Popular belief, even amongst people who identify as non-religious, inclines towards some kind of hope in the survival of the soul or spirit. Today I’m conducting a funeral service for a man described as non-religious, whose family are also without religion, yet they want me to read the words of Jesus about preparing a place for those who trust in him. But equally, for this family, the idea of the resurrection of the body would seem daft.
Paul, who may not have heard of an empty tomb, experienced the presence of the risen Jesus, and seems to have assumed that the risen Lord was some kind of body. He defined resurrection life as bodily, not thinking of a reanimated corpse, but rather of a spiritual body whose relationship to the mortal corpse was that of plant to seed- a certain identity but a clear distinction between them. As ‘spirit’ is one of Paul’s words for God, we can deduce he saw the resurrection body as godlike, but as fulfilling rather than annulling human being.
He considered that this liberation would happen at the eschaton, the completion of God’s perfect creation, which means that he removed human resurrection from ordinary time: we cannot say when it happens, but we can be sure it does.
The body is the human being as articulated in the material universe, and as marked by its experiences and relationships within that universe. Death may be “swallowed up in victory” but material being is transformed rather than discarded. Life on earth contributes to life in heaven; human experience contributes to the experience of God.
That last statement is heretical. But surely we want to think that the experience of Jesus contributes to God’s experience? Ultimately we are part of what A N Whitehead calls the “consequent nature of God.”
For me, this clause is critical: I cannot believe in a God who permits so many lives to be so miserable, or so many others to be so wicked, without redress. If there is no resurrection, there is no God. Some, including my late daughter, have argued that this belief dispenses with the urgency to establish justice and peace upon this planet, by providing an other-worldly cop-out. As a life-long socialist I disagree. The urgency for this-worldly justice come from a) disgust at injustice b) love of neighbour and c) knowledge of how we and our society will be judged by Messiah Jesus.
My daughter’s other objection to traditional doctrine on this matter, was that it excluded animals. Her views on this influenced mine, so that now I cannot imagine resurrection life without animals. They are included in the resurrection of the body.