August 04, 2004
Making all things new

The Salty Vicar writes about doing a funeral, which includes this thought about the resurrection:

I then asked them to consider what a resurrection faith might look like.

I said we might be free from anxiety; we might not fear death.
I said we might live as if we had a future. Always, even until we died.
We would understand that even those who were marginalized have a say in the way the world works.

I might be asked, well where is the physical resurrection of the body? To be honest, the problem for me is not whether this will happen. I guess it would be great to return, physically, in heaven. I just hope I'm better than in my prime when it does happen. But is this God's greatest hope. I mean, I don't know if I really want to be physically resurrected. It seems quite... primitive.

I can't help wondering if this vague distaste for the physical -- it's so "primitive," after all -- is a deeper reason why Bishop Sprague denies the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Actually, both of them remind me of a dream I had last week, before I even read Sprague's chapter. I was visiting my sister and stopped to pet her cat, before I realized that the cat was one who died in 1996. More curious than alarmed, I asked my sister about this. She said that she'd been attending some spiritual discussion group that determined that there will be no general resurrection at the End Times, but individuals will be raised along the way according to God's judgment.

I wanted to protest this, and not because God had deigned to raise a mere cat. (Hey, he was a really nice cat.) It was that it made eschatology so anticlimactic. The cat came back, and then picked up where he'd left off: eating, bathing, rubbing ankles, sleeping on laps, scratching furniture and so on. There wasn't any sign of transformation, or redemption, just of coming back and chugging along with your life as before. In other words, it was pretty much what Buddhists are trying so hard to get out of.

It's a pretty comical dream in retrospect, but I wonder if it isn't too far from how a lot of people understand the resurrection of the body. Jennifer commented on my earlier post, to Sprague's use of the term "physical resuscitation":

The irony is that Christians do not believe in a resuscitated Jesus. That's - what do you call it - a straw man argument. A resuscitated Jesus would be something like out of the TV show ER or the movie Flatliners. Resurrection involves transformation, glorification. I Cor. 15!

I Cor. 15 says, among other things:
But someone will ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?’ Fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. Not all flesh is alike, but there is one flesh for human beings, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are both heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one thing, and that of the earthly is another.

I think one problem here is that the popular idea of "heavenly" means having no body at all. People think of the soul as being, essentially, just like you, with all your thoughts, feelings and perceptions, but without the body. Innumerable ghost stories and movies and so on have reinforced this idea. So it's easy to see why people would have trouble seeing what they'd need their bodies for if their souls are in heaven.

Last year I read part of Nancey Murphy's book Whatever Happened to the Soul?, which began with an overview of concepts of "soul" in biblical times. The view I just described was, if I remember right, a Platonistic one, but it was not the only one current. The Judaic view saw the soul as more of an animating principle within all living things (Tom alluded to this in a comment to this post), that was not really related to consciousness. Among Jews and, in fact, many pagans, souls lived on after death but they were literally shadows of their former selves, not fully there. The Psalmist, for instance, keeps begging God to spare him from death partly on the grounds that no one in Sheol can sing his praises. In the scene in the Odyssey where Odysseus visits Hades, he speaks to someone he knew in life but the shade reminds him that he's not really the person Odysseus remembers.

In the modern era it was probably Descartes who was most responsible for equating the soul with higher brain functions. This led him to conclude, among other things, that animals are only soulless machines who only act like they feel things, by which he rationalized nailing down his dog and dissecting the poor animal alive. That alone inclines me to think there was something wrong with the way the guy thought, but more importantly, studying brain structure and chemistry in psych classes disinclined me to believe that a totally disembodied consciousness can really exist.

The thesis of Murphy's book was that, contrary to popular belief, you don't really need to believe in a disembodied consciousness to believe the Christian story. In fact, it might get in the way, because it can make bodily resurrection seem as pointless as the cat's resurrection in my dream. I suppose our bodies are primitive, in the word's earliest sense of, "original, primary, first." You cannot grow a plant without the seed, even if the seed must die; you cannot have the end without the beginning.

Posted by Camassia at August 04, 2004 11:57 AM | TrackBack


The questions you raise about the resurrection are very interesting, because they parallel in many ways the questions people have about "enlightenment" and what happens to the body *after* one "wakes up." This bit really caught my attention (natch, by Buddhist reference):

"There wasn't any sign of transformation, or redemption, just of coming back and chugging along with your life as before. In other words, it was pretty much what Buddhists are trying so hard to get out of."

I honestly don't know if it's this daily routine that Buddhists are trying to get out of; I've always seen it as trying to emancipate the mind rather than freeing the body, at least in terms of the life at hand. After this life ends, however, most lay Buddhists do have this hope that they won't return in the next life--if they have to return at all--to doing the dishes or answering the phone. ...But before this gets too long, I'll just say that once again I'm fascinated (I have been with the several posts you've put up on the Resurrection) and spurred to inquisitiveness...

Posted by: Andi on August 5, 2004 03:29 AM

If the "soul" amounts finally only to the electro-chemical wiring that animates the body, then it is just a kind of battery. It seems clear that to be resurrected only to begin again in the same mechanistic body, is an absurdity not to be desired. I have asked the question before: if when resurrected, we are also glorified and perfected, how would we differ from each other? What constitutes a perfect human hand? How could perfect minds think any but the same, perfect thoughts? Would a resurrected mankind, in fact, not need to be Adam: Man, as he was originally created, perfect and immortal before the Fall?

Posted by: Rob on August 5, 2004 06:16 AM

Andi: Yeah, I meant trying to escape being born over and over again, not so much what one does in this life after enlightenment. (As I remember it, one Zen master's answer to the latter was, "When I'm hungry I eat, when I'm tired I sleep.") When I was first studying world religions I was struck by how opposite the Eastern and Western goals seem to be: in the West living forever is a reward, in the East it's a curse! But, on deeper reading they're both seeking a transformation, but Christians traditionally thought of it in physical as well as spiritual terms.

Rob: I don't think calling the soul an "animating principle" is quite the same as calling it a battery. But my point was that I don't think seeing the soul as inseparable from the body leads to be resurrected in the same mechanistic body. The implication is that a transformed body is also a transformed soul, though you're still "you" (the relation of the seed to the grown plant again). No one (including Paul, I suspect) knows exactly what that would look like, but I don't think that necessarily calls on everyone to be identical. As Paul described the Body of Christ, some are hands, some are legs, etc. and I don't see why that pattern couldn't continue in the next world. But really, who knows?

Posted by: Camassia on August 5, 2004 07:58 AM

C.S. Lewis wrote somewhere that what we really want when we talk about the resurrection of the body is the resurrection of the senses. The human mind receives knowledge and experiences the world through the medium of the senses. A disembodied soul would seem to lack something fairly essential to human life. Our body is also how the presence of others is mediated to us. Without it we would be pale, ghostly wraiths cut off from contact with each other (a common theme of ghost stories, come to think of it).

However we imagine the embodied life of the resurrection, I think one important truth that the doctrine safeguards is that we don't exist is isolated souls, but as embodied beings in community. The image of heaven in Revelation is, after all, a city.

Posted by: Lee on August 5, 2004 08:16 AM

I don't know if you believe in the Marian apparitions at all, but I think they can give us a good idea of what the resurrected body is like, if you believe that Mary was assumed body and soul into Heaven (I don't know if you believe any of this because I'm not sure whether or not you're Catholic; I thought Lynn over at Noli Irritare Leones was Catholic but it turns out she's from the Society of Friends, so I don't assume anyone is anymore until I'm sure, lol).

Anyway, the point that I was going to make is that if you believe Mary has her body right now in Heaven, and if you believe in Marian apparitions, it tells you something about the resurrected body. She has appeared in different places throughout the world, and in many cases she has appeared looking like the people in that region -- for instance, when she appeared as Our Lady of Guadalupe, she apparently looked like the Native Americans of Mexico.

We also know that when Jesus was resurrected, no one recognized Him, indicating that His Body was quite different somehow.

Posted by: Nathan on August 5, 2004 12:53 PM

I made the same initial mistake about Lynn -- aside from the Latin heading, she also works with the Catholic Workers, which threw me off. I think her husband used to be Catholic so she developed connections to the Church for that reason.

I'm not Catholic either, fyi. I attend a Lutheran church but I'm perhaps most properly called a catechumen -- I'm learning and hanging out but I haven't been baptized. The blog has attracted a lot of Catholic readers and bloggers, however, so I'm kind of on St. Blog's parish map anyway.

Anyway, I know practically nothing about Marian apparitions, but it does have an interesting implication if glorified bodies are more chameleonlike than our present ones. Maybe if you're a glorified being in an as-yet-unglorified world, you have more control over how you appear to people? When Jesus came back with a different-looking body he still had his wounds, which I doubt was meant to signify that we'll have our earthly wounds after the resurrection, but certainly served a purpose.

Posted by: Camassia on August 5, 2004 02:54 PM

Yes, Jesus still had his wounds, but he could also apparently enter rooms through closed doors. But, then, he could walk on water before he was resurrected, so I don't know how much we can assume from discussing the body of Jesus. As a Prostestant, I think I'll reserve judgement on those anthropomorphic Marian sightings until somebody photographs one. So far I've seen only photographs of strangely-shaped bagels and stains on the side of skyscrapers. Call me Thomas.

Posted by: Rob on August 5, 2004 04:08 PM

St. Augustine says that while no blemishes on our body will remain in the resurrection, the saints who suffered martyrdom will retain their wounds (as Jesus did) because these wounds are not blemishes but marks of virtue.

Read Book 22, chapters 12-21 of the City of God - it's basically "All your questions about the resurrection of the body answered!" And I mean, really particular questions. What if a cannibal eats me? How tall will I be? Will I still be thin/large? How old? What about babies who die, will they be resurrected babies? In the end, it's a mystery, and I don't know if we need as much detail as St. Augustine gives, but it's interesting.

Lee, great thoughts about embodiment and community.

Posted by: Jennifer on August 5, 2004 04:17 PM

I think Rob's point about the problem with difference in perfection is important. If we don't believe the saved will be identical and indistinguishable, it follows that variety is a perfection of the human species.

If you perfect St. Peter and St. John, you don't wind up with two Sts. Peterjohn. I'm not even sure what a Peterjohn would be like, but I suspect he wouldn't have much of a personality.

As Lee points out, humans exist in community. If each person were identical, it wouldn't matter how many people there were; you'd have the same community if you tossed half (or all but ten of) the people out, and none of the people tossed out would be missed (how would you even know who was tossed out?). Which doesn't exactly fit in with the whole personal love concept.

Posted by: Tom on August 6, 2004 06:12 AM

re: the difference in perfection problem, I wonder if the doctrine of the Trinity might be of help here? After all, we believe that the Persons of the Trinity are perfect and yet distinguishable. And part of what distinguishes them are their relations with each other (I realize this might be a case of trying to illuminate the obscure with the even more obscure...). Analogously, might we not say that humans are distinguished, at least in part, by their relationships to each other? And these relationships are constituted by and in our personal histories (our memories, etc.), which are intimately tied up with our bodies. Just as Jesus retained the marks of His personal history in his resurrected body, I see the insistence on "embodiment" as, at the least, an insistence that our personal histories won't be dissolved into the ocean of divinity as some eastern religions seem to teach.

Posted by: Lee on August 6, 2004 07:42 AM

That's an interesting thought. I'm wondering how it fits in with the answer Jesus gave when, trying to trap him, they asked him about the case of a woman who marries, and her husband dies, so his brother marries her and then dies, and the next brother marries her, and so on: who would be her husband in heaven? And Jesus said words to the effect that, in heaven they will be like the angels and will not marry. If we do without so central a feature of our personal/bodily histories in "heaven", what do you suppose we would retain? Or, do you think Jesus was speaking here of "heaven" as a kind of anteroom, where human spirits reside while waiting for a bodily resurrection to come? My supposition is that if we retain much of our personal histories, most of which will have been sinful, we would not have been transformed, glorified, or perfected by having been resurrected. I don't believe that we will WANT our old, sinful selves back, or retain any connection to them after the resurrection. I think that in hoping to be revived pretty much as we are now, but "better" somehow, we are clinging to the worldly attachments that give shape to our state of sin. After resurrection, those attachments will have been purged from us and we will desire nothing but God. I don't see how a resurrected Body of Christ needs more than one, perfect body. Man will again be Adam; be Christ; in perfect integrity, be One.

Posted by: Rob on August 7, 2004 06:09 AM

Sorry if I've missed your point, but are you saying there is no continuity between our lives today and our lives to come? Surely not everything we experience in this life is sinful and unworthy of a heavenly reimagining. John Polkinghorne has some great things to say about the conflict between the continuity and discontinuity of this life and the next in his book, The God of Hope and the End of The World. He writes from the POV of a partical physicist, which is an interesting spin.

This discussion reminds me of 2 CS Lewis comments from The Great Divorce. First, he says that from the vantage point of heaven or hell, earth will not seem like a seperate, distinct place. It will just look like the first stage of where ever we end up.

Second, in his story hell is found in a crack in the floor of heaven. Maybe this metaphor also works for the relationship between resurrected life and earthly life. Our experience of new life will be so great, so big, so long-lasting, it will dwarf our experience of earth until it becomes almost insignificant and forgetable. Maybe billions of years from now we will look back on our meager 80 years on fallen earth, with all its pain and sin, as if it were one bad day a long time ago. Maybe not even one bad day, but like the memory of a stubbed toe.

Posted by: lalalandrover on August 7, 2004 10:56 AM

First, understand that everything I wrote above is pure hypothesis; merely a way of looking at what is a great mystery from what might be one, plausible, point of view. I think that "personality" is partially a genetically-received, hard-wired thing (both my older daughter and I were born lacking patience, while my wife and my younger daughter are unflappable), and partially the sum of many socially-determined, learned (or coerced) behavioral traits. Such traits are the places where our faults and sins nest, breed and shelter. Love, which is our only protection and remedy against these faults, is not something that is part of our personality, but, rather, something that transcends it. Love propels, not our personality, but our spiritual inheritance, our gift from God, back towards God. Personality drags us back "down to earth." I think that C.S. Lewis is right when he says that from the vantage point of heaven, we will look back on our earthly life with indifference. I don't know that I agree that heaven will be a lot like this life, only better. I think that "heaven" is utterly different from earth. As Jesus said, we will not be as we are now, but like the angels.

Posted by: Rob on August 7, 2004 11:50 AM


I fear your position, if I understand it rightly, threatens to collapse the distinction between imperfection and individuality. You almost seem to affirm a kind of Platonic notion that individual humans are somehow imperfect copies of some ideal human form ("Adam"). I think this is troubling not least because it would seem to imply that creation as such is somehow a "fall" (this seems to me a kind of Gnosticism). Moreover, we're clearly taught in Scripture (and it's reinforced by tradition) that, however else Jesus' post-resurrection self differed from his pre-resurrection self, his unique human identity was preserved.

I don't deny that many of what we consider our personality traits would have to be transformed, if not burned off completely, to attain perfection. But I think any adequate understanding of the resurrection life has to hold onto both the elements of continuity and discontinuity. Otherwise, in what sense are "we" resurrected?

Posted by: Lee on August 9, 2004 08:50 AM

You make excellent points. I am a bit of a Platonist, and what I proposed does tend a bit toward the Gnostic, I suppose. I believe, however, that Adam *was* the ideal human form, mad in God's image, and that creation as such *is* all fallen, since Adam's sin. We read in Matthew of all of creation groaning in anticipation of redemption. It is not only man that is to be glorified and transformed at the End of Time, but all of creation is to be restored to its original, perfect state, which God saw as good. In all of creation, before the Fall, there was but one man, Adam, and then one woman, Eve. So, perhaps, my musings are not completely crazy.

Posted by: Rob on August 9, 2004 01:48 PM
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