Thursday, February 24, 2005

The Resurrection of the Dead:

Here's an interesting blog that offers a "friendly view of the Bible from an atheist."

From what I can tell, it's an accurate description. I must take exception, however, with one thing that John Ray, the site's blogger, wrote:

Do Christians believe that Heaven is a place where there are physical bodies with bosoms -- physical bodies that even lean on one-another for support and fellowship? No? Quite to the contrary, Christians believe that to be the OPPOSITE of the truth. They believe that Heaven is in fact a spirit realm.

Whether or not this is emperically true, it certainly is not true from the standpoint of orthodox Christian dogma. There is a "spirit realm," I suppose, but it's important to realize that this, too, is part of God's creation, for God himself does not exist in any "realm." He is, so to speak, beyond "realms." Put another way, God simply is. Thus the divine name, YHWH, can be translated as "I am" in all tenses of the verb.

But the story is more complicated than that. When the orthodox speak of Heaven, we may mean where God is, but, unfortunately, that gets us back to the idea of "realms" and must be understood as a not entirely accurate way of speaking about God. Alternatively, we may mean where Christ--who has assumed human flesh--is, and where the dead either are or will be when the heavens and the earth pass away and the new heavens and the new earth are come.

But what place is this? The short of it is that no orthodox theologian has ever dared to say. Yet this does not mean we don't know some things about this "place." The key doctrine here is the doctrine of the Incarnation, which holds that Christ was, is, and will always now be both fully God and fully human. In short, we believe that Christ came in the "flesh," that on Easter morning he was raised in the flesh, that he then ascended into "heaven" in the flesh, that he continues to bear flesh as he "sits" at the right hand of the Father, that he now becomes present to us in the flesh through the Eucharistic feast, and that one day he will return to earth in the flesh, judge the quick and the dead (who also will be raised in the flesh), and establish his kingdom (which will be a physical as well).

Thus the flesh, the physical, and the body are very much at the core of what Christians believe about "heaven." It's not for nothing, we believe, that God created us in the flesh; he did so because this is the way or mode of being in which he intends us to live.

On the other hand, this idea is complicated by St. Paul in 1 Cor. 15, where Paul speaks about "spiritual bodies" and "the perishable put[ting] on the imperishable." But even here we do not shed our bodies; nor are they "translated" into the imperishable. Instead they "put on" something else (the "spiritual" or "imperishable"), which suggests that they become something more than they are now, not something less.

One analogy that comes to mind is the difference between a photograph and a living person: both bear similarities to one another, and both are "physical." But the living person is far more physical than the photograph--e.g., 3 dimensions rather than 2-- not less. In the same way, we believe that the imperishable flesh or the spiritual body will be far more physcial than the perishable bodies we now have, but that they will also bear similarities to one another just as photographs of people "look" like the people pictured in them.

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