Monday, March 24, 2008

Death, thou shalt die.

...My Classics veil their faces,
My Faith that dark adores,
Which from its solemn Abbeys
Such resurrection pours!

--Emily Dickinson


Is the resurrection irrelevant?

Most people believe in an afterlife of some sort, and that it is at least a niceish destination if you're a non-felon (or something like that). Most of those who do believe in an afterlife don't dwell much on the body-or-no-body issue -- they figure as long as they are still conscious in some realm and that realm is a pleasant realm, they shouldn't fuss too much over the details. Even most Christians have divorced themselves from the idea of physical resurrection. You go from the Hellenic Nicene Creed, in which Jesus is freed from his body.....

....let it stew a few more centuries.....

....and soon we want rid of ours, too.

I can understand this way of thinking, though I don't subscribe to it. To truly believe that this unjust life doesn't end in cold oblivion is quite the feat; to believe that it opens onto a pleasant scene is even harder; to believe that the next life involves actual physical restoration and perfection seems pushing the limits of what the seemingly cruel, entropic universe will allow a sane person to swallow. And whether or not we are part of a faith or philosophy that emphasizes the negative aspects of physicality, we all understand the ugly side of life in a body: the appetites that hurt us and tempt us to hurt others; the weaknesses and indignities; the illusion of control that at some point is ripped away from chainsmokers and health nuts alike. Sometimes the physical aspect of our being gives us more misery than joy and we aren't sure we wouldn't be happier and better beings without it. And even those of us who do believe in a literal resurrection don't really believe that there's no possible happy existence without the taste of physical cheesecake on our physical tongues.

So what's the big deal about the resurrection? Was it just a really great parlor trick that Jesus used to prove that he was the Real Thing, but not something that really mattered in and of itself? Could he just as easily have pulled a unicorn out of his hat? And if Jesus didn't care to keep his body, as so many Christians believe, why should any Christian wish to keep his own?

Again, I understand why people ask these questions. It's baffling enough to accept the thought that a god would spend 33 years living in a leaky, smelly human body in a dank and dirty world, but even more fantastical to believe that he would choose to keep that souvenir from Earth when he returns to a purer space. It can seem like the most laughable example of human beings superimposing their weaknesses on the gods they choose to worship -- we don't like ourselves very much, so we invent a god who's physical like us and thereby feel better about our place in the universe. Then three hundred years later we realize it's ludicrous, not to mention blasphemous, and change our minds.

Mormon doctrine runs audaciously against that powerful current of human self-loathing, however apparently logical. We believe that our faith restores truths about mankind that were lost (and/or rejected) over centuries: The body is not evil, nor is it neutral -- it is ultimately divine, and is the main reason we are on earth. Whether we live 100 years or one second, a body is the single thing we all get from this life. And the reason we wanted incarnation and eventual permanent incarnation, and why both of these have been granted every human being free of charge, is we are embryonic gods and a physical body is standard issue. A non-optional prerequisite.

And it is only that knowledge that makes the resurrection meaningful. Because most people who mourn dead dear ones don't really care whether they will see them again in a body -- they just want to know that they will encounter them again someday, in some form or another. The importance of resurrection doctrine only becomes clear when we understand that is not we who want to superimpose our physicality on God -- it is he who superimposed his physicality on us. It is not just a nice thing to be resurrected and get to wiggle our toes in the heavenly creek -- it is a necessary thing. Because the next life is not just meant to be pleasant; if that were all it was, then Christ's resurrection is just tossing another pretty miracle on the pile. The next life is meant to be expansively concrete.....mind-bendingly, fantastically grand.....grab yourself a body in the Third Dimension and then we're off to the Fourth, and the Fifth, and....

We signed up to be gods.

It is pretty ludicrous, but so is life itself.


For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another.

Job 19: 25-27


citymama1 said...

Great post. Very insightful and well written. Thanks for the great read and the reminder of our divine nature.

frances said...

ok, this has nothing to do with this beautiful post, but i realized i don't have another way to get in touch with you. we are having a 1920s theme birthday bash for ck (my roommate) and sallee reynolds on saturday and you should totally come! (and, anyone else reading this is invited, too!) let me know if you're interested ( and i'll give you the rest of the details. hurrah for blog stalking!

sharonsfriendjen said...

Hello Marie! How are you? Its been awhile. Your "heathen" friend here has a question for you. So, you believe that the resurrection of your body will be physical, and you will move to the next life as a real being and not a spirit/ghost/beam of light etc? And to my understanding you are resurrected to perfection correct? So what age will that be? Do you age in the next life? I loved your blog! I could talk religion and such for days.

Marie said...

Jen -- As far as the question of resurrection, Mormons believe what most Christians *used* to believe: that it is a literal resurrection that happens after Christ's return. So that means there is some time that is spent without a body after you die, but it is not a permanent state for anyone. Our difference from what most Christians long believed lies in the *reason* we believe the body is important enough to resurrect (we believe it's a crucial step toward godhood) -- Mormons say this is an ancient teaching that was lost, and there is plenty of evidence (outside spiritual confirmation) that this is true. This webpage and this webpage give a good summary of the doctrine of deification in early Christian writings. Of course, critics of Mormonism say this belief of ours is one of the main reasons we should not be considered Christian, and insist we made it up because it sounds nice. It *does* sound nice, but not all nice things are daydreams :)

As for the question of perfection, yes, we believe that the effects of age, injury, disease, birth defects, etc will all be reversed and our bodies will be in their perfect form -- as they would have been if they had been formed in a non-fallen world. As far as the age that a perfected body would be (I assume what you mean by this is what age would we *appear* to be to a mortal, if they assume that gray hairs = old person, etc?) -- I have no idea, and the answer to that isn't given in LDS doctrine, though I'm sure plenty of people have speculated about it! We do know that Jesus's perfected body retained the signs of his death (nail marks in the hands, etc), so that might indicate that certain features that a mortal might associate with old age or injury might be voluntarily retained by the perfected being because they are part of that person's spiritual essence or spiritual role? I dunno. It's interesting to think about...

Personally, I want to look 25. Twenty-five was a good year. And I"m hoping God will upgrade me to red hair, but I don't suppose I should press the issue.

wynne said...

I'm hoping to get upgraded to have night vision and the ability to crawl up walls...

No, not really. But thinking about having perfect eyesight--that's worth contemplating. And perfect health? wow.

Marie said...

Ah, yes -- perfect eyesight would be grand, and no $4500 bill to pay afterward. Next time my mom nags me to lose the glasses and get my eyes surgically corrected I'll tell her I'm holding out for the Post-Death Bargain Plan.

Perfect health AND perfect mental health. No more compulsive cat juggling.