“Person” is among the most difficult words in the classical Christian vocabulary. It is difficult on the one hand because the word has a common meaning in modern parlance that is not the same meaning as its classical one. And it is difficult on the other hand even when all of its later meanings and associations are stripped away – because what it seeks to express is simply a very difficult concept.
Most of what the world understands as “person” is either a description of the “ego” or of a legal concept. But Person (I will capitalize it for use in its classical form) is not at all the same thing as the ego. In the ego, we describe a set of feelings, choices, memory, desires, etc. that are unique. It is, in its most true form, turned in on itself. The ego is “me for myself.”
For many people, when they think of life after death, they imagine some continuation of the ego. Indeed, many of our thoughts about heaven seem problematic precisely because they seem to contradict the needs of the ego.
“Will there be golf in heaven?” The joke begins.“Well, there’s good news and bad news,” the angel answers. “The good news is that there is indeed golf in heaven and the courses are beyond description. The bad news is that your tee time is tomorrow at two.”
Such jokes could easily be multiplied – for we imagine heaven (and life after death) to be somehow the fulfillment of our desires and wishes. An existence organized around our wishes, desires and memories is not, however, the meaning of Person.
Person is an “organizing principle,” the center around which and by which our existence is defined. But its character is strikingly contrary to the ego.