by Rodney Marsh
I believe in the Resurrection of the body. In particular, Jesus’ body. Why?
When I first began to follow Jesus I was taught that Jesus rose from the dead and that the evidence for his resurrection (the tomb was empty, he was seen and the resurrection of Jesus is the most reasonable explanation of the church’s existence) was convincing to any who would fairly investigate. And throughout history, many have become convinced of Jesus’ risen status because of these historical reasons. However, this evidence seems convincing when presented to the convinced or attracted, but still fails to persuade many agnostics and atheists. They remain skeptical, along with many Christian believers, because the ‘rational’ truths of Christianity cannot be subject to the accidents of history (Lessing). Historical ‘evidence’ is not sufficient reason to believe and proclaim “Jesus is risen” nor to say “I believe in the resurrection of the dead”. The reasonableness of the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is only part of the picture.
I have always impressed by the frankness of Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ as presented in John 6, “Master, to whom would we go? You have the words of real life, eternal life.” That is, “I’ve looked and there don’t seem to be any viable alternatives”. I have a similar reaction to Jesus’ bodily resurrection: I have not found an alternative explanation that explains the ‘fulfilling life’ Jesus offers. Three essential beliefs of the Christian Faith – the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Resurrection – are all like this. They are all ‘post-Biblical’ and came about because, if we proclaim “Jesus is Lord”, there seems to be no viable alternative to these beliefs. It is belief in the incarnation, resurrection and Trinity, that give coherence to our (the church’s) experience of the love of God in Jesus through the Spirit and these beliefs are tied together in an eternal dance of dependence on one another. The incarnation, resurrection and trinity are not literal statements of belief extracted from Bible verses, but, without them, what the Bible says about God, Jesus and the Spirit cannot be true. Like the famous three-legged stool – each is necessary but no one is sufficient to make the stool stable.
This necessity applies, in particular, to belief in Jesus’ material/bodily resurrection from the dead. In our scientific materialistic age, the reality, necessity and believability of Jesus’ bodily resurrection has been questioned by many followers of Jesus. In addition, requiring belief in a physical resurrection seems to be an unnecessary barrier to faith in the modern age. I think this view mistaken.
Why? For me, three reasons not drawn from history or reason, but experience, make the resurrection of the body essential.
- Jesus’ earliest followers believed that God made and loves the material creation. They even claimed, post resurrection, that Jesus was involved in the creation of all things. They further believed that creation (and we ourselves) will one day, be set free from decay. Believers will be raised from the dead and be forever with the Lord. Many Christians believe Jesus restoration of creation and our resurrection, to be part of the metaphorical meaning Jesus’ resurrection. And it surely is, however, Paul explicitly ties the restoration all living and non-living creation to Jesus’ (and our) material resurrection. These earliest Jewish/Christian beliefs in restoration and resurrection tie the Creator God in a continuing intimate and eternal involvement with the material creation. The ‘metaphorical’/spiritual alternative to Jesus being physically raised breaks this link. I cannot believe it. Such a use of metaphor ‘mocks God’ (Updike) and is a ‘slippery slope’ to a gnostic/spiritual creator or Deism of some version of Scientism (matter is all there is). These idols are aliens in a Jesus’ world. Such a god (why only one?) is more interested (or uninterested) in a metaphorical/spiritual (or separate) world than in the one real and beautiful material/spiritual world which I experience around me. I cannot and will not believe in such god(s).
- My experience of Christian contemplation/meditation or the ‘prayer of the heart’ has convinced me that my body is a necessary part of my relationship with God. My physical body is who I am and is, in a sense, all I am (I am a scientific materialist in that respect). My material body is essential to my experience of faith and life. Meditation has taught me that my body is more essential than my thoughts or emotions. The discipline of Christian meditation or contemplation requires stillness of body. Without stillness of body we cannot begin to still our minds and when our body is still and we work on stilling our mind (thoughts, plans, desires, regrets, feelings etc…), then we discover the transformation that takes place by participation in ‘being’ with/in Jesus. My body is an essential element in this process. It is not an unfortunate ‘addon’. Can it be that the decaying humanity of my earthly tent (now the agency for my relationship with God), will not be changed in the twinkling of an eye into an eternal home for/with God (2 Cor 4:16, 5:1)? I think not, for God values me (my body) and all creation.
- My bodily senses are my only access to the present moment and the present moment is my access to the eternity of the present moment. Not my rationality. When thoughts form, I am attempting to use my mind to observe, describe, categorise, understand or analyse the experience of the present moment, the present moment has already passed into the “nonexistence”. Thinking about the past or the future can never substitute for the immediacy of life in the present moment. The present moment can never be captured but can only be lived, and so eternal life is where there is no past or future but where God is, in the present moment. The decaying humanity of my earthly tent already contains the eternity of the present moment and my body, in particular my senses, are essential to my experience of ‘now’ and so to my participation in eternity. One day I shall leave this body of death and enter that timeless present, forever with the Lord. Is my bodily ability to experience the present moment “the (bodily) pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people” (Ephesians 1)? If so, I believe my material body is (and will be) part of the resurrection because it is part of the created “heavenliness” of all things. As to the form of my resurrected body, I am not so much a fool as to comment (1 Cor 15:35ff).
“And in this he showed me a little thing, the quantity of a hazel nut, lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed. And it was as round as any ball. I looked upon it with the eye of my understanding, and thought, ‘What may this be?’ And it was answered generally thus, ‘It is all that is made.’ I marveled how it might last, for I thought it might suddenly have fallen to nothing for littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and ever shall, for God loves it. And so have all things their beginning by the love of God. In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it. The second that God loves it. And the third, that God keeps it.” Julian of Norwich ― Revelations of Divine Love