Toes, Fingers, and All that Stuff: Resurrection

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.

To be a Christian is to imitate Jesus' life and his death. It is to be the willing victim of unjust suffering in order to bring an end to suffering. It is to refuse to accuse in order to bring an end to accusation. It is to respond to violence with peace. To live a life like that of Christ is to "bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you" (Mt. 5:44).

The response to suffering that is required of Christians is bound up with the Christian understanding of the body. Embodiment brings great joy. But it also brings suffering, and the Christian response to suffering is two-fold. It is to work to ameliorate physical suffering in the world, physical suffering of all kinds, including that we call "mental." And, perhaps even more important, it is to refuse accusation, vengeance, hatred, and war.

One message of Easter is that neither God's life as an embodied being nor our own lives as embodied beings like him comes to an end. In other words, we never cease to be affected, whether by the world around us or the people with whom we come into relationship. Our lives in relationship with one another and with the world do not end.

Often the fact that we can be affected is the source of pleasure, joy, and happiness. Purely mental or spiritual existence would be impoverished. But when what happens to some is not a matter of pleasure, joy, and happiness, Christians are expected "to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that [are] bound" (D&C 138:42). For Mormons the value of the body and the expectation that Christians will work to alleviate suffering are equally inseparable from the belief in a literal resurrection, with toes, fingers, and all that stuff.

4/4/2012 4:00:00 AM