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.


Ted M. Gossard said...

Good post and thoughts, Andrew. I'm sure this is not hard for God at all, though may be impossible for humankind ever to unravel by general revelation, though maybe on a theoretical level only do to our ignorance within that realm.

As to cremation, I don't think it matters, though I think that was a pagan practice in earlier times (maybe so now as well?). Christian and Jewish burial honors the body, knowing it awaits the resurrection from the dead through Jesus.

Ted M. Gossard said...

do=due "due to our ignorance"

Halfmom said...

I like the idea of fertilizing an azalea or a rose bush, personally :)