the importance of the body

The other day I tweeted that I have noticed a troubling trend among my theology students: too few understand or even speak of the resurrection of the body. Most will acknowledge it after I point it out, but by default they tend to discuss the afterlife in terms of a body-less existence. Here are a few more thoughts on that.

In neglecting the teaching of the resurrection of the body, I think we show how little we appreciate the importance of the body – the human body – in the Christian faith. Christianity (especially in its north American Protestant-evangelical form) has become too much of a cognitive religion, more about thinking (we call it believing) the right things, less about doing things that demonstrate trust (what the Bible means by believing) in the Lord. This brings us much too close to the ancient heresy of Gnosticism. In this form of Christianity, we are less able to account for the fact that most acts of sin are bodily acts (e.g., adultery, lust) or involve physical objects (e.g., stealing, coveting).

We are also unable to account for the fact the Jesus required his followers to engage in acts that were primarily physical in orientation, e.g., feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick or imprisoned, laying hands on the sick and healing them of physical ailments. These are things Jesus did and set his followers to doing. Some of them we still do, but we often fail to understand the spiritual import of such acts precisely because we have severed the connection between the physical and spiritual in our thinking. They were not separate in Jesus’ thinking. Feeding the hungry was not some side project for Jesus, he set it as one of the fundmental criteria on which we will be judged – as in eternally judged.

Visiting those who are sick or in prison is not just a nice thing to do, it is a fundamentally spiritual act. Laying hands on someone who is sick and praying for them is a physical act that invokes real spiritual power to gain a phyiscal result. Does that even make sense to us? Or has the physical been so divorced from the spiritual that we cannot even imagine such a thing happening? Is this perhaps why we don’t see it happening?