Heaven in a Body

“Surprised by Hope” by NT Wright is doing more than playing with my head.  It’s exploding my brains. 

He articulates some things that I’ve been trying to put words to.  I’ve bumbled around with ideas about how embodied and physical Christianity is.  I’ve babbled about how  our traditional disembodied ideas of heaven don’t seem biblical.

He pulls all this together.  I’ll share some quotes later.

Today, I was reading a passage where he repeated one of his main points.

The idea is that Jesus didn’t actually defeat death if the afterlife is this nonphysical place.  He accomodated, death, perhaps, but he didn’t defeat it, if we wander around, ghost-like, after death.

Rob Bell, Wright himself, and others emphasize the idea that Revelations describes the final end that we were promised in the Garden of Eden.  The whole of human history was just a back-pedal, a delay, in reaching our final destination. 

This seems so dead on to me: Adam and Eve would have participated in the city described in Revelations.  They would have gotten to it much sooner than the serpent.

And so it struck me, as I was reading the book today:

We have no problem imagining an embodied, physical existence for Adam and Eve.   Many people agree that through Jesus we’re heading to the final destiny intended for Adam and Eve.  But people struggle with the idea that we’ll be physical beings in this eternity…

This all leads to the question: If Adam and Eve hadn’t fallen, at what point would they have lost their physicality?  If Adam and Eve are physical… if the final desination is non-physical… if Adam and Eve were supposed to end up there.  They’d have had to suddenly (or gradually, I suppose) become ghost-like and nonphysical.


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

5 thoughts on “Heaven in a Body”

  1. ok so I was wrong… I am far from ghost like and non-physical.
    I have started reading surprised by hope a few times and it always gets interrupted…
    Perhaps it’s time again to pick it up.


  2. Before i comment on the topic, i must call your attention to your incesant reference to the final book of the Bible as “Revelations”. It is and has always been “Revelation”.


    i think the disconnect is concerning “spirit”. Who really knows what that is? Nowhere i can think of is it referred to as ‘nothingness’ which is what our minds conjure. There is a sense that spiritual things and beings are not bound by natural laws, but so what?

    Even if we were to be simply spirit (which also i find nowhere) in the end, what does that mean? If we’re to have resurrected bodies they may also be bound by different laws, or none at all. As usual “the eye has not seen, the ear has not heard, and the mind can not conceive of what God has in store for those who believe.”

    Just last year i had my mind blown a bit by considering how the junkie universe in which we now live is held together. Spend a few quiet moments trying to grasp the natural and it’s no wonder the super-natural is so confounding.


  3. Wow! My lonely little blog hasn’t generated three comments in weeks. 😉
    I’d think of you as more of a heavenly body than heaven in a body.
    Seriously, I’d quite recomend the book. It takes a little effort, in places, he’s a bit academic. But not dry, just challenging.

    I hear what you are saying about the truth transcending what we know. While this calls for great humility, there’s a few things worth noticing.
    I think the word for spirit is pneuma, which is related to the word for wind or breath. While we can feel both wind and breathe, they are mostly not sensory experiences… They imply something quite invisible and other wordly.
    I think it’s instructive that Jesus after the resseruction clearly had a physical body… For example, he ate. Thomas touched his wounds. It was clearly extra super cool and did things we can not do.
    But the idea that we might eat and have physical sensations are not part of the main stream imagining of what the afterlife will be like.

    There are some (like NT Wright) who claim Platonic thought infected the church. I’m no expert on church history. But I know quite a lot about Plato. The man had a disdain of physicality. Many visions of the afterlife, by supposed and purported Christians, read much more like his metaphysics than what I find in the bible, and so I do have reason to think that there might be truth in all this.


  4. i confess to know very little about Plato…Play-Do maybe, but not Plato.
    (that was a lay-up, sorry)

    There seem to be a lot of conflicting influences in the history of mainstream Christian culture. i’m no expert in this either, but an ancilary glance at the juxtaposition of “becoming angelic” and preserving the body for burial are two that come to mind.

    Some people are crazy adamantly opposed to cremation because it obliterates the physical body into “unraisable” parts. i assume this is a mindset of aiding God in the resurrection. i do know a little about lunatic logic which causes me to think that the reasoning behind this one involves a combination of grossly insulting and underestimating the power of God to do…anything, and the hopeful possibility of being first in line at the final trumpet blast because your body was more intact than your “ashen” brethren.

    Yes, Jesus did display for us the new Spring fashion in physicality. And he did so quite on purpose. The stuff he did while in this new body was a frustrating amalgum of boundaries. i mean, he ate and passed through walls. i can’t remember which he did first, but in my mind (remember lunatic logic) if he ate before he passed through a wall i would expect to find a mark on the wall trailing down to pile of macerated fish in the room he just left.

    Cool topic; lots of questions and speculation to banter about.


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