I am a forty-something adult. I have arrived at that place in life where I am losing weight in my legs while my midsection seems to gain every bit of that lost weight and more. I upgraded (or downgraded) to bifocal glasses a year or two ago. I seem to be just as sore when I get up in the morning as when I went to bed the night before. That adolescent sense of immortality is fading. And I know the worst is yet to come, for as I watch my body slump into middle-agedness, I see my parents and other dearly beloved friends in much more precarious physical shape than I.
Shame on me! I am slipping into the nearly ubiquitous American and evangelical belief that this body, despite all I strive to do, will someday wilt away and I will be released as a spirit into everlasting life with the Lord. How slow we are to believe all that has been written in the Scriptures. How easily we lapse into the nearly heretical gnostic view that our bodies are bad and our souls good, our bodies are dying forever and our souls living forever.
Remember that God made us in His image, body and soul. Furthermore, Jesus Christ came in the flesh, rose bodily from the dead, and ascended bodily to the throne of heaven, where He reigns—in His immortal body. From the Resurrection accounts in the gospels, it is clear that His resurrected immortal body retained significant identification with His earthly body. Such a transformation awaits us, as well. As Paul said, “We also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body …” (Phil. 3:20b–21a). All these truths tell us that the body is a good thing.
Our minds are too often too small, our imaginations and dreams too narrow, too confined by our experience of this world. Consider the metaphor Jesus used (Mark 4:26ff; John 12:23ff) and which Paul developed (1 Cor. 15:35ff): The body is like a seed that must die in order to produce a new (yet not completely new) and different (yet not wholly other) life.
I remember the first time I grew sunflowers. We put a relatively small seed in the ground, and in days a plant sprouted that quickly passed me in height and produced a huge, heavy, beautiful flower. As we think of our resurrection bodies, the comparison of the sunflower seed to the sunflower is still a woefully inadequate image. But it is a start.
A seed is a mere shell holding the potential of so much more life when it dies, and the Scriptures seem to say our earthly tents compare to our heavenly bodies in this way. Our bodies are shells containing our souls. When we die, as with seeds, the shells fall away, somehow, however minutely, contributing to the growth of the new life. What was a sunflower essentially in a small seed is still a sunflower as a 7-foot-tall plant. There is real, physical continuity, but oh, what a change!
However, our glorification will not simply mean going from a size 12 to a size 2 heavenly body, or from being a 98-pound weakling to a brawny, buffed bruiser. Such dreams short-change the prospect of our heavenly bodies. Rather, Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:40–45 that the change will mean going from perishable and corruptible to imperishable and incorruptible. It will mean going from dishonor to glory, from weakness and brokenness to strength and power, from temporal to eternal, from natural to spiritual.
I believe that if we could ever begin, however little, to grasp the prospect of our eternal, embodied existence with Christ and His people … my, how such a hope would free us to live in a new vital fashion in these temporary seeds we call bodies!
First, we would respect the dignity of our bodies as imaging God. This would impact our treatment of all people, especially those deemed by the world to be broken or not worth fixing or treating. Complex ethical decisions become surprisingly simple when one begins with the premise that every human being bears God’s image and is valuable simply in his or her being, not for what the person may be able to do later in life.
Second, grasping the truth about our bodies should propel us to think more, and more often, about heaven. The Puritans thought about heaven, and we should learn from them. Jonathan Edwards said this in his diary (May 1, 1723): “Lord, grant that from thence I may fix [my thoughts, affections, desires, and expectations] upon the heavenly state; where there is fullness of joy; where reigns heavenly, sweet, calm, and delightful love without alloy; where there are continually the dearest expressions of their love, where there is the enjoyment of the persons loved, without ever parting: where those persons who appear so lovely in this world, will be inexpressibly more lovely, and full of love to us. How sweetly will the mutual lovers join together to sing the praises of God and the Lamb.”
Now we ache, we weep from the brokenness and pain we experience. But the Christian hope is of a new body —imperishable and incorruptible; a new heart—given over fully to the love of God and His Christ; and a new mind—knowing as we are known, satisfied in our knowledge of Him. Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus!