The Hope of Resurrection: Personal and Political
Christians believe in the resurrection of the dead. As Paul said, "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" (1 Cor. 15:13-15).
Perhaps the oldest expression of Christian belief is found in the claim "God hath raised him from the dead" (Rom. 10:9), a phrase repeated throughout Paul's letters. Beginning particularly with the rise of modern thought and the development of modern science, many began to question whether that belief could be taken literally. Yet even among those who doubt that Jesus' resurrection was literal, few would call themselves Christians without asserting some form of belief in the resurrection.
A belief in personal resurrection usually goes with that affirmation. Paul certainly held the two beliefs together: "If we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection" (Rom. 6:5). As with Jesus' resurrection, few who call themselves Christians don't affirm a belief in some form of personal resurrection.
Though there are probably exceptions, it is safe to say that Mormons are among those who believe in Jesus' literal resurrection as well as in a literal personal resurrection: "The death of Christ shall loose the bands of this temporal death, that all shall be raised from this temporal death. The spirit and the body shall be reunited together in its perfect form; both limb and joint shall be restored to its proper frame" (Alma 11:42-43).
I have faith in Jesus' literal resurrection and that there is literal personal resurrection. But the importance of resurrection is less in its literal character than in the meaning that infuses what we say when we repeat the ancient formula that he has been resurrected and add to it that we will be. As in the rest of divine history, the events we speak of are as important for what they say about God and his order as they are in themselves.
Of course the most obvious meaning of resurrection is that it is the ultimate triumph over death. But that triumph must be seen in relation to the Christian explanation of death, the Fall. We die because we live in a fallen world. So resurrection signals not just the triumph over death, but God's recreation of the world and its redemption from the fall. As the LDS Articles of Faith say, with the resurrection "the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory," a glory that will be social as well as natural.
Joseph Smith was very much a literalist with regards to the resurrection. But for him it was not just to be a resurrection of individuals. It would be the resurrection of the natural and the social worlds, and he was particularly keen on the latter. To use his words, "that same sociality which exists amongst us here will exist among us there" (Words of Joseph Smith, 169).
Mormonism assumes that if the commandments to love God and to love our neighbor are similar, if not in fact the same (Mt. 22:37-40), then resurrection into the presence of God is also resurrection into the presence of those whom we love and those whom we have been taught to love.
James Faulconer is a Richard L. Evans Professor of Religious Understanding at Brigham Young University, where he has taught philosophy since 1975.