It’s the same with the resurrection of the dead: a rotting body is put into the ground, but what is raised won’t ever decay. It’s degraded when it’s put into the ground, but it’s raised in glory. It’s weak when it’s put into the ground, but it’s raised in power. It’s a physical body when it’s put into the ground, but it’s raised as a spiritual body.
If there’s a physical body, there’s also a spiritual body. So, it is also written, the first human, Adam, became a living person, and the last Adam became a spirit that gives life. But the physical body comes first, not the spiritual one—the spiritual body comes afterward. The first human was from the earth made from dust; the second human is from heaven. The nature of the person made of dust is shared by people who are made of dust, and the nature of the heavenly person is shared by heavenly people. We will look like the heavenly person in the same way as we have looked like the person made from dust. (Common English Bible)
Laying around on clouds. Strumming harps. Perhaps chanting. Maybe an angel choir. Ethereal. Yes, quite disembodied. That’s the stereotypical idea when it comes to the afterlife for many people. Although many believers in Jesus realize heaven won’t be quite like that, they still might think of it as non-corporeal.
The stereotypical view really comes from Plato, not Scripture. The ancient Greek philosopher Plato (423-347, B.C.E.) believed the soul to be immortal and the body mortal. Hence, after death, an ethereal existence with no physical attributes. Plato saw death itself as an emancipation from the body.
A New Testament understanding of the body is that it’s perishable and will die. However, the body will be resurrected and become permanently imperishable. Just as Christ died and rose again, so shall we. Since Jesus was raised to new life with an actual spiritual body, complete with the scars of crucifixion, so humanity is raised to new life – not without a body but with a renewed one – and will be fit to exist with God forever.
“All the fullness of deity lives in Christ’s body.” (Colossians 2:9, CEB)
This all might seem like theological trivia or quibbling over philosophical musings. But when we mosey through the Bible, the body is important, lifted-up as equal to the spirit or soul. The material and the immaterial are not to be ranked in order of importance; they are to be held together as equal partners of personhood.
The Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7, NIV)
Body and soul belong together like a hand in a glove; like biscuits and gravy; or like copy and paste; Calvin and Hobbes; cupcakes and frosting; the moon and the stars; gin and tonic; bacon and anything; and, well, like Adam and Eve. Care of both the material and immaterial dimensions of personhood are vital and necessary.
Our bodies are the vehicles in which we do the will of God in the world. And the same shall be true after this life is over. The next life requires some full lungs to sing to the Lord; tongues to praise God; hands to lift high in worship; and feet to dance with the Trinity – not metaphorically but with actual plain speech and real live action.
We were made from dust, and to dust we shall return. But that isn’t the end of the story. Resurrection has the final say. Mortality will give way to immortality. The perishable will become imperishable. Temporal existence will cease and a permanent life, eternal life, shall endure without degeneration or entropy, with no disease, disorder, or death.
We, therefore, have hope – a confident expectation that it will not always be this way – a planet filled with pain, heartache, and grief. The tent of our present existence will be left behind for a grand mansion with God at the center – all things revolving around divine grace and love with the light of glory dispelling the night forever.
Our faith is embodied; and will be for all time. Embodied spirituality discerns all human dimensions—body, soul, heart, mind, emotions, and consciousness—as equal partners in bringing oneself into fuller personal alignment and engagement with the world.
Spiritual transformation is incomplete unless it encompasses the body. We need to be aware of and connected to our physical selves. Else, we lack wholeness and integrity. The body is not a platonic prison of the soul but a spiritual temple of the Holy Spirit. It is our home and the place where we meet with God.
A complete human being with a full-orbed spirituality is firmly grounded in the body, fully open to the spirit, and in community with others experiencing transformation from the inside-out.
One way of honoring our bodies is to incorporate them into our prayers. Here are some physical postures we can take when praying:
- Sit with hands open, palms up, ready to receive grace and love from God.
- Stand with hands open and raised overhead, and face toward ceiling/sky.
- Kneel with head bowed (I personally use a kneeler. My knees aren’t what they used to be).
- Kneel with hands/head in one of the positions described above.
- Walk a prayer labyrinth.
- Lie on your back (on your bed, the floor, the grass).
- Lie face down with hands outstretched (prostrate).
- Genuflect (bow) and make the sign of the cross.
- Cupped hands facing up to receive blessing from God.
- Deep breath in (saying “more of you”) and a full exhale out (saying “less of me”).
Our worship on this earth is training us for worship in the new heavens and the new earth. Paying attention to our bodies is good spiritual sense, not to mention being thoroughly biblical.
Almighty God, Creator of heaven and earth, we await your divine presence in our lives – not as we expect or imagine – but just as it is. We allow and invite all the ministry of your Spirit into our lives. We accept whatever you give to us or withhold from us as a gift. And we will attend to our bodies and care for them as faithful stewards of this flesh and blood existence, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.