[Note: this is part four of a four part series on a Christian theology of physical health. Part one can be read here, part two can be read here, and part three can be read here.]
A few years ago I had a ministerial intern serving alongside me named Adam. One Sunday morning Adam brought his friend Annie to worship with us. Annie was vivacious. She was outgoing and funny and loud. Though in her twenties, she had no qualms about coming down front and sitting with the little kids during children’s time. She asked questions. At lunch she was over the moon at the prospect of chocolate ice cream for dessert.
Adam and Annie both lived in an intentional community in Durham, NC called the Friendship House. It is a community where Duke Divinity students and friends with intellectual disabilities do life together. Annie was the outgoing, loud, hilarious person that she was because she was born with an intellectual disability, something in her brain that worked differently than the average person.
A couple months after Annie joined us for worship, Adam and I were planning a healing service for our church. As we discussed our theological understanding of healing, Adam asked a great question: “What would healing look like for Annie?”
To the world, Annie was broken, incomplete, not whole of mind and therefore not healthy. But it was that very brokenness, that “disease” that made Annie, well, Annie. Without that “incompleteness” in her brain she would not have had the joy and passion and faith that put her head and shoulders above most of us. What would healing look like for someone whose body makes them who they are?
As Christians, we believe in Christ’s future return. In some circles we call this the eschaton, in others we call it the end of the world. Some people get giddy thinking about it. Some are scared. Millions of books and articles have been written, millions of sermons preached, millions of interviews given speculating on the who, when, what and where of the end of the world. It has been beaten into the popular imagination of Christian and non-Christian alike. There is a prevalent understanding that sooner or later this world will end.
A spinoff from this infatuation with the end of the world is the notion that this world does not actually matter. In connection with this is the belief that our bodies don’t matter. The world and everything in it, including our bodies, are bound for destruction, therefore it does not matter what we do to them.
Such a belief greatly misses out on a chief biblical teaching regarding the end of the world. Yes, the Bible does teach that this world and everything in it, including our bodies, will be destroyed. This destruction, however, is followed by resurrection.
Revelation 21:5 tells us, “And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’” It is of utmost importance to note that making all things new is vastly different from making all new things. In the beginning God created ex nihilo, out of nothing. In the eschaton, God creates out of what has already been created. The new creation is a resurrected creation.
But what does resurrection look like? 1 John 3:2 tells us, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.” I take this to mean that our resurrection will mirror Jesus’ own resurrection. We do not know exactly what resurrection will be like, but we do know that it is the same resurrection that Jesus experienced and pioneered.
In John’s Gospel is the story of “Doubting” Thomas, the disciple who missed Jesus’ first post-resurrection appearance and refused to believe his peers’ story. Thomas wanted to see the holes in Jesus’ hand, and touch the wound in his side. When Jesus appeared again, he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side.” From this I gather two things about Jesus’ resurrection: 1) It was a physical resurrection. Jesus’ eternal life was not as an ephemeral spirit floating among the clouds, but as a walking, talking, breathing, eating body. And 2) Jesus’s resurrected, glorified body still bore the scars of his crucifixion. Though his body was made new, he still carried in that body the physical reminder of the life he had lived.
Because of this, I have to believe that what happens to us in this world matters. Yes, an end is near, Jesus is coming back, and we must all face death. But because that end is not the end, because eternal life has already started with the resurrection of Jesus Christ, what happens in this life effects the rest of eternity. And because Jesus still bore the physical scars of his crucifixion, I believe that what happens in our physical bodies someway, somehow is carried into the resurrection. I don’t profess to know what way or what form it will take, but I do believe that our bodies matter beyond the here and now.
Norman Wirzba warns us,
“Surrounded as we currently are by the beauty and goodness of creation, why would we think that the beauty of heaven would not undergo a similar destruction by us? The scope of redemption, just as it extends to the whole of creation, begins its transformative work within us here and now since the creator’s love simply knows no bounds.”
Knowing that my body, alongside the rest of creation, is destined for resurrection, I believe it is important to care for our bodies today. When we eat healthy foods, when we exercise, when we respect our bodies (and the bodies of others) as the God-given blessings they are, when we are good stewards of these physical manifestations of God’s love that are our bodies, we are practicing a resurrected lifestyle.
God cares about physical bodies. God wants us to care for our bodies just as we are to care for our souls, because they are what makes us who we are, and they will be carried into eternity. God wants us to be healthy, to be whole. But maybe we don’t fully grasp what wholeness actually is. Getting back to Annie; what would healing look like for her? What would resurrection look like for her? I don’t know. But I refuse to believe that God wants her to be any other way than the way she is now. I believe that just as Christ’s scars were resurrected and glorified, so will Annie’s intellectual disability be resurrected and glorified.
 Wirzba, Norman. The Paradise of God: Renewing Religion in an Ecological Age. 2003. 20.
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