Tuesday 6 September 2011

Soul and body, immortality and resurrection


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.


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.)


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.


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...



The Crow said...

A seed is a seed. It is not a tree.
A tree is a tree. It is not a seed.
A seed with life added becomes something utterly different.
A tree has no knowledge of being a seed.

A human has no knowledge of anything other than being a human. Until it does.
God is not a human.
A human is not God.
Soul is the bridge between them.
All things have this in common.

Human concerns do not survive death.
Which makes it something to quietly look forward to.

Proph said...

I have heard that the probably-most-accurate conception of the state of the soul after death is one akin to the state of a hand after amputation, which is preserved artificially in life and even induced periodically to movement by unnatural means until such time as it can be reattached and regain its proper functioning.

I'm often amused by those who think man's destiny should be wholly spiritual -- as if it were a desirable state for a thing to wind up preserved in fluid in a jar, bereft of sensation and emotion. The horrible quality of the human condition isn't that we are bound to bodies but that we are bound to bodies over which we have only tangential control.

Gabe Ruth said...

It's wonderful to read your realizations, and re-appreciate them with you. Chesterton would have enjoyed reading about your thrills, as one who understood that to really appreciate something you have to get far enough away from it to see it as it is.