The Resurrection of the Body and the Life Everlasting
Written by Gerrit Dawson
With these final clauses of the Apostle’s Creed, Christian commitment to life from the moment of conception is under-girded and Christian hope in the face of death, even death by violence, is affirmed.
On the one hand, the Apostle’s Creed implies that life in this body is of everlasting significance and therefore must be tended, guarded and nurtured. It braces us with the reality that no human being is discardable or neglectable. On the other hand, the Creed comforts us with the hope that life goes on beyond the bounds of this world. Though we may fail to protect life here, that failure is not eternal. There is more life to come. The forgiveness we seek is grounded in the sacrifice of Christ once for all in the past and also in the future he has established where the consequences of even our worst actions will be resolved.
The Resurrection of the Body
Our Christian belief in the resurrection of the body is a very different precept than the idea that what makes us essentially human is our immortal souls which continue after the body is discarded. Our gospel shocked the culture of Greek thought which prevailed during the years the New Testament was written. The body was understood to be a prison for the soul. The goal of spirituality was to slip the bonds of corrupt, weak flesh through developing the mind or enacting mystic rituals. So the gospel seemed foolishness to educated Greeks. What kind of God, would actually take up residence in a stinking human body? The resurrection of Jesus in his body seemed contrary to everything they believed about spirituality. Even granting that God had come to the world in a body, why would he ever keep that body after death?
In that culture, bodies were often burned after death. There was no need to honor or preserve what had been only a hindrance to true life. By contrast, Jews and Christians tenderly cared for the bodies of those who had died. This was not done with some naïve idea that only an intact, preserved corpse could be resurrected. Rather, it was a matter of honoring the body because we have our lives in an embodied existence. Though these bodies will be healed, vivified and transformed to something more splendid than we can imagine, they will yet be our bodies. We will not be airy spirits floating on clouds with harps. We will be more real, more substantial, than we have ever known ourselves to be.
In a passage that has been crucial to the theology of the resurrection of the body, Paul declared, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it, we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Phil. 3: 20-21). We are going to be like Jesus. Jesus was raised and ascended in the same body in which he was crucified. Yes, he has been glorified and outfitted for heaven. But he has not forsaken his body. Because we are going to be like Jesus, we know that our bodies will likewise be transformed and decked out for life in glory.
With his usual clarity, C. S. Lewis writes:
He goes “to prepare a place for us.” This presumably means that He is about to create that whole new Nature which will provide the environment or conditions for His glorified humanity and, in Him, for ours…It is the picture of a new human nature, and a new Nature in general, being brought into existence. We must, indeed, believe the risen body to be extremely different from the mortal body: but the existence, in that new state, of anything that could in any sense be described as “body” at all, involves some sort of spatial relations and in the long run a whole new universe. That is the picture—not of unmaking but of remaking. The old field of space, time, matter, and the senses is to be weeded, dug, and sown for a new crop. We may be tired of that old field: God is not.
The hope of the resurrection of the body in the future is the basis for our high regard for the body in the present. Even the most disfigured, diminished or diminutive human body is valuable for it is precisely the object of God’s eternal love and included in the future transformation he has promised. We do not consider embryonic human beings to be mere lumps of protoplasm. We do not consider that bodies worn out with age and disease are discardable because they are drains on our resources. We pour concern and attention even into “losing causes” of broken or unwanted bodies because of the Triune God’s valuation of our embodied life.
Threads of Love
One of the most moving and tangible ways I have seen belief in the resurrection of the body affirmed is through the ministry of Threads of Love. Sissy Davis recalls,
“In the fall of 1993 a pediatrician from Earl K. Long Charity Hospital in Baton Rouge contacted my pastor with a request for help. She saw a need for tiny burial gowns for patients who were born prematurely and were too sick or too tiny to survive."
A group of women began sewing these little gowns. It proved to be a powerful ministry in the lives of the families who had lost their babies. Sissy continues,
“The ministry is about healing and binding hearts together of parents at a time of uncertainty about their baby’s health, or when they lose an infant. Our mission is to show parents the love of Christ at a time when their personal pain is hard to endure and let them know that God is faithful.”
Threads of Love is now an international ministry with hundreds of chapters of women sewing gowns for the little ones. So, what seems like a waste, sewing beautiful garments for those who died before they ever lived in this daylight world, is actually a powerful affirmation of love. The bedrock belief in the resurrection of the body makes possible such care.
Limits to our Madness
Belief in the life everlasting also gives us powerful hope in the midst of a violent world. Choices are made which do not honor the body, protect the weak or bind up the broken ones. Rather, infants are killed within the womb, children are allowed to starve, the elderly are neglected, the best and the brightest fall in the crossfire of greed, addiction and human warring madness. We can do terrible things to one another. But there are limits to our power. We cannot harm beyond this life.
Martin Luther wrote, “The body they may kill; God’s truth abideth still.” There are boundaries to the reach of even the most cruel, most powerful, most demonically possessed human beings. We do not go on forever in this present age. The dictator will die. The wicked perpetrator’s strength will fail. We cannot reach into heaven and harm the little ones any further who have already gone there to await resurrection. The life everlasting means that there is more than this world. Much more life is to come. The corruption of the present age will not have the final say. The light will dawn, and God’s everlasting kingdom will come.
Resurrection and Forgiveness
Precisely because life, and life in the body, matters so much, abortion and euthanasia are grave sins which scar the soul of those who commit the acts. But precisely because of the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting, forgiveness for these acts is real. Let’s consider how this works.
God came to us in a body. The Son of God took up our humanity. In our name and in our skin, he lived out the perfect faith and obedience required of us. In our name and on our behalf, he bore the penalty for the sins we have committed, in his body on the cross. His flesh was torn and his blood was spilled. Moreover, in his soul he experienced the very hell of God-forsakenness which we deserve. He died for us, as God in embodied human existence. This death took away our sins. Even our sins unto death have been paid for.
In his resurrection, Jesus completed his work on the cross. He not only paid for sins committed. He overcame the power of sin in our lives. He conquered death. Jesus opened heaven for us. He secured the future kingdom of God in which there will be no more tears or dying, nor more betrayal or hatred, but life everlasting.
So we have a Savior who has really paid for the sins of abortion and euthanasia. He has also created a future in which the consequences of those sins will be reversed. Those murdered will live again. Those who have committed murder can, through him, be reunited and even reconciled with those against whom they sinned. Love and harmony, even when broken by violence, can be restored in Christ in the life everlasting. Our sins are not forever, neither in penalty nor in consequence, when brought to the Savior who died on the cross and rose in the body unto everlasting life.
The Rev. Gerrit Dawson is pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Lenoir, NC, and a member of the PPL Theological Advisory Board.
 C. S. Lewis, Miracles (Glasgow: Fontana Books, 1960), 153.