A theological pet peeve

Heaven and Hell Theology / Biblical Studies

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A couple of times in recent history I’ve encountered Christians who have used the sentence “you’re going to be dead a lot longer than you’re going to be alive” as a way of referring to the fact that heaven (or hell) is forever.

Christians have said it when responding to the popular book, “The Secret.”

One of the finest spokespeople for intellectually defensible Christianity has said it when responding to the nonsense of the likes of Sam Harris. This example frankly shocked me.

I just don’t know why Christians say this at all. They cannot possibly believe it. The language suggests a complete rejection of the physical world in our eternal future, beginning with the point of our death. Our experience will be of heaven or hell forever and ever, and we will always – always – be physically dead, living on only in a disembodied afterlife. Hence, we are (physically) alive for a short while until we die, but we will be dead forever after that, and so “we’re going to be dead a lot longer than we will be alive.”

But Christianity has literally never taught this. This denies the resurrection of the dead. If the resurrection of the dead is true, then we will be dead temporarily, but alive forever. Now, I’m not accusing the many Christians who use this careless phraseology of actually denying the resurrection of the dead – but why use language that does precisely this? Why say something so confusing when it reflects the opposite of what all Christians actually affirm? Please stop.

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{ 15 comments… add one }
  • Joe Johnson June 26, 2010, 3:17 am

    Thank you, thank you, and thank you. I always wonder why Christians want to become Greeks or Egyptians and float around in some disembodied afterlife. How is that even Christianity? It would make a whole lot more sense if Jesus hadn’t resurrected in bodily form.

  • Joey June 26, 2010, 9:43 am

    I never thought of that before – probably because I never say it (in part because I am also an annihilationist so I warn unbelievers that they WON’T get to see eternity). But you’re right Glenn. I’m sure I’ve heard it at some point, and I will be sure now to never say that 🙂

  • bethyada June 26, 2010, 12:43 pm

    So perhaps a better response is that eternity is a long time?

  • The Atheist Missionary June 26, 2010, 12:45 pm

    Christians: get your myths straight!

    Question: what was your god doing for the first half of eternity before he decided to create the world?

  • Glenn June 26, 2010, 1:10 pm

    TAM: He was inventing punishments for people who ask stupid questions.

  • Geoff June 26, 2010, 1:57 pm

    NOOOOO.. he was inventing people who ask stupid questions…

    who says God had to be doing anything? And if he was doing something, what the heck does it have to do with anything?

  • Matt July 2, 2010, 1:48 am

    TAM of course assumes their was time or some kind of metric time before the creation of the universe, which is of course a controversial assumption.

  • Tim July 3, 2010, 3:12 pm

    I’m very happy that I found your podcasts.
    Thanks for taking the time to helping us be more informed on these topics.

    God bless.

  • {Tim} July 6, 2010, 12:22 am

    Yay, another Tim! 🙂

    If I were ever to hear someone say that, I would be strongly tempted to ask whether they realised they had just committed heresy… just to see the look on their face. >;D

  • Martin Woodhouse July 12, 2010, 3:10 am

    I’ve always felt a bit uncertain about that short phrase which I was required to recite as (very) young Christian, namely the one about “the resurrection of the body . . .”

    I always assumed it to mean “the story of the physical resurrection of Christ” rather than the physical resurrection of our own bodies — a concept which I have run into again recently when studying the beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses, who believe not only in the bodily resurrection of each of us but that we will find ourselves right here on earth, in an earthly verson of paradise: a notion which I find exceptionally hard to take on board.

    Paul (originally of Tarsus, and an uncompromising old bastard who I greatly admire) addressed the young church at Corinth in no uncertain terms on the matter. It’s fascinating to notice that there were, even at that early date, ‘modernisers’ who apparently went around suggesting that the stories of Christ’s resurrection were, well, you know, not really true but were allegories, or whatever.

    Paul will have none of this new-fangled idea, and I for one say “Good for him.”

    “Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead,” (he says, briskly, according to the King James Version) “how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?
    “But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen;
    “And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.
    “Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not.
    “For if he dead rise not, then is not Christ raised:
    “And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.
    “Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.
    “And if in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.”

    — and (he sweeps gorgeously, beautifully, powerfully on),

    “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruit of them that slept.
    “For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.
    “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.”

    Terrific stuff; and poetry, which is what all of this is. But it doesn’t seem to me that Paul is insisting here upon the physical resurrection of all of us, but only upon the bodily resurrection of Christ, as an assurance that we ourselves will not cease to exist.

    At any rate, as a dualist though no longer a Christian, I feel no need to believe in the resurrection of my own body (complete with its current eighth-decade frailties? No, thanks.)

    I live (as, probably, do you) a pretty full — and non-frail — life in dreams. I expect that my own ‘resurrection’ is going to be something of the same nature, only a lot more real than waking life, rather than less so.

    Cheers and love,

    Martin Woodhouse

  • Glenn July 12, 2010, 5:50 pm

    Martin, while the saying in 1 Corinthians 15 may have aesthetic beauty, it was intended – and has always been understood – not as an attempt at art, other than the art of expressing what Christians actually do hope for in the real world.

    I think your comment is on the money though – indeed, if dualism is true, then why have a resurrection? More importantly, why pin all of our hope on our resurrection, as Paul does? Martin Luther shared your view, saying: “It would take a foolish soul to desire a body again when it was already in heaven!”

  • Joey July 12, 2010, 8:41 pm

    Martin,

    I have two questions:

    Firstly,
    If the resurrected bodies of the saved are not necessarily physical, according to Paul, what of Paul’s claim in verse 49, when discussing the kind of body that the saved will have, when he declares “just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven”?

    Even after Jesus was raised, he still was a physical man. He was immortal of course (Revelation 1:18). Still, when His disciples thought He was a ghost, he said, “look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have” (Luke 24:39). He even still had the scars from the cross (if nothing else then for show). He shows them to Thomas in John 20:25-27.
    If in this passage, Paul says the saved bear his likeness, and He had flesh and bones (though also being immortal and imperishable, as Paul also affirms the saved will be)…

    Now, a contrast is made between Him and Adam, but the contrast seems to be the contrast between what is perishable and imperishable (which is elaborated much more later on in the passage). After all, elsewhere, Jesus is said to be physical.

    Secondly,
    What exactly do you believe, as you say you are no longer a Christian?

  • Martin Woodhouse July 12, 2010, 9:30 pm

    Joey

    Hi. I believe that God exists, that ‘he’ created everything else that exists; that ‘he’ is maximally powerful (that is, can perform any act which is logically possible — not, to use a silly philosophical quibble, that he can create a rock so heavy that he cannot lift it); that he knows everything which can be known, and is maximmally good (which does, imply, yes, that despite appearances this is best of all possible worlds, since he would not have created it otherwise.)

    The ‘bits of Christianity’ which I don’t believe include Mary’s virginity, that Jesus was an incarnation of God, nor his reported bodily resurrection and ascension, nor a very great deal of the rest of the biblical accounts of one thing and another. These, I think, are just poetic stories made up by one person and another; as such, they are both understandable and valuable, but not historically accurate facts.

    [ For instance, I think it’s historically clear that there was at one time a massive flood in the region we now call the Middle East; and that this has been turned by ‘folk-memory’ into a legend including Noah and the Ark, etc . . . ]

    Christianity itself I regard as being the best and most powerful of all the (mistaken) religions.

    I am of course uncertain whether I’m right in all of this, but am untroubled. I believe very firmly indeed — though not of course as a scientific fact — that I shall continue to be a conscious person after I die. If I then come face to face with God — as I expect all of us will, sooner or (possibly a great deal) later, and if he then says to me, ‘Hello, Martin, I’m God and this person on my right is indeed my only-begotten son in whom I am well pleased, so you see you were wrong, Martin, weren’t you?’ I shall simply apologise;

    — whereupon I expect God to say it doesn’t matter, that I knew how I should behave having been instructed in it by Jesus of Nazareth (never mind what I believed about him) and so, let’s go over there to that person with the ledger whom we call the Recording Angel, and see how well you actually did, Martin, shall we?

    Cheers and love

    (the above is of course more poetic allegory, but represents what I believe to be the truth. . .)

    Martin

  • Jeremy November 21, 2010, 2:07 am

    @ Martin, assuming you are still alive and watching this blog…
    I have to ask, if you believe in God as you described Him [omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent], why the problem with incarnation [God coming to meet us] and miracles [God exercising His power for our benefit]?

  • kc January 11, 2011, 7:53 am

    Hi. I know this entry was written a while back, but I only just today stumbled upon it after having only recently found your blog. I hope you don’t mind me asking a question about the topic so long after you’ve posted it and moved on to other things. Also, please forgive me if this question has been previously addressed, as I haven’t had the time to read everything on your blog.

    I come from a very conservative, evangelical background(though as an adult, I no longer categorize myself as such). I don’t remember the idea of a bodily resurrection for all people (or perhaps just the saints?) being emphasized or even taught. The idea I had was that when we die, we either go to heaven or hell. Somewhere along the line (though the timing has always been unclear to me), maybe when Jesus comes back to earth, is Judgment Day, where Jesus will discuss with each one of us individually the details our our eternal fate.

    My question is this: how is a physical resurrection possible? My (admittedly limited) understanding of biology is that when we die, our bodies decay and eventually become part of the earth, or the ecosystem, or whatever, which is then used to create more life, so the material that makes up our bodies eventually become the material that makes up other, future bodies. How can everyone be physically resurrected if some of us literally share the exact same material?
    Thanks,
    kc

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