death will remain a living presence in God’s ongoing present even more intimately than my whole life up to now remains a living presence in my ongoing present (as well as God’s). The same is true of your life and the lives of all “whom we love but see no longer” (BCP, p. 498). What ends at death is not my life in and with God but my life’s present tendency to diverge from God’s. God’s endless life reconcilingly continues the differing projects of every ended life, which means that no life is ever totally ended.
I find it reasonable to say all this only as long as it is reasonable to regard God as uniquely, utterly, and renewingly inclusive of all that happens. If I’m mistaken about the renewing, utter all-inclusiveness of our ultimate setting (i.e., God), then all bets are off.
Many process theologians have been content to say simply that God remembers us when we die. I find this misleading, because it sounds like simply a more detailed version of what happens when I remember a deceased loved one. But God’s renewing, utter all-inclusiveness of me (and of everything else) is closer to how I remember myself than to how I remember somebody else, however dear. And we are likely to miss that point if we simply say that God remembers us.
I prefer not to venture further than this affirmation, which is outrageous enough as far as it goes. Somehow, my life continues in God’s life, it still lives in God analogously to how the person I was one second ago still lives in me now, but it lives on terms so different that any attempt to imagine any details is bound to be misleading.
On the other hand, Marjorie Suchocki has a great deal more to say about this in process terms, based on her reading of Alfred North Whitehead,* and I find all of it worth taking seriously, though not literally as far as any details go. (She does briefly note that this is all an exercise in metaphorical thinking.) Maybe this is sort of what abiding forever in God’s ongoing present will be like. Maybe. Sort of. So here are some excerpts:
From Marjorie Suchocki, God-Christ-Church: A Practical Guide to Process Theology, New Revised Edition (New York: Crossroad, 1989).
God, and only God, can feel the entirety of another. Thus the flow of feeling that takes place as God [feels] the other is a flow of the full subjectivity of the other into the full subjectivity of God. This is subjective immortality for the world within the life of God.
Is this resurrection? In the imagery of 1 Corinthians 15, resurrection is a transformation brought about by the power of God wherein our dead physical bodies become spiritual bodies. Our mortal nature becomes immortal; sin and death shall be no more. “We shall all be changed,” said the apostle … In this process expression of resurrection, we simply use the metaphysics as a metaphor to express a mighty transition from a finite subjectivity that is alone with itself to that same subjectivity within the presence of God …
This resurrection is spiritual, not material. The world is not simply transposed to God, so that it exists in a sort of parallel state. The world is transformed in God. This is why resurrection, which connotes transformation, is a more precise term than immortality, which could imply simple continuance … If a subject experiences itself as a subject in God, then the new context of subjectivity is the pure relatedness of God.
Judgment and Redemption in Our Risen Life: An Illustration (200, 210-216)
Consider one example of an injustice that history cannot correct. One particular woman was burned at the stake as a witch in medieval Europe. Injustice came upon her as a maelstrom, crumbling her world of meaning and well-being into a welter of panic, pain and ashes … Without “the life of the world to come,” her unredeemed experience stands as a finality of injustice, mocking the power even of God’s justice. Without resurrection, there is no fullness of justice.
In this process understanding, resurrection takes place not upon the death of the whole person, but throughout life, as God continuously feels the occasions of the world. God continuously coexperienced each moment of that woman’s existence. God coexperienced her childhood, her teen years, and every moment of her adult life. God coexperienced her fright just as she felt it when she heard the frenzy in the voices of her neighbors discussing witchcraft; God felt her own terror as she realized the accusations were directed against herself. God felt the paralysis with which she endured the humiliation of examination and “trial,” and God felt the agony as the fire began its searing work. God felt her death. Because God felt with her every moment, there is resurrection in God. This is the point where it becomes essential to realize that an occasion is not raised to immortality locked into its finite experiences; hell indeed would be eternal if her fiery death were untransformed in everlastingness. The center of the resurrected subjectivity must be able to flow from its finite creation into the wider experience of God. The woman must feel herself in God through God’s own consciousness.
If the woman-in-God experiences herself through the divine consciousness, then the first phase of her “more than herself” movement into God is a phase of personal judgment. She knows herself as God knows her; she knows herself as she could have been, and as she is. The first phase of judgment is the knowledge of ourselves from the divine perspective. “We shall know as we are known,” says the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 …
In God, every moment is always itself and yet more than itself. This means, in our illustration, that [at death] the seven-year-old child [now] feels the thirty-seven-year-old woman burning at the stake—but it also means that the thirty-seven-year-old woman feels again with a simultaneity the delights of other moments of her life. The regatherd personality in God is all ages and no age, transcending every moment of existence in the reunion of all moments of existence. This [second] phase of judgment is the suprapersonal totality of the self, feeling one’s whole existence as copresent in God and with God, and as felt by God …
In the resurrected life, self-knowledge will extend to an awareness of the way one was experienced by others. Through the power of the divine sensitivity, each is mediated to the other, knowing oneself through the heart of the other. Joys that were given will be experienced; alternatively, the same dynamics mean that pains that were inflicted will also be experienced. In the faithfulness of this experience of the self through the other, there is [a third phase of] continued judgment.
This dynamic can be illustrated by considering not simply the woman of our earlier example, but the judge who was most responsible for her accusation and conviction. He, too, experiences resurrection in God; he, too, experiences the totality of himself; he, too, experiences his effects upon others. In God his knowledge of himself will be completed through his knowledge of how he affected the woman. He shall know as he is known. But he will know her pain along with God’s judgment of what might have been, so that while she might experience God’s feeling of her as the compassion of shared pain, he will experience God’s feeling of her as a judgment or wrath against himself for what might have been had he only responded positively toward God’s aims for himself for an alternative mode of action and being … Insofar as one’s own use of freedom was in conformity with the nature of God, one will experience God as heaven; insofar as one’s freedom was against the nature of God, one will experience God as hell.
How is there redress? How is the woman requited for her agony? And is the judge to feel the movement of God as a hell forever? The same movement by which there is judgment is the movement by which there is ultimate redemption, and therefore ultimate justice … What is happening in the very process of judgment is that the ego is being opened up to that which is more than itself. The participation in the other through the power of God is not only judgment, it is the route to the transformation of justice. Consider the woman and the judge. She is aware of him experiencing her pain within the divine nature. But her own movement is beyond that pain into transformation. The judge is not locked into her pain, any more than she is; the judge, too, experiences her transformation in God, and therefore participates in that transformation. She contributes to his redemption …Just as the redemption of the woman he harmed contributes to his redemption, even so, his increasing redemption contribute to her deepening joy. For the ultimate transformation and unity in God is love, pervasive, deep, everlasting.
Thus judgment moves into justice. The increasing integration of the resurrected subjects in God pulls them deeper into unity with each other … In mutual completion, each experiences the other’s joys, gratitude, wonder and love. These qualities are intensified since they mirror the divine ability to hold the many together in unity. The edges of God are tragedy through the feelings of pain in the universe, but they are edges only. The mighty center toward which we move in judgment is the overcoming of evil through its transformation by the power of God. In the center of God, the many are one everlastingly …
There is a home in God, a home for the whole universe. In that home, multiplicity finally achieves unity, and fragmentation is embraced in wholeness. The unity and wholeness receiving and transforming each part is more than the sum of them all, for the unity is the ever-living God, drawing upon the divine resources of infinite possibility to blend all reality into the giving and receiving of the whole. Differentiation remains in the primordial depths of God, but it is a differentiation that is divinely sustained as the most fitting actuality of unity, beauty, and holiness; the reign of God which is the reign in God, which is God.
*“Each actuality … has its reception into God’s nature. The corresponding element in God’s nature is … the transmutation of that … actuality into a living, ever-present fact. An enduring personality … is a route of occasions in which the successors with some peculiar completeness sum up their predecessors. The correlate fact in God’s nature is an even more complete unity of life in a chain of elements for which succession does not mean loss of immediate unison. Thus in the sense in which the present occasion is the person now, and yet with his own past, so the counterpart in God is that person in God … in which the many are one everlastingly, without the qualification of any loss either of individual identity or of completeness of unity. … In this way, the insistent craving is justified—the insistent craving that zest for existence be refreshed by the ever-present, unfading importance of our immediate actions, which perish and yet live for evermore.”—Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality (New York: Free Press, 1978 ), pp. 350-351.