Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Scars of Life

Have you ever wondered what heaven will be like? Most Christians have. I remember as a kid fooling around with concepts of white light everywhere, getting my wings (all dogs go to heaven?), walking streets of gold and feasting on the jellybelly forest. Poor kid.

In all seriousness, the details about the afterlife, heaven, paradise or whatever you'd like to call it, have been the subject of discussion, debate and (sadly) division throughout the history of the church. When reflecting on the specifics of the resurrection, many look at verses such as 1 Cor. 15:23 and 1 Pet. 4:13 for a general encouragement about our sharing in God's glory upon our resurrection. But what does that mean? To what degree are we "raised" like Jesus was raised? Specifically, will we also bear the scars of our lives? or even worse, will we bear the scars of our deaths? It seems clear in the gospel accounts that Jesus did. Just ask Thomas.

Salvation as Deification

Deification is kind of a big word that, even as a "churched" Christian, you may not have heard of if you grew up in America like me. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition (arguably the oldest version of Christianity still functioning), it is a very much alive concept of salvation and it is one that I personally ascribe to.

You see, in this tradition, salvation is not merely a legal transaction to correct the faults of humanity (or one pair of humans, if you're into that whole hereditary guilt thing); instead, it is intrinsically concerned with two issues that are the result of the fall of humanity:

1.  The distortion of the Image of God in creation
2. The illness known as sin

Well that isn't totally disagreeable to our western ears. Let us press in by contrasting with the focus of our western, Augustinian understanding of salvation and the fall in which salvation is meant to:

1. Satisfy God's wrath towards sin
2.  Cleans us from the filth known as sin

Now we're starting to see some differences. I should also mention here that I am generalizing a bit for the sake of the scope of this blog. On both sides of the issue, the beliefs and development of the above, abbreviated conclusions are thorough, extensive and not nearly as simple as I'm presenting them here. 

So what's the big deal? Different Christians disagree on some minute points, that's par for the course in Christianity. Well, I would like to point out why I generally lean towards the East for this answer. In the first place, I think that it is more consistent with Scripture to understand divine salvation as a cure and restoration rather than as a payment and shower. We are sick with sin and it has caused us to have a distorted spiritual countenance; we are spiritual lepers who no longer look like the intended, good creature that God breathed life into. We did not choose this illness but we do self-inoculate on a regular basis. We keep ourselves sick and thus keep our image flawed. Sin is not merely some dirt that we are born with nor the breaking of some unsatisfiable list of laws; thus, salvation isn't payment to God (or Satan?) nor is it a bath (though we baptize, it's not to wash our spirits like some think). No. 

Salvation is the miraculous healing of our illness, the correcting of our spirit into the likeness of God and the opportunity to quit self-inoculating our souls with more sin.

Now, to be sure, some take these ideas to varying degrees and get some odd beliefs, but our salvation - our participation in the glory of God upon our resurrection - is intrinsically and irrefutably (from a Scriptural basis) a deification of the human creature, that is a joining in divinity. This, however, does not place humanity higher than the rest of creation, but instead places humanity as the way in which God will restore his divine image to all of creation. Christ's assumption of humanity placed the rest of the human race as the intermediary for creation to become all that it was intended to be.

Back to the scars

I may have taken a while to get back to the odd question of our resurrected bodies, but I felt it necessary for you to understand where I'm coming from in order for you to understand what I mean when I say 

It doesn't really matter

I had a feeling that answer would not come across well, so I didn't want to lead with that, but under a deification-centered theology of salvation, it doesn't matter what our bodies are like. Instead, we are to be concerned with the restoration of creation and our own intended form as well as true freedom from the illness of sin. 

Perhaps Jesus bore his scars specifically for the purpose of convincing Thomas of the reality of the resurrection (after all, they are only mentioned once in the gospel accounts where we might expect there to be a greater emphasis placed on them before political officials or crowds). Perhaps Jesus scars were metaphorical and have gotten placed as a literary device to emphasize his true humanity. Perhaps we truly will bear the scars of our lives and deaths. At any rate, apophatic that I am, I contend that it is something we cannot know with any certainty on this side of the resurrection (not that we should necessarily seek certainty). Furthermore, it is not the point; whether you agree with my (and the Eastern Orthodox) views on salvation or not, I believe we can agree that if it were truly important, Jesus would have said something. True to form, however, Jesus continues to point us to the immediate world around us and promise us just enough to have hope for our reunion, restoration and cure.

grace and peace,

For a couple of different views, check out Scarytino's blog and The "Almost" Heretic, they should have some good thoughts. ;)