Toes, Fingers, and All that Stuff: Resurrection
Of course, Mormons aren't the only Christians to believe in the literal resurrection of the body. We share that belief with many. But the belief is particularly important to Mormons because of our belief that not only is Jesus embodied, but so is the Father (D&C 139:22). Being perfect or complete in the same way as the Father (Mt. 5:48) includes being perfected and completed in body.
The belief in resurrection, however, is important not only because of what it says about life after death. For many of us, questions about what happens after we die are of secondary or tertiary importance compared to other matters. Instead, belief in literal resurrection is important because of its implications for our lives here.
Perhaps the first implication is that suffering is unavoidable. According to the Book of Mormon, Christ had to suffer:
And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities. (Alma 7:11-12; my emphasis)
To be embodied is necessarily to suffer in the root sense of that term, to be affected. Not even the Messiah, God himself, can avoid suffering.
Some suffering is physical, and Jesus' spent much of his ministry responding to physical suffering. To be embodied is to be a possible victim of physical pain. Jesus learned that by experience so that he could come to our aid in our pain. As those who also learn about suffering by experience, we are obligated to succor others who now find themselves in pain.
Their pain may be homelessness or joblessness. It may be the pain of mental illness in all of its varieties. It may be the result of natural disaster or war. It may be the result of genetic inheritance. It may even be the result of our unwise decisions, the pain of alcoholism and drug addiction. As the so-called parable of the prodigal son shows (Lk. 15:11-32), the cause of others' pain is irrelevant to our obligation to come to their aid in love.
Perhaps the most painful suffering comes from other persons rather than from the physical world. Living with other persons, it is impossible that we will not be affected by them. Whatever might eventually be able to be done about the suffering caused by disease and natural disaster, we will never be able to avoid suffering in our relations with others (except by giving up those relations, in other words by ceasing to be human).
According to Mormon scripture, God himself weeps over his children (Moses 7:28). We cannot avoid weeping for them too. But God's response to the suffering caused by human beings was not to condemn us, but to have his Son die for us. In turn, rather than responding with vengeance to the humiliation and pain at the hands of those who rejected him, Jesus forgives and offers himself (Mosiah 14:5). We can do no less.
James Faulconer is a Richard L. Evans Professor of Religious Understanding at Brigham Young University, where he has taught philosophy since 1975.