“I can’t wait to get out of this body and off this earth to live with Jesus forever.”
“The things on earth are all evil. Material possessions, earthly relationships, and concerns about your health are all worthless compared to what we will experience in heaven.”
“Death is freedom for the soul.”
“Christ was a divine being in a human shell.”
“The real you is not physical, it’s spiritual. We all must find the divine spark within us.”
“In heaven, there will be no more time.”
“In heaven we will be able to do anything we want. If you want to fly, you can fly. If you want to transport instantly from one place to another, you can. Heaven is a place where the rules of logic and science do not apply.”
I have heard all of these statements before. In fact, I have heard all of these statements from Christians. In many cases I have heard them from the Evangelical pulpits. They have even made it into our hymns. They have become an assumed part of the way we think. The problem is that they come from an ancient Hellenistic (Greek) philosophical system that is decidedly non-Christian in almost every respect. It is often referred to as Gnosticism. While the characteristics of Gnosticism are complex and varied, it is founded on a dualistic worldview that drives many of its conclusions. It is upon this characteristic that I want to spend our time.
“Early philosophical system which sees the universe in terms of two antithetical forces which are continually at odds. These two forces are responsible for the origin of the world. Often the dualist worldview produced a metaphysical separation between the spiritual and physical, with the spiritual being good and physical being evil. Christianity has rejected all forms of a dualism yet its assumptions often find their way into the church.” (Source)
The key here is that Gnostics believe that the physical world and all it contains is evil, or at least of far inferior quality. Whether it is the rocks, trees, human inventions, the human brain, or physical bodies, these are all of secondary value to the spiritual. The spiritual is that which transcends the physical. The spiritual is that which is most like God. Therefore, the spiritual is that to which we must attain.
Mix this type of dualism together with Christianity and we have a form of Christian Gnosticism.
However, the Christian worldview is not dualistic.
1. God created everything physical and called it good.
In Genesis, we are told that God—the same God we worship—created the physical world. God is not responsible for the spiritual side of the universe while some evil entity created the physical. God created it all and called it good (Gen. 1:25).
2. God is in the process of redeeming the physical.
When man fell into sin, God did not move to “plan B” where all people would eventually move to an alternate location with different rules, physics, and biology. God did not say five minutes after his completion when man messed it all up, “Well, it was a good idea, but it did not work. Let’s try something else.” No, God began a process of redemption. His redemptive plan does not only include the spiritual, but the physical as well.
3. Our hope is not an escape from the physical, but a resurrection of our bodies and the restoration of all of physical creation.
I don’t know how many times I have heard a funeral message where the pastor or priest says, in essence, “John has finally escaped the burden of his physical existence. He is now with Jesus forever.” No mention of the resurrection. No mention of the future restoration. All that matters is where John is at now. But this is not how Paul comforted the Thessalonians when they were grieving the loss of their loved ones. He did not tell them that the deceased were in heaven with Jesus (even though he knew they were). Paul only spoke of the future bodily resurrection (1 Thess 4:13-18). According to Paul, then, our ultimate hope is not to get rid of our bodies, but to get them back!
The only time Christians will be without a physical body is during the intermediate state. As Paul says, “we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life” (1 Cor. 5:4). The “clothing” is our resurrected body. Paul suggests here that the intermediate state of existence—the time without a body—is inferior to the time when we have a body.
4. The Christian worldview is wholistic.
I am careful in using the word “wholistic” since it can carry many connotations that are not representative of where I am going. However, the Christian view of creation is wholistic. We don’t value the spiritual above the physical or the physical above the spiritual. God has created all things in such a way that they are and always were meant to exist together. When they are apart, creation is incomplete. To value one over the other is like to value the hydrogen molecule more than the oxygen in water. Our bodies and spirit work together. Our mind and brain are both necessary. We need the earth and the earth needs us.
Often people refer to the “spiritual body” that Paul speaks of to the Corinthians:
“So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” (1 Cor. 15:43-44)
But the distinction here is between the fallen body (a natural fleshly body) and the restored body (a spiritual). In other words, Paul is not making a substantial distinction between the two, but a moral distinction. Notice: one is sown in dishonor and weakness (due to sin) the other is raised in glory (due to redemption). Of course the moral distinction has implications for the body itself, as it will not experience death, but it does not speak to a distinction in basic anatomy. After the resurrection, we will still have ten fingers and ten toes. Our heart will still pump blood. Our thoughts will still be neurological. If you were to stub your toe, a warning signal of physical pain will probably let your brain in on the act. Why? Because this was all a part of “plan A.”
- When we die, we go to an intermediate state of existence to await the resurrection of our bodies so that we can be whole again. While it is better because we are with Christ (Phil 1:23), we will also eagerly await the resurrection of our bodies precisely because we were created to be physical beings. Our hope is not to escape our bodies, but to have them restored through resurrection.
- We will most likely be bound by the same laws of physics that we are bound by here. I doubt that we will be flying, walking through walls, running at the speed of light, or going on fasts that last too long. There is no reason to think that God is going to “plan B” with regards to the physical laws and biology he created. They were declared good and they will be restored minus the effects of sin.
- There is no “spark of the divine” within everyone. All people are created in the image of God and, while God is not physical, this image is born out by the physical. We have been wholistically corrupted with sin, therefore this image is distorted. It is only through the redemption in Christ that we will be restored. The idea of an uncorrupted “spark” is unbiblical.
- Christ’s incarnation is not that of a divine being within a human shell, as if God could not really become man because man is physical. Christ is completely God and completely man. Otherwise, Christ could not represent us completely and we are still in our sins without a redeemer.
- Heaven is ultimately the place where God resides. The ultimate end for the redeemed is not some ethereal trans-dimensional existence called “heaven,” but the new physical earth upon which God resides. It is proper to call it heaven since God will be there (Rev. 21:1-3), but we must understand that our future is on a restored physical earth not unlike this one.
In summary, the dualistic components of “Christian” Gnosticism has a hope based on a “plan B” mentality. Christian redemption is not a movement to “plan B” but a restoration of “plan A.”
“For he must remain in heaven until the time for the final restoration of all things, as God promised long ago through his holy prophets.” (Acts 3:21; emphasis mine)