By Pastor Glenn Pease
One of the strangest articles I have ever heard of was the one titled Who Ate Roger Williams. This great fighter for religious liberty, and the founder of the first Baptist church in America in Providence, R.I., died and was buried in a very insecure casket. The result was an apple tree broke in and a large root went right through his body. This led to some very strange speculation. Since part of the body of Roger Williams would have been absorbed by the root and taken up into that tree, it is probable that some of these molecules became part of it's apples. Thus, the foolish question--who ate Roger Williams?
Now this could hardly be a problem from even the most anti-cannibalistic perspective. The problem is a theological one that men have been wrestling with for centuries. How is God going to get the body of Roger Williams back together again for the resurrection? This gets enormously complex if you think of how his molecules could end up scattered all over the world, and becoming parts of many other bodies which will also be in the resurrection.
This may sound absurd, but it has been a serious theological issue since the early church. Tertullian, one of the ancient church fathers, was a fighting fundamentalist on this issue. He insisted that the very body that was buried is the body that will rise at the resurrection. Every hair and every tooth of this body will be raised, and not a fraction will be lost. This may have been a great comfort to those who died with a fine head of hair and a full set of teeth, but what about those who had lost their hair and teeth? Are they to be stuck forever with the literal body that was buried, or can they anticipate some improvement in their resurrection body? Even more perplexing were the questions about the Christians that were fed to the lions, or those many who were burned at the stake.
More modern Christians have added their own examples of problems with the body. What of those lost or buried at sea, and eaten by sharks or other predators? What about those who have died in planes and various explosions where the body has disintegrated without a trace? There are just too many seemingly hopeless cases where the body, for all practical purposes, ceases to exist. These complex situations have led to much doubt about the doctrine of the resurrection of the body.
St. Augustine, way back in the 4th century, spent a good deal of his time writing answers to all kinds of questions about the resurrection of the body. What about abortion? Will these little bodies be raised, and if so, what kind of body will they have? Augustine said they were alive and they died, and since all the dead will be raised, he saw no reason why they would not qualify. This has been the general belief of Christians ever since. He said all will have equal bodies. All will be like Christ in the prime of life, and so all children will have mature bodies, and all old people will have young bodies. All defects will be done away with, and all that is lacking will be added so that none need fear they will have a body they do not feel comfortable with.
Believe it or not, Augustine had to deal with questions like--will all of our body be resurrected? Will all that was ever a part of us be a part of the resurrection body? What about all the hair the barber has cut off over the years? If all of this is to be restored to us, Harry will be the only fitting name in heaven, and the hippy style will be the style forever. Others asked about finger nails and about over weight Christians, and still others asked about the deformed. You cannot think of a question today that was not already asked in the fourth century. There are few theological issues that have produced so many questions in people's minds, as this issue of the resurrection of the body.
Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica, the most famous theological work of the middle ages, and the primary basis for Catholic theology, goes on and on, page after page, dealing with questions about the resurrection body. Will the resurrection body have hair, nails, intestines, sex organs, sweat glands, blood and other fluids of the body? He wrestled with problems most of us never lose any sleep over. For example, if Adam rises with his full original body, Eve will not be able to rise at all, for she was made from Adam's rib. If he gets it back in the resurrection, there is nothing left for Eve to rise with.
God must have a lot of good laughs at His children's perplexities, just as we parents and grandparents have at children's perplexities. When my grandson Jason was just over a year old he developed a ridiculous problem that gave me many a laugh. He became conscious of the world of balls, and he was spotting them everywhere. The clincher came when he began to spit out his peas, and refuse to eat them because they were balls. Before that revelation dawned on him he was perfectly content to eat them, but once he discovered they were balls they were unfit for human consumption. Our daughter tried to mash them, but it was to no avail, for mashed balls are still balls. Fortunately, string beans don't look like balls, and so he still got his vegetables. Much of what we do in life is on this same level in the eyes of God. If anyone deserves a good laugh, it is God, and so all of our nonsense is not completely wasted.
Paul is writing this greatest of all chapters on the resurrection because of the questions of the Corinthians. Some of them were very strange questions. The saying is, there is no such thing as a foolish question, and that holds true even though Paul begins by calling their question foolish. Had they not asked this question about the resurrection body we would never have had this inspired answer. We can say, thank God for those who asked this foolish question. Paul calls it foolish, not because he felt it was an unworthy question, but because of the misconception behind it. They are locked into a narrow assumption about the body. They think of it as having only one form of existence. Paul goes on to show that God is the creator of many kinds of bodies, all of which are adapted to their environment. God is not limited as to the kinds of bodies he can make. We see God's variety and versatility in nature, and so it is foolish to think God will have a problem providing us with bodies that will be fitting for eternity. Don't be foolish, just open your eyes to what God is doing all around you, and you will see that what is complex to you is simple to God.
The foolishness of the Corinthians is in their feelings that all of the complex things that can happen to the body are somehow going to make it tough for God to get it all together. Paul says God has given us in nature just the illustration we need to grasp the solution to all our problems with the resurrection of the body. Nature is the handiwork of God, and in it we see how his creative wisdom functions. In Sunday School we planted seeds to illustrate the reality of the resurrection. Paul says there is no better way to illustrate the resurrection. It covers both sides of the paradox of identity and difference. The plant is directly identified with the seed that is buried, yet the plant is so radically different from the seed, that there is no resemblance. A plant, flower, fruit, or vegetable looks nothing like the seed it comes from. It would be a dull and boring world indeed, if all that ever came from seeds was more seeds. The seeds do come, but with them comes the plant clothed in beauty, and with values of all kinds. Nature helps us see how the resurrection body can be related to this old body that dies, and yet be so radically different from it. The seed of the old is there, but it will be clothed with beauty and values that go way beyond this old body. The seed helps us see the two key issues of identity and improvement.
Take the body of Jesus as an example. His resurrection body was the same body that was buried, and yet it was so radically different. His resurrection body had the nail prints in His hands, and the wound in His side. His voice was the same, for Mary Magdelene recognized Him by His voice. His mannerisms were the same, for the two on the road to Emmaus recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread. All of His disciples came to recognize Jesus in His resurrection body, for it was the same body He had when He was with them before the cross. Yet it was a new body--a transformed body. It was a body that could come and go at will. It could vanish and go through doors. It could take on other forms as it did when He walked the road to Emmaus, and was not recognized by two of His disciples. It was a body no longer subject to the laws of nature, and no longer a limitation to the spirit. It was a spiritual body and thus, totally subject to the spirit. When He chose to ascend to the Father He did not need to consider gravity, for His body was no longer subject to that law.
When the Bible says we will be like Jesus it does not mean we will be millions of clones, and all alike. God's creativity will be more manifested in the new heaven and the new earth, and not less. There will be infinite variety and differences. We will be like Him in that we too will have resurrection bodies like His. We will have bodies that will forever maintain the identity we had on earth, yet bodies so improved, they are like the difference between a seed and a beautiful flower. The seed of the old is ever there, but also the beautiful new beyond compare. This gives us the best of both worlds. We will be able to recognize and fellowship with all the saints of history, and know them as Moses, Elijah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Yet all of the fears of being somebody you do not like and having a body you do not like are eliminated, for you will have a body improved beyond your wildest dreams.
The first thing Paul does is assure Christians that the death of the body is nothing to worry about. The seed itself dies and decays, yet out of it comes new life of far greater beauty than what has died. The preservation of the body is of no importance to Paul. The body of Jesus saw no corruption, and spices were put on His body to preserve it from any decay. This was a fulfillment of a prophecy, and was an honor accorded that most unique body that ever was. It was the only virgin born, sinless body, that ever did, or ever will, exist. There is no hint in the New Testament, that I am aware of, that suggests Christians should strive to preserve their dead bodies. The Egyptians became experts at this, and thanks to them we can all go to museums and see what a mummy looks like. If you have seem one you know they are not really an inspiration.
The body is designed by God to return to dust. All the apostles and the saints of the Bible are now dust. This is no cause for worry or sorrow. The seeds you have planted over the years are also dead and gone, and are merely dust somewhere in the ground. You do not care because you have reaped a harvest of good things from those seeds. You do not want to save your seeds for the sake of having seeds. You lose them in order to gain what they can produce. So the loss of the body is like this loss of your seeds. It is lost in death, but it will be raised up as a beautiful new body that is far superior, just as a plant is far superior to the seed.
Many Christians insist that God will gather all of the molecules of the body and reunite them in the resurrection body. For an omnipotent God this is tinker toy level of creativity. No Christian who believes in the God of the Scriptures can have a problem with this conviction. There are even analogies in nature. One day the great chemist Faraday left his workshop and one of his assistants knocked over a silver cup into a jar of acid. The cup disintegrated and the assistant was in deep distress for the cup no longer existed. When Faraday returned the assistant had to confess to his blunder. Faraday took some chemicals and put them in the jar of acid. In a moment every particle of silver was precipitated to the bottom of the jar. He lifted the silver out of the jar and sent it to a smith who recast it into a beautiful silver cup. If finite man can recover every molecule of some disintegrated matter, how much more can an infinite God recover every molecule of the bodies of men and restore them?
Nobody can doubt God's power to do this, but many doubt that this is the plan of God. Most feel that the molecules of this body of time are irrelevant to the resurrection body. The great Spurgeon, for example, focuses on the analogy of Paul with the seed. The seed is the source of the plant, but the particles of the seed remain in the ground. A seed that weighs a fraction of an ounce may produce a tree of several tons. Every seed produces a plant of far more matter than it contains. So the old body is the source of the new body, but the new will have little to none of the old body in it. Spurgeon says, "...not the identical particles of the same matter any more that the self-same particles of the seed spring up to make a blade, and to make a full corn in the ear." If Paul's analogy is to be taken seriously, we see that God does not even need a whole seed to make a beautiful plant, for much of it remains in the ground to decay and disintegrate. The seed is a means to the end, and not an end in itself. The goal of God is the new body, and not a preservation of the old body.
Identity is not preserved by maintaining or preserving the molecules of the body of a person. We know that every seven years we have a whole new body. All the old molecules are gone and are replaced by new ones. If you have lived 49 years you have already had 7 new bodies. Not one molecule of the former bodies is now a part of your present body. You are not, however, any less the person you were several bodies ago. Identity of the person is not dependent upon the molecules of the body.
Spurgeon tells of the great hatred the Romanists had for the reformer Peter Martyr. To show contempt for him they dug up the body of his wife and put it in a dung hill. Protestants took the body and reduced it to ashes to protect it from such abuse. They mixed the ashes of it with the ashes of a Catholic saint. This prevented further desecration, since they would not want to desecrate their own saints ashes. Spurgeon says this mixture of the ashes of two bodies is no problem for what happens to the body is of no consequence for the resurrection.
That is why Christians everywhere have concluded that cremation is not a problem. Are we to fear that the Holy Spirit does not know the genetic code to every body He has indwelt? Does He not have the key to His own temple? Of course He does, and that is why nothing that happens to the body can make any difference in the resurrection. When we invite Jesus Christ into our lives we become temples of the Holy Spirit. The body of Jesus was such a temple. He said destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up. He spoke this of his body. This is the same source of power that will raise up our bodies. Paul says in Rom.8:11, "And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you."
This is why it does not make any difference what happens to the body. The body is not the source of life, but the Holy Spirit who dwells in it is the source of life. The life-germ, or the seed from which our glorified bodies will come is not dependent upon the molecules of the body, but upon the power of the Holy Spirit. All he needs is one molecule of the old body to raise it up. Our present body started with a microscopic seed and egg, and all the rest came from that. Why should we think God needs more matter to produce our new bodies? Man has developed the capability of taking a single cell of a frog or other creature, and raising up a clone, which is an identical body to the parent. Are we to suppose that God has not advanced that far, and needs a whole body to produce a new body?
Don't ask me how God can pack into a tiny seed all of its potential to produce stems, leaves, flowers, and fruits of such beauty and value--all I know is I see it happening all the time. Don't ask me how the Holy Spirit can take one molecule of my old body and produce a glorified body, but what I see Him already doing in nature makes it easy to trust Him to do what He promises.
You have your choice as to what you think is the most spectacular miracle--God gathering all the scattered molecules of the body together, or God raising it up from whatever remnant of the seed remains. Either way, the end result is a body we will all be thrilled to inhabit.. Spurgeon said, "I believe that when I shall enter upon my new body, I shall be able to fly from one spot to another, like a thought, as swiftly as I will.... It shall flash it's way across that shoreless sea, and see the glory of God in all His works, and yet ever behold His face." The spirit is willing now, but the flesh is weak. Then the spirit will be willing and the flesh will be strong to follow, and accomplish all that the spirit wills.
Our present body, like the seed, has to die to produce the glorified body of eternity. Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, for flesh and blood cannot cope with the life God intends for us in eternity. Those alive at the Second Coming will experience death and resurrection all in the same instant, for their bodies have to be changed before they are caught up to meet Christ. If they were not changed it would be a terrible experience. With my fear of heights I would probably faint long before I reached the clouds. Sky-diver types would enjoy the rapture in their earthly bodies, but even they would not last long. We need bodies adapted to the new environment and the new challenges of eternity. Therefore, death is a necessity for our bodies. The seed must die for us to enjoy the flowers, and these bodies must die for us to enjoy the beauty and power of the resurrection body.
Death is an enemy that will finally be destroyed, but God incorporates it into His total plan, and uses it as a tool to bring about greater life. We see it in nature where the death of the seed is the stepping stone to all of vegetable life. Save the seed and spare it from death and you rob yourself of all it can produce. Give up the seed, and lose it, and you get back abundant life. Paul says this is an analogy of what God is doing in the history of man. Death is not terminal, but germinal. It only gets rid of that which cannot last, and sets free that which will last forever.
Death, of course, is not the cause of this, but is only a slave of Christ, who led death captive. Jesus is the one we look to, and Paul says of Him in Phil.3:21, "Who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body." Look to nature for illustrations of what God can do, but look to Jesus if you want assurance of the resurrection of the total man--body, mind, and spirit.