By Scott Baker
Some months ago, I, along with the rest of my family engaged in quite the heated conversation around the confusion many have between the “immortal soul” and “the resurrection of the body.” What we realized in our discussion was that many Americans, and indeed many Christians use the terms interchangeably. The fact of the matter is that the concept of “the immortality of the soul” is Platonic philosophy writ large in 20th century speak. Conversely the concept of “the resurrection of the body” is uniquely Christian.
As we prepare for the beauty and holiness of Easter day and Eastertide we would be well served to spend some time reflecting on exactly what we believe as we face dying and death. By way of helping to equip ourselves with some good language to articulate what we believe (outside of the Creeds that is) what follows is an abbreviated version of a meditation written by Fredrick Buechner. It occurs in his book “Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC” (Pg. 49 HarperCollins ©1993). I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.
“Immortal means death-proof. To believe in the immortality of the soul is to believe that though John Brown’s body lies a-moldering in the grave, his soul goes marching on simply because marching on is the nature of souls just the way producing butterflies is the nature of caterpillars. Bodies die, but souls don’t. True or false, this is not the biblical view, although many who ought to know better assume it is. The biblical view differs in several significant ways: Those who believe in the immortality of the soul believe that life after death is as natural as 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 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 the 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.”
FATHER SCOTT BAKER is the pastor of Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Franklin. Contact him at 757-562-4542.
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