Friday, June 25, 2010

The Resurrection of Life

We have been having a conversation off and on here about the resurrection of the body.  As I've noted before I'm uncomfortable jettisoning a bodily resurrection.  I realize that there are scientific questions that are problematic, but I don't think that its the science that's the problem.  I think its the physicality that is the issue.  Christian theology has from the beginning placed an emphasis on embodiedness.  That's why the Eucharist became so central to the Christian faith -- it was a witness against the Gnostic desire to free the soul from the body.   I think that there is an incipient gnosticism that underlies the popularity of metaphorical interpretations of the resurrection of Jesus.  If Jesus' appearances were nothing more than visions or dreams, then we don't have to deal with an embodied state.

In earlier posts I've talked about N.T. Wright's views, but Wright is probably more conservative than am I.  Bruce Epperly gave a progressive theological argument for an embodied resurrection -- but Bruce is probably to my left.  Standing in between these two positions, both of which embrace embodied resurrection, is Jurgen Moltmann.

I am in the midst of reading Moltmann's latest book, Sun of Righteousness, Arise! (I will be publishing an online review of the book with Englewood Review of Books), and Moltmann explores the resurrection in several chapters.  Regarding the resurrection, he notes his preference for the phrase "resurrection of life," rather than "resurrection of the dead, the body, or the flesh."  These are the typical terms used, but he finds them less helpful than "resurrection of life."  What does he mean by this?  Let me offer this quotation for you to consider and respond to.  

By the living, lived body we do not mean the desouled body as an object, as a set of scientifically objectified organs and the medical treatment of them; we mean the experienced and lived body with which I am subjectively identical:  I am body -- this body is I myself, this is my body gestalt or configuration, and my life history.  Life in this sense means the life that is lived, not unlived, the life that is affirmed, not denied, the life that is loved and accepted.  Real life is the bodiliness which I am:  unlived life is alienated bodiliness which I have.  (pp. 60-61).

He goes on to consider what it would mean if we were to confess the "resurrection of lived life."  If we were to make this confession, then we could accept that dying is "part of life," as well as "believe in the victory of life over death."   Yes, then "we can then affirm that eternal life will be lived in the transfigured body" (p. 61).  

So, what is it about the resurrection of the body that gets everyone so upset, and does Moltmann offer us a way forward?   


3 comments:

John said...

Moltmann, says "Real life is the bodiliness which I am:  unlived life is alienated bodiliness which I have.".

I wonder if the "bodiless which I am" can be separated from "the alienated bodiliness which I have"? Do not my wounds, including the alienatedness which often results, contribute to the "gestalt" of who I am?

I suppose that healing can overcome the damage from our wounds, but the scars remain and I think they contribute to our personhood far more than the accumulation of healthy events which we have endured. I don't know whether there is any real value in removing the scars.

In fact, I have to wonder whether being healed of our alienating wounds may not set our spiritual maturity backward in a negative way. I have always understood that painful challenges are a gift from God as much as the sweeter moments of life. Not that God orchestrates our misery, but that the pain we suffer is an inescapable part of human life. We will not always be children in the protective arms of a loving parent in an idyllic environment. Pain is part of life. Sickness, tragedy and death are parts of the larger cycle of life.

Tragedy and grief are important components in the process of learning compassion - perhaps even for God. Even Jesus endured tragedy, grief and pain. Upon his resurrection, he freely shared with his disciples evidence of his wounds, proof positive that he had suffered and that his suffering would not be forgotten. We worship not only Christ resurrected, but Christ crucified.

We are what we have endured - including the ways we have incorporated what we have endured into our "Gestalt".

John

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

John, I don't want to speak for Moltmann, but I think he would agree. Consider that the risen Christ, according to John, was marked by the scars of the cross. Yes, I do think we carry the scars with us as reminders from whence we came. But, I also believe that in resurrection, the pain and suffering that contributed to those scars being formed is no longer present. There is a memory, but not a current experience of them. In resurrection we experience the wholeness of God's presence.

Doug Sloan said...

Something did happen on Easter morning – and just to put a label on it, we will call it the resurrection of Jesus. However, the resurrection of Jesus is of lesser importance. What is of critical and major importance is the resurrection of the disciples. If a burial box is found that undeniably contains the bones of Jesus, what is the ramification for the Good News message? Nothing – it changes nothing. The message stays the same. The Good News remains vibrant and relevant. The validity of our faith is built on the rock of the personal relationship God has with each of us, not on the relationship God had with Jesus or that God had with the first disciples. The relationship God had with Jesus and the first disciples is instructional, not controlling.

Whatever happened on Easter morning is inferior and insufficient compared to the miracle of the resurrected lives of the disciples. As faithful followers of Jesus, they too had become, because of the crucifixion, as though dead and buried. Crucifixion was more than an execution; it was the obliteration of an entire life. In the culture of the Roman Empire, it was as if the crucified person had not just disappeared, it was as if the crucified person had never existed – that life would never again be discussed, that name would never again be mentioned. The disciples were not just grievous or depressed; they felt obliterated – within the context of the Roman Empire, their life with Jesus was meaningless because it no longer existed. Because of the crucifixion, throughout the entire Roman Empire, their entire experience with Jesus – the love and fellowship, the teaching and learning, the discussions and arguments and bickering, the travels and the resting, the prayers – all their incredible experiences with Jesus had never happened.

On Easter morning, something did happen that resurrected for the disciples the life and teaching of Jesus and their experience with Jesus. Within 40 days, not only were they resurrected, they were transformed. The Good News that resurrected and transformed their lives (and the thousands of other lives transformed by that same Good News) had nothing to do with sacrificial death, empty tombs, ascensions, virgin births, or miracles. The Good News is neither concerned with nor does it require an act of divine intervention. In any biblical story that involves such a divine action; to focus on the miraculous event is to miss the purpose and message of the story. To depend on or expect or require miracles is to worship at the altar of the false god of spiritual certainty.

The Good News did not and does not succeed because of miracles. The initial success of the Good News was in how it demonstrated that anyone could live a resurrected and transformed life even in a world where death, cruelty, corruption, crime, war, systemic injustice, slavery, and extreme poverty were so rampant as to be the norm. The Good News is that a life of resurrection and transformation does not have to be preceded by death. The Good News is that the kingdom of God is not a future event or a distant place or a strictly post-mortal existence. The Good News is that the kingdom of God has arrived, it is here and now and available to anyone – without exception, without qualification, and without sacrifice.