An Optimistic Outlook

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Chapter 15 of the First Letter to the Corinthians is concerned with the reality of the resurrection of the body. It is written to counter the denial of the resurrection of the body that some in this Greek community were denying. They may have been doing so because they could not imagine how this could be possible after death. This lack of imagination may have stemmed from the Greek anthropology at that time which looked at the material world and all matter, even the human body, as corrupt. They could imagine resurrection happening to the soul, but not to the material body. They might have also been struggling with a gnostic idea that resurrection is a “spiritual” experience already achieved in baptism and in the forgiveness of sins, not something to happen in the future. Paul is affirming that the resurrection of the body will happen and explains it through the evidence of Jesus’ resurrected body (verses 1-11), by pointing out the logical inconsistencies involved in the denials of the resurrection (verses 12-34) and, finally, by attempting to perceive theologically what the properties of the resurrected body must be (verses 50-58).

Why should we “stand firm, and let nothing move us, give ourselves to the work of the Lord, knowing that we do not labor in vain?” Precisely because we believe, not only in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, but because of that we can also believe in the resurrection of our own bodies after death. “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep but we will all be changed–in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory. “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting.” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (verses 51-57)

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What is our anthropology? How do we view humanity and human nature? There are many today who are drawn to the pessimistic Eastern philosophies that see all matter as corrupt, or that the material world is nothing more than some kind of illusion that must be escaped after the soul’s countless bodily reincarnations into something called “Nothingness.” But Christian anthropology recognizes that all of creation, including the human body, were made in goodness out of the infinite goodness of God. We believe that God created all things, seen and unseen, out of love. More importantly, we believe this because he chose willingly, out of that same love, to enter into his creation and into our humanity as one of us, in Jesus Christ. In being born as a weak, vulnerable infant, in his earthly ministry so marked by touch and tears and loving challenge, in his suffering and death, and in his resurrection, he did not diminish his divinity, rather, he lifted up our humanity to the divine. This is not something from which to “escape.” This is something worthy of being lived into—fully. This is why we believe in the resurrection of the body. This is why we believe that we will not only know God in the face, but that we will know and love each other more perfectly than we could ever imagine while still clothed in what is perishable, for then we will be clothed in what is imperishable.

This is why we can stand firm in our attempts to live the Christian life. This is why we are not moved by the pessimistic philosophies of the world. This is why we can give ourselves fully to the work of the Lord here on earth, knowing that our labors in the Lord are not, and will not be in vain. As Christians we are a people imbued with the gifts of faith, hope, and love. We can be truly optimistic, for we have seen the Resurrection and we have come to know that we are invited to the banquet at the table of the Lord, personally. This is the source of our attitude of joy. We know that in our willing submission to the love and the call of God, we are destined to live bodily, forever with him, in heaven. Glory be to God!

Lord, let us live our joy openly in the world. When we fail, let us turn to you for forgiveness and strength, for we desire only your love and to do your will here on earth as it is done in heaven. We pray in your name, our beloved Jesus. Amen!

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site blog.