My Easter was lightened by a mis-spelled church sign from just up the road from me. On Sunday morning, I was risen indeed – at around 5 a.m. for the daybreak service, which I went to with a little voice at the back of my brain suggesting that I’d get there and find the church doors closed, and a sign saying “April Fool” on them – Easter Sunday coinciding with 1st April isn’t that uncommon, but does give a host of opportunities to comedians, and it seems a comedian has taken residence in my subconscious. This might become apparent later in this post…
I’ve talked about my problems with accepting a physical resurrection in my previous post, and in a 2013 post prompted by the same preacher. In those, I’ve pretty much avoided letting the comedian loose. The thing is, the more I think about the model of resurrection Jason Michaeli and others say I have to accept to be any kind of Christian, the more it looks to me like “Bible IV – the Zombie Apocalypse” – because whatever they say they are thinking, they are actually thinking about revivified corpses, even if they are somewhat transformed (after all, corpses do not typically walk through walls…). This is not Paul’s version of a resurrected body from 1 Corinthians 15:
“But someone may ask, “How will the dead be raised? What kind of bodies will they have?” What a foolish question! When you put a seed into the ground, it doesn’t grow into a plant unless it dies first. And what you put in the ground is not the plant that will grow, but only a bare seed of wheat or whatever you are planting. Then God gives it the new body he wants it to have. A different plant grows from each kind of seed. Similarly there are different kinds of flesh—one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish.
There are also bodies in the heavens and bodies on the earth. The glory of the heavenly bodies is different from the glory of the earthly bodies. The sun has one kind of glory, while the moon and stars each have another kind. And even the stars differ from each other in their glory.
It is the same way with the resurrection of the dead. Our earthly bodies are planted in the ground when we die, but they will be raised to live forever. Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength. They are buried as natural human bodies, but they will be raised as spiritual bodies. For just as there are natural bodies, there are also spiritual bodies.”
Now, I’m pretty sure that Paul is reaching a bit as far as knowledge of what a resurrected body is like is concerned. He has himself only experienced what, from the account in Acts, was pretty definitely an apparition – and he knows that it wasn’t flesh and blood as we know them (and I can hear Scotty from Star Trek speaking that sentence…), but is imagining what it is actually like, using the concepts available to him. As it turns out, David Bentley Hart seems to agree with me. He points out, inter alia, that Paul also declares that flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom (or, arguably, enter it).
I’ve frequently read that the Jewish concept-set of the time did not allow for what later became the Christian concept of disembodied spirits, but demanded that any spirit be concretely expressed. This is rather similar to my own idea, using determinedly non-philosophical language, that there is “stuff” and there is “pattern”, and there are no patterns which are not expressed, somehow, in “stuff”. Walter Wink, in fact, makes much of this idea in his “Powers” trilogy, pointing out that the powers and principalities which Paul writes of were conceived as having definite physical expression; in Wink’s case, there may well be a “spirit of a nation” (or archangel), but there is no spirit without there being a nation. Other powers identified by Wink are such things as churches, companies and ideologies (such as capitalism). You can’t have them disembodied… which may be a disappointment to some conservatives! Thus, when accounts were written of Jesus being experienced post-crucifixion, they had to be expressed in terms of some embodiment, and some of them very definitely have “flesh and blood” like characteristics. So, too, however, have at least two tangible apparitions I have personally experienced, which I am pretty confident were entirely subjective on my part.
Indeed, the well known passage regarding marriage in heaven (Matt. 22:23-32) bears witness to a number of things. Firstly, the Sadducees not believing in resurrection at all may well point to a group which thought bodily resurrection was the only kind there should be, but were cognisant of the difficulties of that. Secondly, Jesus plainly did belive in some form of resurrection. However, his comment “as the angels in heaven” very strongly indicates that he, too, thought that this was not in a normal flesh-and-blood body.
So, I ask myself, why do those who keep posting on the necessity for belief in a physical resurrection more or less indistinguishable from rescuscitation do so, rather than allowing that some of us might fully accept resurrection, but think that it is in some different way? My suspicion is that they are falling into the Sadducee trap – if the resurrection is not bodily, not a rescuscitation, then it is no resurrection at all, and my belief that it is not a bodily resurrection (OK, on a very strong balance of probabilities basis, rather than something more absolute – after all, we do not have the accounts of people who have been resurrected as to what the process consisted of, as Jesus seems to have been silent on the issue) threatens their belief. Like the Sadducees, they cannot see that there is another possibility (or, in fact, several possibilities, as I’ve alluded to in the previous posts I link above).
However, friends, my belief does not affect your belief at all. I claim no authority (any authority I have derives from scripture or other more learned than myself), and just because I believe something is no good reason for you to do so. So your belief is unaffected.
Unless, of course, in your heart of hearts you actually believe that I’m right enough for there to be no physical resurrection, but not right enough for there to be non-physical resurrection – which makes me a kind of Schroedinger’s authority, right and wrong at the same time.
(Incidentally, to illustrate the provisional and non-absolute nature of my thinking here, I’ve used a small “r” and added an “s” to “resurrection”. There may be many ways to resurrect, indeed, and I may be wrong, there may have been a rescuscitation and a physical resurrection and a spiritual resurrection and a transmuting of a dead person into something unknown to modern physics – and a metempsychosis, and a chanelling, and, and…)