December 14, 2017

Just a “Shell”?

Vermont Skies 2014

I heard it again today, while attending the death of an elderly woman.

“This is not her. What we see here is just the shell. The real her is now in heaven with Jesus and with grandpa.”

And again a little later.

“It’s amazing to me how little seeing her shell bothers me. That’s not her. Everything that was truly her is now in heaven.”

Like it or not, this is what is understood at ground level as the Christian hope. One day we’ll cast off the shell of our body and go to our true home, where we’ll be free to be who we really are.

Problem: “everything that is truly who we are” includes our bodies. Right? We are embodied, vivified creatures. Dust and breath together, as Genesis 2 metaphorically affirms. In fact, I would argue it is impossible for us to imagine what human life is, what a human being is, without having some sort of physical, materialistic picture in our heads.

That’s why people say such mixed up things in the presence of death. On the one hand they express gladness that their loved one is free from “the shell,” out of their mortal body, that their “spirit” is in heaven. On the other hand, without any conscious regard for the inconsistency, they talk about how grandma is now “up there” dancing with grandpa or playing cards with Uncle Jack or holding the little baby she lost as a young woman. They simply can’t conceive of their loved in any other terms than what is familiar to them — this earthly, embodied life.

Let’s consider again what I consider to be a much more coherent and satisfying understanding of the full Christian hope. This is by N.T. Wright, from Rethinking the Tradition:

We should remember especially that the use of the word ‘heaven’ to denote the ultimate goal of the redeemed, though hugely emphasized by medieval piety, mystery plays, and the like, and still almost universal at a popular level, is severely misleading and does not begin to do justice to the Christian hope. I am repeatedly frustrated by how hard it is to get this point through the thick wall of traditional thought and language that most Christians put up. ‘Going to heaven when you die’ is not held out in the New Testament as the main goal. The main goal is to be bodily raised into the transformed, glorious likeness of Jesus Christ. If we want to speak of ‘going to heaven when we die’, we should be clear that this represents the first, and far less important, stage of a two-stage process. That is why it is also appropriate to use the ancient word ‘paradise’ to describe the same thing….

…In the New Testament every single Christian is referred to as a ‘saint’, including the muddled and sinful ones to whom Paul writes his letters. The background to early Christian thought about the church includes the Dead Sea Scrolls; and there we find the members of theQumran sect referred to as ‘the holy ones’. They are designated thus, not simply because they are living a holy life in the present, though it is hoped that they will do that as well, but because by joining the sect — in the Christian’s case, by getting baptized and confessing Jesus as the risen Lord — they have left the realm of darkness and entered the kingdom of light (Colossians 1.12-14).

This means that the New Testament language about the bodily death of Christians, and what happens to them thereafter, makes no distinction whatever in this respect between those who have attained significant holiness or Christlikeness in the present and those who haven’t. ‘My desire’, says Paul in Philippians 1.22, ‘is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.’ He doesn’t for a moment imply that this ‘being with Christ’ is something which he will experience but which the Philippians, like Newman’s Gerontius, will find terrifying and want to postpone. His state (being with Christ) will indeed be exalted, but it will be no different, no more exalted, than that of every single Christian after death. He will not be, in that sense, a ‘saint’, differentiated from mere ‘souls’ who wait in another place or state.

…Nor does Paul imply that this ‘departing and being with Christ’ is the same thing as the eventual resurrection of the body, which he describes vividly later in the same letter (3.20-21). No: all the Christian dead have ‘departed’ and are ‘with Christ’. The only other idea Paul offers to explain where the Christian dead are now and what they are doing is that of ‘sleeping in Christ’. He uses this idea frequently (1 Corinthians 7.39; 11.30; 15.6, 18,20,51; 1 Thessalonians 4.13-15), and some have thought that by it he must mean an unconscious state, from which one would be brought back to consciousness at the resurrection — so much so, perhaps, that it will seem as though we have passed straight from the one to the other. The probability is, though, that this is a strong metaphor, a way of reminding us about the ‘waking up’ which will be the resurrection. Had the post-mortem state been unconscious, would Paul have thought of it as ‘far better’ than what he had in the present?

This picture is further confirmed by the language of Revelation. There we find the souls of the martyrs waiting, under the altar, for the final redemption to take place. They are at rest; they are conscious; they are able to ask how long it will be before justice is done (6.9-11); but they are not yet enjoying the final bliss which is to come in the New Jerusalem. This is in line with the classic Eastern Orthodox doctrine, which, though it speaks of the saints, and invokes them in all sorts of ways, does not see them as having finally experienced the completeness of redemption. Until all God’s people are safely home, none of them is yet fulfilled. That is why the Orthodox pray for the saints as well as with them, that they — with us when we join them — may come to the fulfilment of God’s complete purposes.

Finally, lest you think I would rudely insist upon doctrinal precision when I’m visiting with grieving families and try to convince them, in the midst of fresh loss, that they should change their thinking about the future hope, let me assure you that I usually just stay silent and focus on being present and providing appropriate comfort. The last thing they need is a lesson in eschatology.

I may cringe when I hear them call the body of their deceased loved one a mere “shell,” but I don’t say anything. I just gather them at the bedside and lead them in prayer:

God of life, at this important moment we thank you that ______ is safe in your care. You tell us that to depart this life and be with Christ is far better, and so we pray that you would take _______ into your care and give her that joy and peace in your presence. May she rest in your love until the day of resurrection, when this mortal body will be raised and she will be remade, complete and new, in a whole new creation, where we will be reunited and there will be no more sickness, separation, and sorrow. Thank you that, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord and that nothing can ever separate us from your love. Hold ______ and her family in your love until that day. In your holy name we pray, Amen.

Comments

  1. Certainly, a person’s body during their lifetime is no mere “shell”, but neither is the deceased person any longer present with the corpse that remains after their death. The person continues to fully exist to God, though full relationship with them may be lost to us for the present; to my understanding, in the general resurrection the fullness of relationship will not only be restored, but healed and completed. It is the restoration of the fullness of relationship for all of us together, along with its healing and completion, that I take to be the meaning of the word resurrection; as to what part physical and spiritual facets are play out in this, I have become agnostic. I think the New Testament language about it is too ambiguous and poetic and tentative, too self-transcending, as if our language is not up to the task, for exact doctrinal definitions or understanding.

    • I don’t believe the writers and redactors of the NT, or the New Testament community, altogether new what they were talking about when referring to what we call the general resurrection; the community had had a powerful and transforming experience of Jesus’ presence after his death, and of his continuing and powerful new life in their midst, but struggled with how to express this. Their language about it was not consistent, or perfectly adequate to the reality, but that experience was and is the foundation of their hope, and of ours.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > altogether new what they were talking about

        Agree; but there really is no way to arrive at puffy cloud spirit heaven from Scriptures. *That* is quite clearly *not there*. And it is – regardless of the specifics of the ‘alternative’ – antithetical to the emphasis on incarnation in Christian scriptures or the materiality of Hebrew scriptures.

        The bugaboo is not that the body is abandoned – it clearly is – but that it is “** only/just/merely ** a shell”. Even when no such modifier is used – it is nearly always quite obviously implied.

        • I think I freaked a number of people out a few years ago when I started mentioning things like the resurrection of the dead and sleeping over fluffy cloud heaven. I kept quiet during funerals and the mourning process, but I was still open about it at other times.

          Personally, I still hope that there is nothing after death. Just…silent rest. That sounds wonderful.

          • For ever and ever and ever and ever?
            You do know that’s a really, really long time?

          • Frankly, oblivion scares me even more than hell does.

            • But in oblivion you don’t really know what you’re missing, do you?

              • NOTHING =/= “silent rest”. It means you No. Longer. Exist. In any way shape or form.

                Some of you don’t find that prospect frightening, but I do.

                • Good point. It’s like when I wonder, What if I’d never been born? THAT’S a weird thought that sends my mind spiraling.

                • If the condition of oblivion after death is the same as the condition of oblivion that existed before my conception and birth, then there is nothing to fear in that condition. The process of getting to it is a different matter: If oblivion is the end, and if the last thing I’ll ever know is fear, horror, loneliness and pain as I slip into the narrowing dead-end that leads to oblivion, then this is a godless, sterile and meaningless world, which it would have been better to leave sooner rather than later. But to my understanding, a resurrection into new, fulfilled, completed life does not mean that I have to exist consciously in that state forever, though it may mean that; it means, rather, that my true, final end is a condition wherein all things are set aright in relationship to each other, and felicity rather than torment is the final word. The goodness of such a state does not require that it be everlasting; I would be happy with one instant of it, as long as it was the final, ultimate instant.

            • It sounds so peaceful to me.

              “And now…I rest.” and that’s it.

              Beautiful.

              • flatrocker says:

                Resting feels like sippin’ some cold tea on my front porch on a lazy Carolina July afternoon, with my dog at my feet and some Hayes Carll on the radio. That sure don’t feel much like any oblivion to me.

      • Robert,

        The language is strange in the NT because all 1st century Jews except the Sadducees were not expecting anyone to rise from the dead in advance of the resurrection of the rest of those who were going to be resurrected (different opinions on which groups of people were “righteous” enough to deserve it). But the Jews were very much looking forward to the bodily resurrection. In this they differed from the rest of the known world. That Jewish hope was continued in Christianity.

        How can there be fullness of relationship without a physical body through which to express that relationship?

        And then there’s Paul: If Christ has not been raised from the dead, our faith is in vain and we are the most pitiable of all people. The powerful, transforming experience of Jesus that the first Christians had involved interacting with him in his wholeness of both soul/spirit *and his body.*

        Dana

        • How can there be fullness of relationship without a physical body through which to express that relationship?

          Dana,

          Your own tradition asserts that, without their individual physical bodies, the Saints nevertheless have vital, if not eschatologically complete, relationship with God, each other, and us. Perhaps this is because they have Christ’s resurrected body as their organ of relationship, and perhaps that is in fact enough, now and forever. And perhaps the fullness comes when all the rest of us are brought with them into the directness of relationship that they already have through the risen Christ; perhaps this is what the general resurrection really is.

        • Dana,
          What the Jews were looking for, and what God intended, were sometimes very different things. For instance, the Jews expected a messiah who would crush his and their mortal enemies, and establish his millennial kingdom without delay; instead, they (and we) got a lamb slain before the foundations of the world, hung on a cross like a side of meat, naked and humiliated for all the world to see. That he was also crushing their (and our) true enemies, and establishing his kingdom of no-sword but dying to self, went well beyond anything they looking for, or wanted.

          • What he gives us in the general resurrection may go well beyond anything we are looking for, or want…

            • Jesus did crush our mortal enemy, Death. All the rest of what you wrote is true – and it cannot come to fruition in a material world without the Resurrection. God undertook that humility, and the Cross is the character of our ongoing life in him – and without the Resurrection, the demonstration of God’s victory over Death, we wouldn’t know what the meaning of all that was. Pascha is the sweep of both events.

              Of course the general resurrection will be beyond what we could ask or think. And that will include a material body that can function on a material earth. It will be different, as Jesus’ physical body was, but the GR will nonetheless include it. The Second Person became incarnate in order to gather up all things unto himself, including physicality; that’s part of the “all things” of the NT. If *everything* is not renewed, then God doesn’t win. I believe God wins, and that such a comprehensive, cosmic victory is the expectation expressed in Scripture.

              If the only change in his disciples after Jesus’ death was something intellectual and/or psychological, then Christianity is no different than any other religion, and thousands of martyrs and millions of others went to their deaths believing a lie. No.

              D.

              • I’m not aware that my comment in any way says that all that changed for his disciples after Jesus’ death was something intellectual and/or psychological, Dana. I don’t see how you got that from what I wrote, and I don’t see that you’ve responded to what I actually said in my comments.

                • In my experience, language like “the community had had a powerful and transforming experience of Jesus’ presence after his death, and of his continuing and powerful new life in their midst” is used to affirm the reality of the disciples’ faith while at the same time denying the bodily resurrection of Christ. If you weren’t using it in that same way, I apologize for misinterpreting.

                  I do think the hope for the bodily resurrection as the point where our humanity is fulfilled by the reunion of our souls and bodies stands in stark contrast to any notion of oblivion in death. There is a sort of peace, since we can no longer do or experience harm, but the souls of the righteous are held in God’s hand (Wisdom 3.1-3), not dispersed into oblivion.

                  There’s a lot we don’t know about what happens after we die. If Christ has assumed all things human, then he has already been through whatever will come to us, and has gone through to the Resurrection, as will we. I don’t believe anyone’s life or death or the universe is pointless. There are some things for which we have no answers, but that’s not the same thing.

                  Blessings to you.
                  Dana

                  • That’s not the way I meant it, Dana. After his death, the disciples experienced Jesus as powerfully and consciously alive in their midst, not with less power and presence than he had before his death, but with more of both. I start with the assumption that he really and totally became present to them again, and that he is also really present to us, in a different way, through the power of the Spirit. What I question is the traditional idea that, when the general resurrection happens, we will all possess our own discrete, individual bodies, and that these must have the quality of being everlasting. Parts of the scriptures depict the resurrection of the dead to a life of limited duration, but one of shalom, prosperity and justice. I also wonder if we really know what we’re talking about when we talk about the physical.

  2. Iain Lovejoy says:

    If in the end we are given new resurrection bodies when we rise again, our present earthly bodies do indeed become a mere shell when we die. Thinking otherwise surely leads us to daft medieval questions (genuinely asked) such as how cannibals are resurrected (to receive their punishment) when their bodies are made up if their victims’ bodies, which also need to be resurrected.

    • Usually, in my experience, calling the body a “shell” is a way of avoiding facing the reality of the death, not a statement of doctrinal belief. So is most of the “heaven” talk that I hear. I don’t counter it because denial is a part of grieving. The issue here is what people understand to be the Christian hope, which involves honoring the body and avoiding a Platonic view of the world that leads to all kinds of misperceptions.

    • Same goes for cremation. And indeed for any people generations apart who’s atoms have drifted from one to the other!

  3. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    Religious people are best avoided at funerals – my simple rule. They rarely, if ever, say anything helpful.

    • I just spit-take’d my coffee.

    • Adam, great point. When I’m at a funeral of someone I knew and loved, I am drawn to the person who is most out of whack. Who is crying uncontrollably. The one who is saying the most inappropriate things such as “I want them back. I can’t bear it! I want them alive, now.” Because I know that person is the one standing the closest to reality. Grieving is real and must be embraced. The shell game is a narcotic to the soul of grief and I prefer to feel the pain.

  4. Have no idea here what happens after this earthly death. Just sharing that I was a “Dustoff” pilot in Viet-nam for 1 year. 1534 hours of a helicopter picking up casualties( I still have my flight records….flew 15 hours on Christmas eve 1968….and that wasn’t our most in a day). I have a paper somewhere saying how many missions we flew. I know I have the air medal with a “V” 22 times( that basically means a Hughey “H” model with a red cross on its nose got hit by small arms that many times in that year).
    I am testifying that flying into those landing zones in fields and rice patties, planting that machine next to thousands of causualties, that over time I could tell if that person or persons were dead or alive. It was acquired with the job. You can just tell if it is what has here been called a shell or if it is a living “soul” I know that today the word “soul” has been called into question by those who believe strongly in the newest brain research. But it is a word that corresponds to reality. It in reality looks like that person is not there any more. We believed in dedicated unhesitating service to our fighting forces and very few died once on that machine.

    • Brutal. Thank you for sharing and for your service back then.

      Back then…alive or dead, was everyone still human to you and your fellow soldiers? Enemy or ally?

    • Oh, wow. You’ve lived through the stuff I’ve only glimpsed in movies. Thanks for your service, sir. I hope God has granted you some peace after the things you’ve seen. God bless you.

  5. Burro [Mule] says:

    Jesus existed for three days in that peculiar state of humanity divided between corpse and spook. On Great and Holy Saturday we will hold a service commemorating the Harrowing of Hell and the emptying of Sheol, which He accomplished, I assume, as a disembodied spirit.

    If He’s already been there, I can follow.

    Both CM and Finn are right. Funerals are the last place to display theological pyrotechnics.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > Funerals are the last place to display theological pyrotechnics.

      +1

      • That Other Jean says:

        So much this! Exactly what happens after death is a question way above my pay grade, and when I’m mourning someone I loved and will miss for the rest of my life, I don’t need to hear someone else’s guesses–or worse, certainties–about it.

    • Good point about Jesus being three days in that state between corpse and spook.

      • Burro [Mule] says:

        The point I was trying to make is that Jesus didn’t stop being fully Man when his humanity was separated by death into corpse-hood and haint-hood. I don’t think we were supposed to be in that situation originally, but once we had entered it, it was necessary that He assume that state in order to reconcile it.

  6. Yes, the Eleventh commandment: Thou shalt do no theology at the funeral.

    And as a corollary how many evangelistic funeral sermons I sat through growing up in the Southern Baptist church!. How can these ministers resist? A captive audience made fictile and suasible by their grief. But I shouldn’t just pick on the Baptists. I’ve been to a Funeral Mass or two where the deceased seemed to be a guest at their own funeral.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > How can these ministers resist?

      They can’t; it is diagnosable obsessive compulsive disorder. They need medication.

      > But I shouldn’t just pick on the Baptists.

      Yep, in my case evangelical Presbyterians have been the worst – completely tasteless – offenders. On the other hand I suspect many of them are Baptists that have fallen into different buckets via historical/genealogical accident.

    • In defense of those who evangelize during memorial services, I’ve found the ones who do that are usually doing so because the family wants them to. Frankly, when I die, I want my pastor to do everything he can to convey to those attending how much Jesus meant to me in my life. Most will know anyway, but to say, “Rick didn’t fear death because of Jesus…” Well, I think that’s a good message.

    • The worst I have seen was at the funeral of a former co-worker just a few weeks ago. The entire service was about how while no one was sure the deceased wasn’t in hell, her one daughter would not be to blame because she had “clearly presented the gospel to her” on several occasions. [This daughter was a member of an independent Bible church; it was her pastor who conducted the service.]

      It felt as if the whole service had only two purposes: to absolve the daughter of her mother’s whereabouts, and to scare everyone else—especially the many other family members—into Jesus’ arms.

      In the midst of all this, one in our delegation had the courage to stand up and actually say a few words about our late friend. She had lived a pretty extraordinary life and we were all grateful to her in various ways. Thank goodness at least one positive thing was said.

      • Okay…that’s bad, and NOT what I would want at my service…LOL.

        • It was astounding. I’ve never seen so many people with their jaws dropped (myself included).

          Some day I would love to know where the phrase “clear presentation of the gospel” originated. Every time I’ve heard it used, it is in some situation like this, to absolve the person evangelizing in case the receiver does not drop, confess, repent on the spot. It has the ring of “they’ve had their chance” about it.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        The entire service was about how while no one was sure the deceased wasn’t in hell, her one daughter would not be to blame because she had “clearly presented the gospel to her” on several occasions.

        Wretched Urgency, here we come.

    • Like ( to borrow a FB term). I remember a pastor friend, someone I knew at LAbri, who said the biggest mistake of his career was when he was a young pastor in London and went to the house of a lady who’s husband (age 35) had been killed on the freeway, leaving her and four sons. He sat (the night of his death) and gave an apologetic of why she should not doubt God. Now, he said, if he could do it again, he would sit and hold her and cry with her and doubt God together. Later there would be a time for figuring it all out.

  7. Love the post, and the prayer. Counseling people who have lost loved ones and even officiating memorial services are some of the most rewarding and challenging areas of ministry. You certainly don’t want to quench hope, but like this post suggests, I can’t say to people, “Ole Uncle Buck is enjoying fishing with Jesus right now, ain’t he?”

    I find myself more an more using terminology like “at rest”, “at peace”, “safe”, “free of pain/addiction/temptation/hurt/tears/loneliness/etc., and “waiting on the resurrection to come”. The “under the altar” imagery might not visually connect with a lot of people, but to me, I see a sheltering under the wings of God. There is no danger there.

    I don’t look forward to dying, but it’s important for us to remember that dying is a part of the continuum of eternal life. Without death, there is no resurrection.

    How did we come to ignore the phrase “under the altar” so much? Or stop having discussion about Abraham’s Bosom (see Luke 16). It was certainly prevalent in the Jewish context. Augustine said that those who die in Christ await the resurrection in “secret receptacles”, and didn’t contradict the idea. Tertullian and Hippolytus both wrote about a section of Hades in which the righteous wait on the the resurrection with much comfort and delight…while it may not be explicitly mentioned, it sounds like “under the altar” to me.

    My theory…when revivalistic preaching took hold in the West, I think there was a more emotional response to the idea that there had to be a better life waiting on us than the one people were experiencing while tilling the soil, experiencing shorter life expectancy and higher infant mortality rates, tuberulosis and scarlet fever, and just having hard times, in general. It reflected in the hymnody of the time…”I’ll Fly Away”…”On Jordan’s Stormy Banks”…”When the Roll is Called Up Yonder”…and the list goes on.

    There are three broad areas where I believe American preaching has fallen short – 1) Painting salvation as a ticket on the Glory Train, rather than as a starting point to a transformed life – 2) Preaching grace, but practicing the law – and 3) Teaching a flawed theology of Heaven. Aunt Myrtle is not enjoying the Great Bingo Hall in the Sky. I’m sorry. She’s just not. She is experiencing something much, much sweeter than that…and the best is yet to come.

  8. Can a Platonic worldview even be separated from Christianity? Or any other number of Greek concepts that Jesus and the Apostles and Paul latched on to? Or is Christianity, in it’s natural organic state, a marriage between Jewish ANE ideas and concepts and Greek philosophy/Platonic ideals?

    • Burro [Mule] says:

      To rephrase your question, were ANE concepts filtered through the Jewish national experience and Greek philosophical thought a preparation for the Incarnation, or just a nuisance we can dispose of now that we know there isn’t anything besides bodies and motion?

    • I think they can and should be separated. Unlike some of the early church theologians (e.g. Augustine) I don’t think Plato was a de facto Christian. I think Platonic thinking was one of the isms that Paul was warning the Church to avoid. It’s not too late.

      • Burro [Mule] says:

        I don’t think the Nominalism that replaced it and is all but universal today is much of an improvement, but YMMV.

        • The proper balance, I believe, is a seamless continuum between the material and the immaterial, both this side of God’s creation and glorious and not tiered in value. So, you are right. The Nominalist went too far in the other direction if I understand what you mean.

    • Or to look at it another way, can Xty be separated from such alien (to us) ANE concepts as the resurrection? (either kind)

  9. >> as to what part physical and spiritual facets are play out in this, I have become agnostic.

    I’m with Robert F on this, it’s a good way to put it. The Apostles Creed says “I believe in . . . the resurrection of the body” and the Nicene Creed says “we look for the resurrection of the dead . . . .” I have no idea what those statements mean and find them irrelevant to my life in practice. Why would I stand up and say I believe them?

    I recognize that most people need the comfort of some kind of ceremonial disposal of the body and this provides a link to the departed, but I doubt if it makes much difference to the person in the beyond. Information about what happens on the other side is fairly widespread and available, if varied. I am confident enough that at the moment of death I will just go thru a door into a new world that I don’t think about it much. There is a certain anxiety just from the unknown, as there would be if I had to Minneapolis or Mexico City for some reason, but I know God is good and whatever happens there will be eminently fair and a welcome relief from this ongoing schooling of life on Planet Earth.

    I find most Christian concepts of “life after death” and “heaven” to be childish and silly, whether of the Sunday School or the Seminary variety, but it’s no skin off my nose. I would say if a four year old child is told her mother is in heaven and became an angel, that’s good enough. Animals seem to do better with this than humans. I have had critters die or be “put to sleep” and showed the body to the rest of the critters. Some are completely uninterested, some come up and sniff, but all instantly know that whoever it was is no longer there in that “thing”. Some come to the funeral, some don’t, but life goes on. I have three critters buried in my back yard in the three years I’ve been here, buried with a soft bed and blanket of leaves and some treats. I send up a prayer of blessing for them daily, along with more special ones from past years, and expect to see them again some day, looking forward to that more than seeing a lot of people again. Does this need to be expressed in a Creed of Certainty? Not by me. Things will happen like they happen, just like in real life, because that’s what it will be, Real Life, not some doctrinal formulation. If God is taking care of me today, He will take care of me tomorrow too. Personally I’m going to be greatly relieved to be done with this particular body, which is fast wearing out and becoming increasingly unreliable, but my best guess is I might have another fourteen years to tough it out. We’ll see. That’s my creed, we’ll see.

  10. That Other Jean says:

    I like that. I have no certainty about any of it, but yours is a belief system I can live, and perhaps die, comfortably with..

  11. Hmm…I’ve always kinda assumed that upon dying we’ll be like the Borg, assimilated into this massive thing floating through space and time…

  12. Oh, I don’t know…you give to people what gives them comfort.

    A couple years ago, a good friend of mine died of pancreatic cancer. The man was wheelchair-bound for years prior to that due to MS. He must’ve weighed 50 pounds when he died. Toward the end, I think I could’ve lifted him out of his hospice bed and thrown him twenty yards, he was that frail and thin.

    At his service, his wheelchair was put in the foyer with a sign on it that read: “Gone Runnin’, See Ya Later.”

    I don’t care what your theology says or if your beliefs say that’s right or wrong, it was damn funny, and most of us who knew him well said, “Yep. He’s runnin’ like he’s never run before.”

  13. The pull toward platonic thought and even gnosticism is still strong in evangelical circles and in Christianity in general. And they only become stronger when they appear to offer some kind of comfort, and when there has been no teaching or learning to counter them. I think that’s what’s happening here.

    I once ultimately left a church over the pastor’s much more serious leanings this direction. He started teaching that the physical body was evil, the source of all our temptations and sin, and that it was not saved when we were saved — only your soul was saved. He had no theological training so there was nothing in his experience to appeal to when I tried to discuss the problems with him.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      He started teaching that the physical body was evil, the source of all our temptations and sin, and that it was not saved when we were saved — only your soul was saved.

      In this, he agrees with the Manicheans.

      “So what if I rack him ’til he die? For I shall have Saved his Soul.”
      — “The Inquisitor”, Mark Twain’s Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court

  14. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    For what it’s worth, the first time I heard “shell” used in this way was from a proto-New Ager at LASFS around 1980.

  15. senecagriggs says:

    Found in an old graveyard.

    Here lies Zackariah Peas
    Under the trees.

    Peas isn’t here
    Only his pod.

    Peas shelled out
    and went home to God

  16. I do not find Plato anti-christian as so many do. I believe he was tapped into Truth imperfectly as were the Hebrews and later some of the Gnostics that weren’t Luciferians. A much more serious departure from the truth that Jesus taught was given us by Aristotle, the darling of the western church for a thousand years and we are still digging our way out. I can picture Socrates and Jesus spending a day together talking but not Aristotle. I think a lot of these movies that get mentioned in these pages are probably tapped into Truth imperfectly as well. Makes more sense to me to just go back to the Source.

  17. The article and the discussion shows how far we have wandered from the understanding of the early Church. I’m re-reading the Apostolic Fathers – the “next generation” of Christians. It would make sense that what is in those writings – universally acknowledged as Christian, not Gnostic or any other heterodox belief – would rather accurately reflect the general teaching of those who came before, and the Resurrection of Christ first and then all of his at the Judgment is affirmed. This is the continuation of how most of the Jews understood the matter – with the twist of Christ’s resurrection coming first, as the foretaste of the renewal of all creation.

    Humans are embodied souls. Take away one or the other, and what you have is something less than completely human. If there were no resurrection – if there were nothing but oblivion on one hand or complete bodily disintegration on the other hand – then human beings, the crown of God’s creation, would come to nothing and God’s purposes for this earth and the entire kosmos would be completely thwarted. I don’t think that’s how it’s supposed to work out. If God is love, there has to be embodied life, because love generates life, and life on this planet is embodied. It’s really not that complicated.

    Christianity repudiated the dualism of the ancient world, but found some of the terms of platonic philosophy useful in helping to clarify some questions, usually with expanding the meaning of those terms, not leaving them in their strictly platonic definitions. The real chokehold on our imaginations came with the Enlightenment’s splitting of the one Reality into two: when everything not physical was relegated to an inner life or “upper storey” of reality that had no bearing on the material world, and only the material was deemed truly real. Charles is right that this came about historically in the wake of Aristotle’s thought.

    Thanks, CM, for reminding us again of the Christian hope of Life: union with God as a complete human being.

    Dana