( From Chapter Five: The Path to Immortality from Life, Death and Destiny)
THE TRUE PATH – Part One
(a) Resurrection makes sense. Resurrection takes seriously both the reality of death and the wholeness of the human person. Resurrection means a new, transformed, immortal form of existence for the whole person who has died; new life, not as a physical body, but as what Paul calls a “spiritual body” (I Cor. 15:42-49), that is, a resurrected body animated no longer by biological life (“psuchikon”) but by God’s Spirit (“pneumatikon”).
In I Corinthians 15:35, Paul imagines someone else objecting: “Look, Paul, resurrection does not make sense!” But it does, because it means the same person, but in a new form, glorified through God’s power. It means new life for the whole person, not just a part, and for the same person, not someone else. Transformed, however, in accordance with God’s new creation.
John Hick’s discussion of the feasibility of resurrection, in Death and Eternal Life, is up-to-date and illuminating. First he provides an admirable explanation of Paul’s conception as follows:
When someone has died he is, apart from any special divine action, extinct. A human being is by nature mortal and subject to annihilation at death. But in fact God, by an act of sovereign power…resurrects or reconstitutes or recreates him – not however as the identical physical organism that he was before death, but as a soma pneumatikon (‘spiritual body’) embodying the dispositional characteristics and memory traces of the deceased physical organism, and inhabiting an environment with which the soma pneumatikon is continuous as our present bodies are continuous with our present world.”(( J. Hick, Death and Eternal Life, p.279. ))
He then goes on to defend the feasibility of this idea. His point is that, whereas the idea of the immortality of a part of the human person, the soul, is neither feasible nor appropriate, Paul’s doctrine of resurrection is both. How then, Hick asks, is it conceivable that a whole person, having died, could be reconstituted in a new form and still be the same person? His explanation is that, according to current scientific knowledge, even in our present life the composition of our bodies is always changing. “The pattern of the body can be regarded as a message that is in principle capable of being coded, transmitted, and then translated back into its original form, as sight and sound patterns may be transmitted by radio and translated back, into sound and picture.”1 He further argues that, to guarantee identity of person, the sameness of constituent parts is not required, but rather the sameness of “the pattern or ‘code’ which is exemplified.”2 If so, I do not find it hard to believe that God, who created me, knows my identity “code” and can replicate me in resurrected form on that basis!
Well, Hick argues on the basis of modern, technical research. Paul argues from the Creator’s handiwork in nature. Even in nature as we know it, there are analogies to resurrection. Look, says Paul, at how in the plant world new life comes after a kind of death, in a form that is new and startling compared to the old, buried seed, and yet it is still the same plant. And see how, throughout nature, God the Creator has given each participant a body, or form of existence, adapted to its special environment and purpose. Surely, then, we can understand that God the Re-creator is able to raise us out of death and provide us with new holistic modes of existence (new “bodies”) animated by His immortal Spirit and adapted perfectly to His new world.
God knew each of us before we were conceived: “your eyes beheld my unformed substance” (Ps. 139:13-16) . He created us originally out of nothing (Heb. 11:3; compare Rom. 4:17) and calls us each by name (Is. 43:1, Matt. 10:30). He has “searched” and “known” us (Ps. 139:1-6) , has loved us “with an everlasting love” (Jer. 31:3, Rom. 8:35-39) and will “remember” us (Job 14:13-15). Given such power, wisdom and love, and the Word of God made good in Jesus Christ, resurrection makes sense! It takes account of both the full reality of death and the unity of the human person. And it rests in God.
(b) Not only that, resurrection is a fact.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.3
- J. Hick, Death and Eternal Life, p.282.
- J. Hick, p.283. I certainly do not agree with everything in Hick’s book, but parts of his exposition and defence of Paul’s doctrine of resurrection are very instructive. Of course, if the “soul” is not extinguished in death, but merely “sleeps”, then it is not so hard to conceive of the resurrected person as being the same as the one who died. What if the “soul”, also, is actually extinguished at death? Hick’s explanation is surely still applicable, given that the “pattern” or “code” remains in the memory of God. J. W. Cooper, not a conditionalist, also considers this issue carefully and concedes that, “it is possible or plausible or reasonable to think that recreated persons are identical with their earthly prototypes” (Body, Soul and Life Everlasting, p.194).
- I Corinthians 15:20.