The online journal of Luke Dockery

Category: Discipleship (Page 1 of 9)

Return From Exile

My friend Smith Hopkins preaches for the Oliver Creek Church of Christ in Bartlett, Tennessee, and there are so many things I appreciate about him as a thinker, a minister, and a leader. During this season of pandemic and quarantine, he has been producing a series on YouTube called Light In The Darkness, and recently, he invited me on to have a conversation about the transition out of quarantine and back into some semblance of normalcy.

From my perspective, the biblical notion of Exile is instructive for us as we think about living during a pandemic and the interruptions and struggles that come with that. But in Scripture, following the period of the Exile, we have the Return from Exile, seen especially in the historical books of Ezra and Nehemiah. I think there are some lessons from that biblical period that are helpful for us as we begin to think what our own “return” looks like. Here is a hint: don’t place your hope in the wrong things.

I hope this discussion is helpful for you!

There Is A Sea

I’ve never sung this song, but I love its words and the sentiment behind it:

“There is a sea which day by day
Receives the rippling rills,
And streams that spring from wells of God,
Or fall from cedared hills;
But what it thus receives it gives
With glad unsparing hand;
A stream more wide with deeper tide,
Flows on to lower land.

There is a sea which day by day
Receives a fuller tide;
But all its store it keeps, nor gives
To shore nor sea beside
Its Jordan stream, now turned to brine,
Lies heavy as molten lead;
Its dreadful name doth e’er proclaim
That sea is waste and dead.

Which shall it be for you and me,
Who God’s good gifts obtain?
Shall we accept for self alone,
Or take to give again?
For He who once was rich indeed
Laid all His glory down;
That by his grace, our ransomed race
Should share His wealth and crown.”

Lula Klingman Zahn, 1921

The song describes the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea, and personifies both: one alive and boisterous, passing on what it has received; the other, listless and dead, storing up all it receives and never passing it along. 

A few years ago when studying Abraham and God’s appearance and promises to him in Genesis 12, I was struck by the purpose God gives for blessing him:

1 Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

(Genesis 12.1-3)

God tells Abraham that he will be blessed, not for his own sake, but so that he could be a blessing to others. We ultimately see this in Jesus coming from Abraham’s descendants, but more than this, Israel was always meant to be a blessing. They were supposed to be a light to the nations around them that pointed those nations to the one true God.

I was struck by this notion of being blessed in order to be a blessing. At my last congregation, we actually used the phrase “blessed to bless” one fall for a fundraising initiative where we send school supplies and money to a Christian school in Malawi. Later, we used the same slogan for our yearly theme for the entire congregation, and viewed that year’s events through the lens of seeking to bless others because we have been so richly blessed by God.

We live in a world beset by all sorts of problems. I think the answer to those problems is Jesus, but it is easy to say that in a way that is becomes just a cliche that doesn’t lead to anything tangible. So here is something a little more tangible, that is also clearly tied to the way of Jesus and love of neighbor: we are blessed in order to be a blessing.

All of our blessings come from God. To echo the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 4.7, “What do you have that God hasn’t given you?” Your opportunities, your career, your influence, your wealth, your platform, whatever—what do you have that God hasn’t given you?

Are you sharing those gifts with others? Are you blessing others with what God has blessed you?

Or, in the words of Lula Klingman Zahn,

Which shall it be for you and me,
Who God’s good gifts obtain?
Shall we accept for self alone,
Or take to give again?

A New Heaven & A New Earth Part 10: The Nature of God

This post is part of an ongoing series. You can find links to all the posts here.

Over the last several posts, we have spent a good deal of time looking directly at specific biblical texts. First, we looked at texts that have traditionally been used to teach that creation will be destroyed or that we will go away to heaven with Jesus when He returns (and I have argued that those texts have been poorly interpreted). Then we looked at texts that point to cosmic redemption, that the salvation that God brings about through Jesus will be both wholistic and restorative. We followed that up by looking closely at portions of Genesis and Revelation and seeing what they tell us about the broken reality of our world and the Story that Scripture is telling. Most recently, we examined passages related to the resurrection of Jesus and our own resurrection. All of that to say, this study has been significantly based upon looking closely at biblical texts.

This post will be different from all of those in the sense that today I am not going to look at specific texts, but I am still going to be making biblical arguments. But, rather than pointing to a variety of specific texts, I want to draw on our general knowledge of Scripture and use this information to help us get a picture of the nature of God.

Here are the basic questions we want to consider in this post:

  1. According to the Bible, what is God’s character? What is He like? Obviously, these are massive questions and we are not going to try to answer them exhaustively (it would not even be possible to do so). Rather, we will seek to answer them in ways that relate specifically to this study.
  2. Related to the first question, which perspective better fits God’s character as revealed in Scripture: the idea that God will destroy His tainted creation and we will “go up” to live with Him eternally, or that God will fix His tainted creation and “come down” so we can live with Him eternally?

In other words, the Bible gives us pictures of what God is like. Which of the views that we have been discussing fit better with the biblical pictures of God?



The Fixer of the Broken

In the Genesis account, God looks at what He has created and repeatedly calls it “good”. He says this of humans as well. Over and over again, the refrain is repeated. Clearly, God values what He has created. Tragically, though, God’s good creation becomes tainted by human sin. We have spoken about that at length.

So, what is God like? Is He someone who throws things away when they become tainted, or does He work to fix them?

In the story of the people of Israel, do we see a God who throws His people away when they sin against Him, or who lovingly, painfully walks alongside them for hundreds of years despite their rebellion? Even in the Exile, do we see God abandoning His people and the covenant promises He made to them, or do we see God with His people, even in Exile, working for their good and remaining faithful to the promises He has made, ultimately restoring them to their homeland and sending His Son to them, through Whom all peoples of the earth would be blessed?

Through His sinless life, death on the cross, and resurrection from the dead, that Son makes possible for us to be reconciled to God, despite the fact that we are sinful, tainted creatures. This is at the center of our faith, isn’t it? The idea that God doesn’t just throw us away when we are tainted by sin but rather that He has done everything possible to fix us and redeem us for His own?

I believe that; don’t you? 

And yet…

If God is going to annihilate His creation—creation that He called “good”—because it was tainted by sin, why should we be confident that He won’t do the same thing to us? After all, we are part of creation, and He called us “good” too.[1]

In other words, which view—annihilation of creation or redemption of creation—is more consistent with how we generally view God? 

Constantly in our language—in almost every sermon we hear—we speak of a God who wants to fix what is broken within us and make us right and whole. Which of these eschatological views fits better with that picture of God?

The One Who Comes Down

There’s another picture of God that I want to consider which is prevalent in Scripture from the beginning to the end.

When God creates everything in the first chapters of Genesis, He also forms the Garden of Eden, and this is where Adam and Eve dwell. God has interactions with Adam and Eve, and where do those take place? Do Adam and Eve go away somewhere to be with God? No, God comes down and walks in the Garden in the cool of the day. He interacts with Adam and Eve where they are.

Later, God calls a man named Abraham to leave his country and family and go to a distant land, where God will bless him greatly. At one point, God tells Abraham about the child of promise that will be born to Abraham and Sarah, and also to inform him of the judgment that will come upon Sodom and Gomorrah. How does this communication occur? Is Abraham whisked off to heaven for a conversation with his Creator? No, God comes down and conveys the information to Abraham.[2]

Fast forward many generations and Abraham’s descendants, the people of Israel are enslaved in Egypt. Their slavery is bitter and hard and they cry out for rescue, and God hears their cry. How does He respond? He comes down and appears to Moses in a burning bush, and through Moses, rescues the people.

Once the people are rescued, God establishes a covenant with them and gives them Torah—teaching, instruction, law—to guide their living. How is this given to them? God comes down to Mt. Sinai to meet with Moses and deliver the Law to Him. 

What about Jesus? In the fullest revelation of who God is, did God transport someone up into heaven so we could get a report of what He is like? No, God comes down. In the incarnation, the Word became flesh and Jesus walked among us. 

After Jesus departs, does God leave us on our own? Does He then transport someone up into heaven to give us further instructions? No, the Spirit of God comes down and indwells His people. 

And what do we see in the end? Again, God comes down. In 1 Thessalonians 4, Jesus comes down and we meet Him in the air to return with Him. In Revelation 21, the Holy City comes down so that the dwelling of God can be with humanity.

So, according to what we see in Scripture, what is God like? Is the Scriptural pattern that we go up to Him, or that God comes down to us?[3] Both literally and theologically, over and over again we see the latter. God comes down to us. He rescues us from our mess. He comes to give us guidance. He comes to reveal what He is like. He comes to live with us eternally.

Which view—annihilation of creation where this world is destroyed and we “go up” to be with God somewhere else, or redemption of creation where God “comes down” to a redeemed world to be with us—is more consistent with the picture of God from Scripture as One who Comes Down?

We can now return to our original questions and seek to answer them:

  1. According to the Bible, what is God’s character? What is He like? There are a lot of answers to those questions, but two we see from Scripture is that God is the Fixer of the Broken and the One Who Comes Down to us. 
  2. These pictures of God make no sense if creation is going to be destroyed and we are going to go off to be with God somewhere else. On the other hand, they fit seamlessly into a vision of the end times where God redeems His creation and comes down to live among us forever, and as we have already seen in multiple texts throughout this series, this is exactly the picture that Scripture paints.

[1]You might object: “The Bible clearly teaches that God is going to redeem His people!” I certainly agree with that, but as this study has shown, there are multiple passages in Scripture that indicate the same reality about creation as a whole. Thus, we would expect Scripture to be consistent in its portrayal of God as desiring to fix what is broken, and it is.

[2]I am referring to Genesis 18. This passage talks about “three men” talking to Abraham, but the text begins by clearly stating that it is the LORD who appears to him. The consensus of biblical scholarship considers this to be a theophany, or appearance of God. 

[3]I am not denying that there are examples that may not seem to fit the pattern, such as Isaiah’s vision of God’s throne room, or Paul’s vision of the third heaven. But if these are visions (and they seem to be), then they actually represent God coming down to impart information to His people through visionary experiences. 

There is also the example of Elijah being taken up to heaven in a whirlwind, but this is obviously exceptional in human experience and does not negate the general pattern established here. In an earlier post, I discussed the intermediate state and the possibility that those in Christ go to heaven upon death, but this is not clearly established in Scripture, and, regardless, this precedes the resurrection, and is not the final state of the faithful dead.

A New Heaven & A New Earth Part 9: Bodily Resurrection

This post is part of an ongoing series. You can find links to all the posts here.

Several weeks ago, I discussed how the Christian hope as revealed in Scripture is not “going to heaven when we die” (and then talked about it more in the last post). In fact, that language is never used in the Bible. Really, the Christian hope is not based on what happens when we die, but what happens when Jesus returns, and that is what we have been talking about in this series.

Generally, though, people do talk about “going to heaven when we die” as being the source of Christian hope, and when they do that, very frequently, they have in mind some sort of “spiritual” existence, where “spiritual” means something other than existing in bodily form. In this post, I want to emphasize that the Bible clearly teaches that the Christian hope is not about living eternally as some sort of disembodied spirit; rather, the Christian hope is the resurrection from the dead, and the idea that we will live eternally as embodied people.

As we examine the idea of resurrection, I am going to emphasize two major ideas:

  1. Jesus is the firstfruits of our own resurrection, so we can learn about our own resurrection by looking at Jesus.
  2. Our resurrection bodies will be both similar to and dissimilar from our current bodies. There will be continuity and discontinuity.

To support and flesh out these two ideas, we will be looking at three New Testament passages: two narratives involving the resurrection of Jesus, and some detailed teaching by Paul on the nature of our own resurrection.



Luke 24.13-49

This passage recounts Jesus walking with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus following His resurrection, and then His appearance to the disciples as a group. From this passage, we get multiple indications that Jesus’ resurrection body seems to have both continuity and discontinuity with His earthly body.

Continuity: Though unable to do so initially, the disciples do eventually recognize Jesus (24.31). He also describes Himself as “flesh and bones” in contrast to a spirit (24.39), and eats with them (24.43). Summing up this element from the Lukan passage, Hicks, Valentine, and Wilson state:

“Luke describes the resurrected Jesus so there is no misunderstanding what resurrection means. The skepticism of the disciples provides the opportunity to dismiss any thought of resurrection as the continued life of a disembodied soul. The resurrect Lord commanded the disciples to “Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”[1]

Discontinuity: But, there are other ways in which Jesus seems different from the way He was prior to resurrection. At first, His disciples fail to recognize him (24.16), and He also seems able to suddenly vanish (24.31) and appear (24.36)

John 20.11-21.14

This section of John’s Gospel provides several different post-resurrection appearances by Jesus: to Mary Magdalene, to the apostles without Thomas, to the apostles with Thomas, and to a group of disciples by the Sea of Tiberias. Again, we get multiple indications that Jesus’ post-resurrection body is both similar to and different from His earthly body.

Continuity: Jesus’ wounds from His crucifixion are still visible (20.27). In fact, this is a key point of His interaction with Thomas, and helps to answer his doubts: this Jesus was, in fact, one and the same as the man who had been crucified a few days before.[2] Also, as in the passage in Luke, here Jesus eats with His disciples, sharing a breakfast of fish over a charcoal fire (21.10-13).

Discontinuity: As in the account in Luke, Jesus is not immediately recognizable (20.14; 21.4), and He suddenly appears in their presence, despite the doors being locked (20.19).

Looking at these accounts from Luke and John, we can see that after the resurrection, Jesus’ body was similar to what it was like before…but also different. He had a tangible, touchable, visible, material body, but it was different from what it was like before.[3]

1 Corinthians 15.35-58

The Christians at Corinth were mixed up on a variety of issues related to doctrine and morality, and one of their points of doctrinal confusion was related to the idea of resurrection. In the Greco-Roman world, people were not like modern secular humanists; they believed in life after death, but for them, it was the soul that was immortal.[4] Resurrection, on the other hand, was a scandal to the Greek mind, worthy of mockery and derision (Acts 17.32), because it referred to what would happen to the body—physical bodies that are buried in the earth (or cremated, or whatever) are, in some way, reanimated or reconstituted. As N.T. Wright explains:

“In content, resurrection referred specifically to something that happened to the body; hence the later debates about how God would do this—whether he would start with the existing bones or make new ones or whatever. One wug have debates like that only if it was quite clear that what you ended up with was something tangible and physical. Everybody knew about ghosts, spirits, visions, hallucinations and so on. Most people in the ancient world believed in some such things. They were quite clear that that wasn’t what they mean by resurrection. While Herod reportedly thought Jesus might be John the Baptist raised from the dead, he didn’t think he was a ghost. Resurrection meant bodies.”[5]

In Corinth, the believers didn’t seem to deny the reality of Jesus’ resurrection; they just didn’t see how it mattered for them. Paul insists, though, that resurrection is a two-stage event: Jesus’ resurrection is the firstfruits of our own (15.20, 23), so what happened to Him will also happen to believers (see also Philippians 3.21).[6]

After establishing the connection, Paul goes on to offer direct teaching[7] on the nature of our resurrection (so I will include the whole passage):

35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” 36 You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. 38 But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. 39 For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. 40 There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.

42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.

50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.” 55 “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

(1 Corinthians 15.35–58)

In this passage, Paul compares our physical bodies to a seed that is sown perishable and raised imperishable. This highlights a continuity between our current bodies and our resurrection bodies, but also a change. Seeds are not the same as the wheat they produce, but they are closely related: they are made of the same “stuff”, and one has the necessary DNA for the production of the other. So again, like with the accounts of the post-resurrection Jesus, we have the idea of similarity and dissimilarity; continuity and discontinuity.

Paul says that those who are in Christ will be raised with “spiritual bodies.”[8] We need to think about both of these words. The Christian hope is not to be disembodied spirits floating around in a non-material existence. But neither is the Christian hope to have the same old bodies that we have right now, which are “natural” or “fleshly”. We must keep both of these ideas in mind.

The idea of dissimilarity, or discontinuity, that we have already seen in the stories about Jesus’ resurrection body is repeated here. Paul is clear in these verses that there are some major differences between our current bodies, and our future, resurrection bodies (15.42-44):

  • Our current bodies are perishable, while our future bodies will be imperishable
  • Our current bodies are dishonorable, while our future bodies will be glorious
  • Our current bodies are weak, while our future bodies will be powerful
  • Our current bodies are natural, while our future bodies will be spiritual

As significant as these differences are, in other ways, our bodies will be the “same” as our current ones (which shouldn’t surprise us, considering the texts we read about Jesus after the resurrection). Like the resurrection body of Jesus, they will retain points of continuity with our previous bodies.

When talking about “spiritual bodies”, we need to spend some time defining what “spiritual” means here. Because for many people, when we read about a “spiritual” body, we assume that Paul is referring to a resurrection body that is “spiritual” in the sense that it is “non-material”; something that can’t be touched. When “spiritual” body is contrasted with “natural” body, many people assume that Paul is drawing a distinction between our current “material” bodies and a future “non-material” existence.[9]

It is important, though, that we not insert our own understanding of the word “spiritual” into the text and, instead, allow Paul to define his own terms. Earlier in 1 Corinthians, Paul has already told his readers what he means when he uses the words “natural” and “spiritual”:

14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself judged by no one. 16 For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.

(1 Corinthians 2.14-16)

In this passage Paul speaks of tangible, material, physical-bodied Christians as being “spiritual” because they were living in harmony with the Holy Spirit. This is repeatedly what the word “spiritual” means in 1 Corinthians (3.1; 6.19; 14.37). He does not use the word “spiritual” to mean “non-material”; rather, it refers to men and women whose character and lifestyle is consistent with the Holy Spirit. So for Paul, the words “natural” and “spiritual” are not talking about a contrast between the material and the non-material; they describe a contrast between ordinary human life and life given by the Spirit.[10]

When Paul says “spiritual body,” the emphasis is on what provides the driving force for the body—it is animated by God’s Spirit.[11] Just as the Holy Spirit raised Jesus from the dead, it will be God’s Spirit (elsewhere described as a down payment on our salvation) that raises us up from the dead and gives power and life to our resurrection bodies. Paul says this elsewhere, in Romans 8:

9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

(Romans 8.9-11)

But what about 1 Corinthians 15.50? There Paul says, “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” Doesn’t this mean that we won’t have bodies in the resurrection?

Well, no. It cannot mean that. After all, this whole section is answering the question of “what kind of bodies” we will have (1 Corinthians 15.35). Again, we need to let Paul define his own terms. Earlier, Paul has already described what he means by “fleshly” people:

But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you re not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and having only in a human way?

(1 Corinthians 3.1-3)

Here, Paul uses the term “of the flesh” to describe the same people that he earlier described as “natural” in 2.14-16. The “natural” people who are “of the flesh” are those who walk “only in a human way”, as opposed to the “spiritual” people who live in harmony with the Spirit. For Paul, “flesh” does not mean “made out of matter” or “material” or “tangible” but refers to people who live in sinful rebellion, and for our current bodies that are destined for decay and death.[12]

So, when Paul says that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God,” he is not claiming that material “bodies” cannot inherit the kingdom of God. Rather, he is saying that the perishable cannot inherit the imperishable—unless the nature of our bodies is changed from “corruptible” to “incorruptible” and “merely human” to “spiritual”, we cannot inherit the kingdom of God.[13]

But this is exactly what this passage is talking about: our bodies will be changed. They will be sown perishable, but raised imperishable; sown dishonorable, but raised glorious; sown in weakness, but raised in power; sown natural, but raised spiritual. Our resurrection bodies will be suited for an eternal existence with God.

Conclusion

The resurrection is not about us being freed from our bodies to live as spirits; it is about our bodies being transformed into something glorious that is both similar to and different from our current bodies.

Will we be raised with physical bodies? If by “physical,” we simply mean “bodily”, then yes, we will be raised with material, “physical” bodies. If by “physical” we mean “corruptible” or “mortal”, no our bodies will not be physical.

Again, we will close with how we began: continuity and discontinuity. In some sense, our bodies will be the same, but they will also be transformed into something new and different. Our bodies will be spiritual, incorruptible bodies, but we will not be bodiless spirits. We will have a tangible, material existence. Our dead bodies will actually be raised and will be made new.

And all of this fits quite seamlessly with the larger picture of cosmic redemption that we have been discussing in this series. Just as creation itself will be transformed and changed into something new, so, too, our bodies (as part of creation) will also be transformed and changed into something new. Creation isn’t thrown away; it is redeemed by God.

“Behold, I am making all things new.”

Excursus: Did Jesus’ Resurrection Body Change After His Ascension?

Sometimes, when discussing resurrection, people will basically acknowledge what I have said above about the nature of Jesus’ resurrection body and its tangible nature, but will then make the argument that this radically changed after His ascension, and that He now lives a “spiritual” existence.

The first and most important response to this notion: Scripture never actually teaches this anywhere. It is an assumption we make based on the assumption that you can’t have a “tangible” body in heaven. It seems to be an effort to reconcile what appears to be a contradiction between 1 Corinthians 15.50 and what we know about Jesus’ resurrection body. But if we accept Paul’s definition of “flesh and blood” as described above, there is no contradiction.

Furthermore, other places in Scripture continue to assert the continuity between Jesus’ post-ascension existence, and his human, bodily existence:

  • Acts 1.9 teaches that Jesus will return in the same form as He was in when He ascended (His resurrection body)
  • In Acts 7, Stephen saw the “Son of Man” standing at the right hand of God. “Son of Man” means “Human One”; it has messianic connotations that make it mean more than a simple reference to humanity, but it doesn’t mean less than that. Jesus still still an embodied human (though, with a glorified, imperishable, resurrection body).[14]
  • 1 Timothy 2.5 refers to “the man Jesus” in the present tense—Jesus didn’t lose his embodied humanity after the ascension.

[1]John Mark Hicks, Bobby Valentine, and Mark Wilson, Embracing Creation: God’s Forgotten Mission, (Abilene, TX: Leafwood: 2016): 112.

[2]That is clear enough, but for awhile, this passage troubled me: if Jesus’ resurrection body possessed scars, will I have scars in my resurrection body? Will one of my thumbs still be weaker than the other, atrophied by a long-ago injury? Will those who suffered paralysis in this life still be paralyzed? Will my own daughter still possess her significant disabilities? Some of these maladies seem to contradict an eternity where there will be no crying, mourning, or pain.

The answer, I believe, can be found In Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae III, Q.54, Art. 4: “It was fitting for Christ’s soul at His Resurrection to resume the body with its scars. In the first place, for Christ’s own glory. For Bede says on Luke 24:40 that He kept His scars not from inability to heal them, “but to wear them as an everlasting trophy of His victory.” Hence Augustine says (De Civ. Dei xxii): “Perhaps in that kingdom we shall see on the bodies of the Martyrs the traces of the wounds which they bore for Christ’s name: because it will not be a deformity, but a dignity in them; and a certain kind of beauty will shine in them, in the body, though not of the body.” (emphasis mine)

As one commentator states: “These wounds are a dignity not a deformity, a sign of love not of loss, an indication of obedience not of onerousness.”

[3]Sometimes people will try to take Jesus’ words to Mary Magdalene in John 20.17—“Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father…”—to indicate that Jesus was immaterial and Mary was not able to grab or touch Him. This doesn’t seem to be the case, however. Jesus’ point seems to be, “It’s okay, Mary, you can let go. I’m not going anywhere yet; I’m not immediately ascending to the Father.”

[4]Embracing Creation, 112.

[5]N.T. Wright, Surprised By Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, (New York: HarperOne, 2008): 36.

[6]Embracing Creation, 113.

[7]I initially said “clear teaching,” but based on how often this passage is misconstrued to mean something other than what Paul means, it is clearly not “clear.” Our distance from Paul’s time (and our significant influence by neoplatonic thought) does make this a challenging passage, but I think it is understandable.

[8]The following section is greatly influenced by a series of excellent articles by Tyler Boyd. For more, see “Resurrection: The Redemption of Our Bodies”, “We Will Have ‘Spiritual Bodies’”, “Will We Have ‘Physical’ Bodies?”.

[9]Much of this next section relies specifically on Boyd, “Spiritual Bodies.”

[10]Ibid.

[11]Embracing Creation, 114, “The adjective spiritual does not refer to the composition of the body, but what makes it “tick.” While sin and death are like leaven bring corruption and decay, the Spirit of God animates resurrected bodies.”

Wright, Surprised By Hope, 155, echoes the same idea. Discussing the Greek words for physical and spiritual says that adjectives of this type “describe not the material out of which things are made but the power or energy that animates them. It is the difference between asking, on the one hand, “Is this a wooden ship or an iron ship?” (the material from which it is made) and asking, on the other, “Is this a steamship or a sailing ship?” (the energy that powers it).

[12]Boyd, “Will We Have “Physical” Bodies?”

Wright, 156, speaking of the “flesh and blood” reference: “he doesn’t mean that physicality will be abolished. “Flesh and blood” is a technical term for that which is corruptible, transient, heading for death. The contrast, again, is not between what we call physical and what we call nonphysical, but between corruptible physicality, on the one hand, and incorruptible physicality, on the other.” (Emphasis in the original)

[13]Boyd, “Will We Have “Physical” Bodies?”

[14]I am indebted to Ethan Longhenry, evangelist at the Venice church of Christ, for this insight.

Scattered Reflections on Race-related Issues

Like many people, I have been distressed by so many aspects of the race-related incidents that have been erupting all over the nation:

  • The tragic and unjust deaths of African Americans, whether at the hands of overreaching and brutal law enforcement officers or racist vigilantes
  • The protests in response to these outrageous acts that have, at times, turned violent  (and seemingly, at times have been coopted and corrupted by outside influences)
  • In some places, the brutal and violent responses by police officers to even peaceful protests
  • The very poor handling of the entire situation by President Trump whose rhetoric only escalates the tensions
  • The negative attention received by countless law enforcement officers across the country who seek to serve and protect and want to be a part of the solution rather than the problem

Though I am deeply convicted by what I have seen and heard, I am always uncertain about how to respond, at least, in a public proclamatory way such as this. On the one hand, as a middle-class white guy in a largely-white context, I don’t presume to be an expert in such matters, and I have been doing my best to listen rather than to speak. Furthermore, I am not interested in virtue signaling, which can seem like an easy practice that doesn’t actually accomplish or help anything.

On the other hand, I have seen and heard from many black friends and acquaintances about how painful it is when white people (especially Christians) maintain silence, and how supported and loved they feel when people such as myself speak out in solidarity instead. So, that’s what this post is, in a disorganized sort of way.

Foundational Issues

As a Christian, there are two fundamental ideas that guide my thoughts on race before anything else:

  1. All humans are created in the image of God. This conveys the notion of being God’s representatives on earth, tasked with carrying out His will (we see this in Genesis 1-2). Unfortunately, due to sin, humans fail to properly reflect the image of God, but that doesn’t change the God-appointed identity given to each and every human. We are equal. This is antithetical to the notion and practice of racism.
  2. Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love God with everything we have, and the second is to love our neighbors as ourselves. Loving my neighbor is also antithetical to the notion and practice of racism. Beyond that, loving my neighbor compels me to try to see things from my neighbor’s perspective, and appreciate that his/her experiences may be different from my own.

Personal Repentance

My position is a fairly simple one: I think we have massive racial issues in our country. I think we come by those issues honestly because they are an original part of our national DNA, and I think that the solution to the problem is challenging and will never fully be realized until Jesus returns (more on that below). But the solution must start with me. Here is a statement made by a (white) minister friend of mine, which exactly echoes my own sentiments:

I don’t like the phrase “there’s not a racist bone in my body.” Because if I’m being honest with myself, I am inclined to judge a man by the color of his skin. Just because I don’t like that part of me doesn’t mean it’s not in there. The recent unjust killings of black folks in our country shouldn’t only cause us to point fingers at the perpetrators, though we should demand justice. These killings should also cause us to lift the hoods of our hearts to see the racism that might be lurking there. My goal as a Christian is not to deny my prejudice but to repent of it. The God I worship seeks to bring people of all colors into His kingdom, to make us all children of Abraham through faith in Christ. So I must turn my racist bone over to God so He can renovate my heart. True change in our churches and systems and nation starts with my willingness to say, “Lord, change this wicked way in me.”

Personal repentance must be my first response.

Systemic Racism

Here is a definition of systemic (or, institutional) racism from an excellent article by David French (I will discuss this article further below):

A system in which public policies, institutional practices, cultural representations, and other norms work in various, often reinforcing ways to perpetuate racial group inequity. It identifies dimensions of our history and culture that have allowed privileges associated with “whiteness” and disadvantages associated with “color” to endure and adapt over time. Structural racism is not something that a few people or institutions choose to practice. Instead it has been a feature of the social, economic and political systems in which we all exist.

This is a hotly-debated topic (along with the corresponding idea of white privilege), and I don’t really intend to get into it in this post, but based on my reading and listening to the perspectives of black friends and acquaintances, it seems clear to me that this sort of racism exists in this country. We could debate how and where we see it and how intentional it is in its various manifestations, but it exists.

If that statement upsets you or makes you defensive, but you are open to having your perspective changed, I would recommend Michelle Alexander’s, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of ColorblindnessI read this book last year, and it was one of my top books of 2019, but let’s be clear: I did not enjoy reading it at all. It was a punch in the gut. But it was meticulously researched and footnoted, and it clearly established (to my mind, at least) one aspect of systemic racism.

I also recommend David French’s wonderful article that I referenced above: “American Racism: We’ve Got So Very Far To Go”. French is a thoughtful, conservative commentator, and shares his own journey in coming to terms with the immensity of the racial problem in the US. This is a calm, even-handed, and reflective piece, and I like the simple way he handles systemic racism as a logical progression (emphasis added by me):

  1. Slavery was legal and defended morally and (ultimately) militarily from 1619 to 1865.

  2. After slavery, racial discrimination was lawful and defended morally (and often violently) from 1865 to 1964.
  3. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not end illegal discrimination or racism, it mainly gave black Americans the legal tools to fight back against legal injustices.
  4. It is unreasonable to believe that social structures and cultural attitudes that were constructed over a period of 345 years will disappear in 56.
  5. Moreover, the consequences of 345 years of legal and cultural discrimination, are going to be dire, deep-seated, complex, and extraordinarily difficult to comprehensively ameliorate.

Black Lives Matter

There are specific groups that use the “Black Lives Matter” slogan that have detailed ideologies, portions of which I disagree with (I am decidedly not a Marxist, for example). But “Black Lives Matter” as a slogan is completely true and I have no issues with it. Frankly, I have a hard time understanding those who do. From the beginning, to anyone who is listening, it is clear that the slogan means “Black Lives Matter too” rather than “only Black Lives Matter.”

“Black Lives Matter” is a true statement. It doesn’t need qualification (Here is a thoughtful article, written from a Christian perspective,  on that very idea.)

Colorblind

I was raised at a time when I think it was a popular idea to promote “colorblindness” as the solution to racism, and you hear these notions a lot today: “I don’t see people in color! We are all the same! There’s only one race; the human race.”

I think these statements generally come from very well-meaning people who truly wish that racism wasn’t a problem, but I think they are problematic. From a theological perspective, God clearly appreciates diversity, because it is what He created! The story of the Old Testament is the promise of God to save all peoples of the earth through Abraham and his descendants, and in the New Testament, we see this become a reality as people from all points of the globe become part of God’s multi-ethnic family. So much of the New Testament writings reflect the tension between Jews and Gentiles, and the answer isn’t a colorblind approach that pretends no differences exists or that forces one group to become just like the other, but for different parts of the body to learn to live in unity with one another! This same idea is what is portrayed in beautiful and vivid language in the Book of Revelation:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

(Revelation 7.9-10)

Furthermore, I think “colorblind” perspectives are also problematic because they fall short of loving our neighbors. Part of loving our neighbors is trying to understand them and what it is like to walk in their shoes. It is to sympathize with their struggles and support them in those struggles. I don’t see how we can do that while doggedly insisting that we don’t see color and failing to appreciate the way in which color shapes who we are and what we experience.

On this topic, I found a comment from another friend to be particularly helpful:

As a Native American man, I get nervous when I hear people say they don’t see color. In essence you are saying you don’t see the beauty and diversity of God’s creation. The Psalmist says that “we are fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139.14). The problem is not that we see differences—for God made us all intentionally and unique from one another. The problem arises when we conclude others are lesser because of those differences.

Notice different skin colors.

Observe the beauty of other cultures.

Admire different languages.

Then praise God for His creativity and love.

“…Brown and yellow, black and white – they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.”

Calls For Patience

Sometimes, well-meaning but truly oblivious people wonder why there is such an urgency to deal with this now. Why all the protests? Why the frustration? Why the violence? Instead, the suggestion is made, wouldn’t it be preferable to be patient and work for the change that you want to see?

Well, I certainly don’t approve of violence, but I wonder, just how patient can you expect people to be?

At times, it seems to me that we (as a society) ask African Americans to have superhuman amounts of forgiveness and patience: forgiveness for the inhumane ways they have been treated in the past (and continue to be treated), and patience as they wait for things to get better. Not only is this unfair, it is also highly ironic, considering the fact that, historically in the US, African Americans have been treated as subhuman. This is an undeniable fact, from the practice of slavery, to the 3/5 Compromise, to the practice of segregation, and more.

The following words from Langston Hughes touch on this, and are both prophetic and haunting:

Negroes
Sweet and docile,
Meek, humble, and kind:
Beware the day
They change their minds!

Wind
In the cotton fields,
Gentle breeze:
Beware the hour
It uproots trees!

The reality is that it has been far too long, and we are reaping the consequences of that reality.

The Solution to the Problem

I don’t actually think that the problem of racism will be solved until Jesus returns, because ultimately, it is one of the many consequences of sin that plagues the broken world in which we live. That does not mean that I think we should do nothing about it and just wait until Jesus returns to sort it all out. On the contrary, I think the sin in my own life will continue to be a problem until I die or until Jesus returns, but identifying that sin and repenting of it is a major concern of mine!

So, to be clear, I am in favor of efforts to root out racism and bring about reconciliation and equality in our society. It is my hope that recents events will lead to change in that direction.

Having said that, as a Christian,  I don’t believe that the primary way in which I am called to change the world is through the political process. Rather, it is being salt and light, living as a citizen of God’s kingdom, and being an agent of new creation in an old and dying world. This may sound naive (“Christians have excused and supported racism in all sorts of ways over the years!”), but I don’t think this is naive at all: if each and every person in the world who names Jesus as Lord actually lived according to the kingdom principles Jesus established, then the world would be radically different.

Ultimately, this will be the solution to racism. When Jesus returns, and God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven, then racism and every other form of sin will be a thing of the past. In the meantime, the best thing I can do is to allow God’s Spirit to transform my life and bring it in line with the character of Christ.

If all Christians, by God’s grace, were to do that, imagine the leavening influence that could have in our families…and our churches…and our communities…and our world.

Lord, have mercy. And come quickly.


Additional Resources to Consider:

“Racial Turmoil in America: A Biblical Response”

“A Christian Response to George Floyd’s Death in Minnesota”

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