Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Soul and body, immortality and resurrection

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For most of my life I had a false understanding of the Christian belief in everlasting life: I thought it was about living an eternal life as a spirit. I assumed that the stuff about resurrection in a new body was a primitive superstition, which no sophisticated Christian believed.

But my understanding is very different now. I now assume that the intuition of every childhood, all historical cultures and most of the modern world is correct: that the soul survives death. The question is what happens next, or what state is that surviving soul.

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The human soul is meant to be united with the body, therefore after death of the body there is a degree of maiming.

So death of the body is indeed 'a bad thing', as we naturally suppose, and survival in a spiritual realm does not make up for this.

(Indeed, the 'natural' post-death survival of the soul may itself be most of what people describe as hell - I am impressed by the ancient Jewish idea of Sheol as a realm of witless gibbering ghosts, human souls minus the body may be like that - each ghostly spirit in its own horrible unending isolation.)

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Immortality, popularly conceptualized, is continued life - life as it is now but continued indefinitely.

But this has nothing to do with Christianity, rather it was what Christianity was intended to cure; and indeed continued spirit life solves none of the deep problems of life; neither does reincarnation (leaving-aside the question of whether reincarnation is true in this world).

To imagine that immortality (continued existence) or a system of reincarnations (recycling of the soul through various bodies) solves anything fundamental seems to be simply a misunderstanding - a non sequitur.

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So what is the Christian belief?

Christian salvation involves the soul surviving death, then the saved soul being resurrected in a perfected body to dwell in heaven.

The process of resurrection is not a restoration of the state of humans on earth; we as we are are not reborn again to a continued existence; but there is instead a re-making of an unique human into an unique Son of God - retaining each individual human nature (staying essentially the same person) but enhancing - indeed transforming - this nature.

It's simple enough isn't it? And I had heard this often enough, but somehow it didn't get through to me...

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