Saturday, June 12, 2010

My Body Will Live in Hope

I love trivia. Ergo I was watching Jeopardy! this evening on TV, during which I saw two advertisements per commercial break for the Cremation Society of Virginia. It was really weird. It seemed incredibly out of place. Why? Because TV advertising pretty much thrives on people's endless consumption and search for pleasure here and now. It doesn't ever tell us what their products/services/etc. will do for us in death (precisely because they don't do anything for us). But this ad was actually refreshing; it didn't hide the reality of death. So props to the CSV.

Because I'll die someday--and who knows how soon?--I actually ought to think about my funeral. (Yes, I'm 28, but I'm serious. You'll die too.) One thing I do know: I do not want a fun-eral that is basically a popular "celebration of life," something that declares how great of a guy I was. Save that for the wake. I want my funeral rather to shine forth with the reality of the hope I have along with all who call on Jesus Christ for life and salvation: my bodily resurrection and complete restoration to life in the blessing of God's presence forever. A message of Andrew Hall's life will not, on its own, bring hope to those at my funeral. Only the gospel can bring the dead to life.

As such, I was thinking: Do I want to be cremated or buried? Does the gospel bear upon this? Perhaps it does. The prophet Isaiah prophesied:

But your dead will live,
their bodies will rise.
You who dwell in the dust,
wake up and shout for joy.
Your dew is like the dew of the morning;
the earth will give birth to her dead. (26:19)

Through Isaiah we hear from God that in the Day of the Lord (a catch-all phrase used by the prophets to refer to the whole of God's coming, end-of-ages acts of judgment and renewal) that at the resurrection not only spirits or souls of the dead will rise, but their bodies (ESV has "corpses"). Using birth imagery, the earth's soil will release the dead--clearly a reference to the body's elements. We hear the same testimony elsewhere in Scripture.

So it will be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body*. . . . For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. (1 Corinthians 15:42-44, 53)

Paul says that "the body that is sown . . . is raised imperishable." It is our present bodies which will be raised in the future. This is good news for us, because in the beginning God created the world "very good," and it is in a world of visceral pleasures as much as spiritual--albeit those which find their sources and ends in none other than God alone--where we will dwell and enjoy God forever.

How will God raise the very bodies of the dead, and yet so that they are not the exact same bodies as were once buried? As a scientist I stumble over this because I know also that thanks to bacteria and fungi, our interred bodies break down, and all of our cell matter--even the very atoms themselves--are released back into the soil, water, and air to become, eventually, part of my neighbor's azalea or an oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico. Likewise if only undecayed bodies were raised, then God's promise of deliverance would fall short for not only all his saints who were cremated, but also for men like Polycarp or Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, who were burned at the stake for their faith. The reality is that only one person's body was ever promised not to decay: Jesus himself. Even through King David the Spirit spoke of Jesus when he said, "Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; / my body also will live in hope, / because you will not abandon me to the grave, / nor will you let your Holy One see decay" (Psalm 16:9-10; Acts 2:26-27)

I don't know how God is going to do this. But I know he is going to do it. My whole body--along with those of all who love Jesus and wait eagerly for him--will be raised and transformed when Jesus calls me back to life. So even when at death my soul joins the "spirits of righteous men made perfect" (Hebrews 12:23), I want my funeral to declare below what I will be praising my Savior for above: "My heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope!"

*By saying that our new body will be "spiritual" does not mean that it will not be physical, corporeal, fleshly. Paul consistently uses "spiritual" to refer to the life-giving and re-creating activity of the Holy Spirit ("Spiritual"), as opposed to the transience and futility of the "flesh." For example, he says that mere "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor. 15:50). Anything "spiritual," for Paul, is about the promised Spirit of God reaching back from the future into our lives right now to accomplish God's salvation and to draw us forward into his eternal kingdom.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

More Blessings from Track

Today I had a long talk with Lamont Bowles, the boys' track and field head coach at my school. He was congratulating me a stellar season. "We've never had distance runners like this before," he remarked. "You brought something to this team that they haven't had: you made running a mathematical science. . . . And you showed them the purpose behind every workout so that they would have confidence in what you told them and in what they were doing." When I told him that my goal at Glen Allen HS was to win the Capital District cross country title in five years, he said he knew I was going to be a good coach, because I have a clear goal in mind.

As I also found out, my male runners broke three school records this year and missed a fourth by less than one second. I had no idea! I was really surprised, because the few athletes I did have really didn't run any stellar times (2:06 in the 800 meters, 5:00 in the 1600 meters, 11:17 in the 3200 meters, and 8:44 in the 4x800 meter relay).* But when I looked up the school records, I found out that these were all at the top! Additionally, another runner unofficially broke the 800 meter record with his 4x800 m split (2:04), and one who sadly was academically ineligible for outdoor track ran an indoor 1000 meter school record of 2:57. Five school records in my first season? Not too shabby, when I look at it that way. (And this isn't counting previous times that the 1600 and 3200 records had been broken earlier in the season.)

Coach Bowles also said that early on he was "sizing me up" and "getting a good look at me" to see if I was someone he could work with long-term. He said that I was mild-mannered and good-natured, that I quickly built a good rapport with the kids, and that I could take advice and feedback well. But when asked my opinion about something, he noted that I wasn't afraid to speak my mind.

If Gary Chapman's right, then I think words of affirmation would be my "love language." It sure felt good to not only see that I was really something the school needed this year, but that I would be, from both a performance and a personal standpoint, someone valuable to the school for the future as well. Unfortunately for the Warriors--and not without a bit of sadness on my part too--that future lies at a different school.
P.S. Props to my endearing wife for being a "track widow" from November through May and for cheering us on at a few meets!
*Just for reference, here are the top boys' times in the district this year: 800 m - 1:57; 1600 m - 4:26; 3200 m - 9:47; 4x800 m relay - 7:59.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

A Touch of Class

If I was looking for a lesson on forgiveness (see the previous post), then it looks like I found one--on the baseball diamond, no less.

As a Detroit Tigers fan, I was pretty miffed at umpire Jim Joyce's blown call last night that cost pitcher Armando Galarraga a perfect game. It will probably go down as one of the most infamous calls in baseball history. But what struck me while watching the replays was how Galarraga just smiled and laughed when he heard the call and shrugged it off, going back to business and finishing the game.

Instead of delivering the lineup card for today's game himself during this afternoon's ballgame Tigers manager Jim Leyland had Galarraga deliver it to Joyce as a token of respect and reconcilation. (You can watch the video and read about it here.) Galarraga, Leyland, and the rest of the Tigers weren't going to hold one mistake of an otherwise competent umpire against him. It was really cool to see this because it was a touch of grace, character, and sportsmanship in a world where we don't see much of that.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

How shall we then forgive?

Christians, in whom Christ himself dwells by his Spirit, are called to embody Christ to the world, loving the world in the way which he loved the world. As such, St. Paul urges the church, "Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you" (Colossians 3:13). In the same vein he admonishes the church to be "kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you" (Ephesians 4:32). But what exactly does it mean to forgive as God forgave us?

For a long time I thought that this means three things: (1) Our forgiveness must be conscious and intentional, acknowledging others' hurts and wrongs against us, yet wiping them away nonetheless, never holding a grudge again. (2) Forgiveness will often hurt and cost us. To continue serving and extending love in a relationship which has brought pain, we have to absorb the pain and free others from it. (3) We should forgive freely, requiring nothing from the offender. After all, such is grace, right?

But in the Bible, while God grants the new birth, faith, and repentance (which are distinct but inseparable) unconditionally, he does not forgive or justify unconditionally. Perhaps we could call this "conditional grace": he only forgives those who repent of their sins and embrace their Rescuer, his Son Jesus. Jesus hints at this in his teaching on forgiveness. In the parable of the unmerciful servant (Matthew 18:21-35), Peter asks if there is a limit to how much he should forgive someone. Jesus replied that he should forgive in unlimited measure ("seventy-times-seven times"). But the king (representing God) forgives his debtor only when his servant fell on his knees before the king and pleaded with him for mercy (vv. 23-27). The king later said that "I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?" (v. 33). While Jesus' main point is that recipients of God's mercy ought to extend that mercy to others, there is a hint even here of granting only conditional forgiveness.

While I don't think it's right--or even practical--to hold grudges on people who've wronged us, does this passage and the necessity of confession and repentance for God's mercy teach us that we are only really required to forgive others when, in contrition, they ask us to do so? Somehow this doesn't sit easy with me because God still gives blessings to those who hate him and pursues them with his call, but I have to think about it nonetheless.

What do you think?