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The Way God is Made

Those who believe in the immortality of the soul believe that life after death is as natural a human function as waking after sleep.  The Bible instead speaks of resurrection. It is entirely unnatural. We do not go on living beyond the grave because that’s how we are made. Rather, we go to our graves as dead as a doornail and are given our lives back again by God (i.e., resurrected) just as we were given them by God in the first place, because that is the way God is made.

All the major Christian creeds affirm belief in resurrection of the body. In other words, they affirm the belief that what God in spite of everything prizes enough to bring back to life is not just some disembodied echo of human beings but a new and revised version of all the things which made them the particular human beings they were and which they need something like a body to express: their personality, the way they looked, the sound of their voices, their peculiar capacity for creating and loving, in some sense their faces.

The idea of the immortality of the soul is based on the experience of humanity’s indomitable spirit. The idea of the resurrection of the body is based on the experience of God’s unspeakable love.

Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Ken #

    I don’t understand why he is making this argument. I understand the distinction in Christian theology, but I don’t understand who he is trying to convince or why he wants to convince them. Do you what he is doing here?

    I don’t think many of us look at the resurrection the way the first Christians did. I think they expected something like a new creation of the world to happen very soon, something like Genesis all over again – new bodies in that context. As we know, it did not happen. It is hard in modernity to wrap our hopes in theirs.

    I imagine most of us would prefer a new body to none at all, one that is strong and healthy and beautiful and does not age or die. Or maybe we only hope for that in southern California – where the body is so important.

    April 13, 2009
    • I can’t speak for Buechner, obviously, but I would suspect that to whatever extent he is trying to convince anyone of something, it would be those who do not understand the distinction you refer to. I would say that a lot of evangelical Christianity has been and continues to be more Platonic than biblical in its eschatology. At the very least, “immortality of the soul” and “resurrection” language are so regularly conflated that the result is a fairly confused conception of what the Christian hope actually was and is.

      The first Christians probably did expect the new creation to come about fairly soon. It may not have happened when they thought it would (or when countless others throughout history have thought it would), but I think the hope remains. It may be difficult, as moderns, to “wrap our hopes in theirs” (although I think that our understandings do change somewhat over time) but many—myself included—still do embrace something like the kind of hope Buechner describes.

      April 13, 2009
  2. Ken #

    I did not realize that evangelicalism has a tendency towards Platonic eschatology, but that would explain his tilt. It is like the concern that Tertullian felt.

    Wright seems to believe that after death we will enjoy some blessed existence (by God’s grace rather than by virtue of an immortal soul) during the time between our deaths and the resurrection. I think that has been the central view in Christianity. Last night Wright led me to Psalm 73. It is a nice Psalm to read before lying down to sleep.

    April 14, 2009
    • I read Psalm 73 when I read your comment. That’s not a bad one to read at any time of the day. Thanks.

      Incidentally, Wright’s written a really good book on his conception of the Christian hope that is probably a bit more user-friendly than RSG—it’s called Surprised by Hope. I found this to be a very concise and more accessible presentation of what he thinks some of the ideas discussed in RSG actually mean (i.e, what can/should we hope for in light of our understanding of the historical data).

      April 14, 2009

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