Will we sport halos? Will we sprout wings? Will we be round and “roll around Heaven all day?” Will we be naked, like Adam and Eve, or draped in shining apparel? Will I still need suspenders to hold up my britches?
When we get to Heaven we probably won’t care what we look like for our eyes will be on others and not on ourselves ... as they should be here on earth. Nevertheless we do wonder from time to time, as St. Paul did, “How are the dead raised and with what body do they come?”
The Apostle supplies an answer to his own question, citing the miracle of the harvest: A seed is planted and is raised with a new and glorious body: “What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body” — 1 Corinthians 15:42-44
Our humble, embarrassing bodies will become breathtakingly glorious: blemishes, spots, wrinkles and other disfigurements replaced by radiant beauty.
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Weakness will be turned into prodigious strength: Flaccid muscles made strong again; weary minds made whole.
The “perishable” will become imperishable, our bodies will no longer be “dunged by rotten death.” We will never, ever die.
Paul’s image of a seed “sown” and “raised” also suggests continuity, an organic connection between what we are now and what we shall be. Could our new bodies simply be a new unfolding of the DNA that now resides in us and determines who we are and what we look like? In other words will we look somewhat as we do now?
Paul argues in another place that our transformed bodies will be like Jesus’ in His “glorious body” (Philippians 3:21). For that reason it’s worth pondering those texts that describe His post-resurrection appearances (Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24; John 20,21; Acts 1).
Flesh and bone?
When I read those reports, I’m impressed by how ordinary Jesus was. He looked and acted as … Himself. He was immediately recognizable as the “old” Jesus; no one seemed shocked or awed by his appearance. He walked, talked and ate with His disciples and informed that the He was not a ghost, but a man of “flesh and bone” (Luke 24:43).
He looked like an ordinary man, but He was ... well, different. He didn’t always walk from place to place; sometimes he simply appeared, and then disappeared. He seemed to move through time and space with the speed of thought. Could this be true of us in Heaven? Won’t that be a hoot?
What age will we be in Heaven? If I go home this year will I be 83? If a child dies at 10 years of age will he or she be a child?
Medieval theologians thought that we’ll be age 30 — fully mature, in the prime of life. If so, babies that die in infancy and children destroyed in the womb will be grown-up sons and daughters. Frail, old men and women will have put on immortality and will be filled with the verve and vitality of youth.
Actually, I like to think we’ll be both young and old: young in strength and beauty; old in wisdom and virtue. “Ever ancient; ever new.”
What of injuries and deformities? They’ll be healed, of course. Damaged limbs will be corrected; deranged minds will be restored. When Bunyan’s Mr. Ready–Halt came to the brink of the river, he said, “Now I shall have no more need of these crutches…” and left them behind for others to use. We too will park our canes, walkers, braces and wheelchairs on this side of the river and walk (or sprint) into the new world on our own, for we’ll have no use for these contraptions on the other side.
But, will all the marks of this world be removed? I think not. Jesus still bore His wounds. Ancient Christians thought that the martyr’s wounds will glow like gold in Heaven. Perhaps the afflictions we’ve borne with patience here on earth will be badges of honor in Heaven. It’s comforting to think so.
What of those who are burned, frozen, decomposed, covered with dirt, buried in the sea or in mass graves. What about those that choose cremation and have their ashes scattered by the wind? How will God find all the atoms of their bodies?
In one of his sermons (XIV), John Donne addresses this concern by ruminating on the various places our atoms might be found: “In what wrinkle, in what furrow, in what bowel of the earth lie all the grains of the ashes of a body burnt a thousand years since?”
In a later sermon Donne reassures his parishioners that God will duly remember each particle and gather up our “separated bodies” in the end: “As he puts all thy tears into his bottles, so he puts all the grains of thy dust into his cabinet, and the winds that scatter, the waters that wash them away carry them not out of his sight.” (Sermon XVI).
I have no idea how God will find all my particles, and gather them up, but if he remembers all my tears, can he not collect my dust? “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”
Recast in beauty
The twelfth century Book of the Dun Cow — so called because the cover of the book was made from (guess what) the hide of a dun cow — argues that the various parts of our bodies, though scattered to the ends of the earth, will be “recast into a more beautiful form.” I like the simplicity of that idea. Whether God gathers all my parts and reassembles them, or creates them ex nihilo, He will “recast” them into an exquisitely beautiful form. Paul says that our bodies will be “glorious,” a word that suggests stupendous beauty. That says it all: We’ll be beautiful inside and out — beyond anything we can imagine.
This idea has feedback to the present, or so it seems to me. C.S. Lewis wrote, “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship…” (The Weight of Glory).
That helps me to see my family and friends, and even my enemies in a new light. I should view them, not as they are now, but as they shall be, if they are found in Christ and have been perfected by His love. I should love them now as I shall love them in Heaven.
Love is what we’ve been created for and what we’ll be doing for the rest of our lives. We might as well get started right now.
David and Carolyn Roper co-direct the work of Idaho Mountain Ministries, a ministry of clergy care. David is the author of 14 books. The most recent: Teach Us To Number Our Days. His musings are archived on davidroper.blogspot.com/
The Idaho Statesman’s weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.