Sunday, February 15, 2015

When Do Christians Who Die Receive Their New Resurrection Bodies?

It's quite common to hear people say, when a loved one dies, that "they now have their new body." 

It's a nice sentiment, but it's not true.

The Bible is quite clear about the fact that people do not receive their new resurrection bodies until the time at which Jesus returns from heaven to earth.

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. (1 Thess 4:16-17 ESV)
 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. (1 Cor 15:21-23 ESV)

Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. (John 5:28-29 ESV) 

But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some. (2 Tim 2:16-18 ESV) 
So what is the state, then, of those who have died in Christ? They are in the presence of Christ, to be sure. Paul makes this clear when he says

Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. (2 Cor 5:8 ESV)

I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. (Philippians 1:23 ESV)
 To the thief on the cross as well, Jesus said,

And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43 ESV)
So, if those who have died in Christ are with Him, but have not received their new bodies, what is their state exactly? That is a mystery on which the Scripture does not shed a great deal of light. It is enough to say that it is a blessed state:

And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” (Rev 14:13 ESV)
So why is it then, that Christians ought not to say that people have received their new bodies? The real reason is that it takes away from the anticipation of the great Day of Resurrection. On that day, the whole of God's people will inherit together the great blessing of eternal life in resurrection bodies that Jesus has earned for them:

And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. (Heb 11:39-40 ESV) 
It is our resurrection to life on the Last Day which is God's final vindication of those who are His. On that day, the entire Temple of God's people (Ephesians 2:19-22) will be complete, and will take visible, glorified form in a new heaven and a new earth. There shall not be a single one missing from this Temple, and all shall inherit together. This is the great, living hope of the Christian which should motivate and encourage all of us.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

An important difference between post-Christendom societies and Islamic ones ...

There is an important contrast between Christianity and Islam which should inform the thinking of Western leaders as to what they can expect of Middle Eastern nations with regard to the protection of the rights of religious minorities. This contrast is seen in the different ways the two religions conceive the proper relationship between religion and earthly governments. Christianity, both as described in the words of Jesus ("my kingdom is not of this world ") and in its initial status as an illegal religion in the 1st-3rd century Roman Empire, was always, properly speaking, a religion distinct from the state, while Islam was always conceived of as being most properly embodied in the earthly state.

Said another way, the medieval marriage of "Christianity" with secular government, being contrary to the nature of the church as described in the New Testament and as expressed in Christianity's early history, was really a perversion of the true nature of Christianity; while Islam's consistent pursuit of a worldwide umma and caliphate, and it's continued tendency toward suppression of competing alternatives, are entirely consistent with Islam's founding narratives. It is thus not a surprise that the context in which the ideas of separation of church and state, of freedom of conscience, and of equality of all before the law was that of post-Christendom Enlightenment Europe, reforming itself after the unnatural marriage that was Christendom immolated itself in the Wars of Religion.

When dealing with most of the Islamic states of the Middle East, it is important to remember that they have a very different history and worldview than those of post-Enlightenment Europe. There are, of course, plenty of Muslim citizens of Western nations who have adopted the Western notion of a secular state, and have understood Islam as being a private matter of morals of reverence for their god, and of respect for their equal rights of those of different faiths. But these ideas which were endemic to early Christianity - of being one religion among many, of treating all human beings with the same respect, and of being part of a kingdom which is not of this world - are not ideas which were characteristic of the Islamic world in its infancy, and and are still not ideas which are commonly held in Middle Eastern nations.

Even in the post-Christendom West, there still remain many who, nostalgic for the days of their political supremacy, would seek to restore Christianity as a sort of official state religion. But there is no warrant for doing this in the New Testament, and therefore, when the attempt is made to do it, the result is inevitably a state which represents a false Christianity, untrue to its founding. When Islam seeks to do this, however, it is doing exactly what the Quran calls for. This crucial difference between the essential natures of Christianity and Islam ought always to be borne in mind in deciding Western policies toward the region.

Western politicians have too often understood the Middle Eastern nations as "just like Western nations except for the language and the turbans." But this is a dangerous delusion, and leads to all sorts of quixotic adventures. The people in the Middle East have the right to govern themselves as they think best, and we in the West ought to help where we can reasonably do so, but we need stay hard-headed and remain clear on one thing above all. These nations differ from us in very significant ways, and are not likely to resemble European liberal and secular democracies any time soon.

We in the West should take measures to contain craziness, to keep lunatics from spreading their insanity to other countries, and should intervene wherever we reasonably can to prevent barbarity and destruction. But we need to avoid delusional crusades based on the premise that these nations will easily be made in the image of Western secular democracies, especially in terms of their respect for the rights of religious minorities. They will not.

Monday, February 2, 2015

On reconciling orthodox Christianity with modern science ...

I ran across this short article by Cathy Lynn Grossman in the Washington Post today (hat tip to Nancy Pearcey for directing me to it). It divides Americans into three groups with respect to their views on Christianity and science: "Traditionalists," "Moderns," and "Post-Seculars."  The third of these consists of scientifically literate Christians who, nevertheless, remain serious and devoted Christians.
I probably would consider myself among this group, believing, as I do, that scientific evidence cannot be blithely dismissed or rationalized away with lame and embarrassing quack science explanations. On the contrary, I think that the fact that God does not lie implies that special revelation in Scripture and general revelation in nature cannot, in the final analysis, contradict each other (although they certainly may appear to do so in the short term), and that apparent conflicts between the two sometimes demand that believers live with the cognitive dissonance of being unable to completely reconcile everything. What this means is not that we believe that two actually contradictory things can be simultaneously true, but that, not seeing yet how to reconcile the contradiction, we neither abandon our faith in God's revelation nor our intellectual integrity. Humility and honesty sometimes require us to say that there are lots of things we don't yet understand, and that we are much more likely to be wrong in trying to prematurely attain cognitive rest through the pretense of universal understanding than we are in living with the tension of faith while we work for and await a more complete understanding.
There are those who will object to this position, insisting that either religion must be rejected or rationality must be. The answer to both sides is the same: the apparent gain in consistency is illusory. The worldview of scientific materialism cannot account for the most important aspects of human existence, such as moral obligation (the best scientism can do on this question is to provide a phenomenological explanation - it can't provide the categorical imperative) and justice. Religious anti-rationalism only leads to rejection of God's revelation in nature and to living in a self-imposed religious ghetto (indeed, it could fairly be argued that it was the abandonment by evangelicals of the life of the mind that was the most important contributor to the loss of influence in our civilization).

To both materialists and anti-intellectualists, I would argue that all truth is God's truth, that reality is both more complex and more simple than you imagine, and that one ought not mistake one's own mind for God's.