From glory to glory

Photo by Alex Bramwell
Photo by Alex Bramwell

One of the first things many of us do every morning is to look at ourselves in the mirror.  Typically, we’re not thrilled with what we see.  We may grimace at the image or inspect the flaws.  We use “products” on ourselves to restore a semblance of order or youth to our face and hair (how many products do you have lined up on your bathroom countertop?).  And sometimes, no matter what we do, we’re not fully satisfied with the result; we leave the house feeling like half-finished works in progress.

I expect that none of this will be necessary after resurrection.

But haven’t you ever wondered what your resurrected self will look like?  Maybe you imagine yourself without the grey hair and wrinkles.  But what about that nose or chin you’ve always hated — you know, the one people say gives you “character”?

It bothers me to think that my automatic assumptions might default too easily to cultural norms of youthfulness and beauty, as if in the age to come everyone must necessarily look like they just stepped from the pages of a health or glamour magazine.  In our imaginations, we privilege some images at the cost of disdaining others.

It comes down, I think, to this: when all we know is this life, our imaginations aren’t up to the task of envisioning our future resurrection reality.

The apostle Paul himself didn’t give us all the details — indeed, he probably couldn’t.  But there was still much he wanted the Corinthians to understand:

All flesh isn’t alike.  Humans have one kind of flesh, animals have another kind of flesh, birds have another kind of flesh, and fish have another kind.  There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies.  The heavenly bodies have one kind of glory, and the earthly bodies have another kind of glory.  The sun has one kind of glory, the moon has another kind of glory, and the stars have another kind of glory (but one star is different from another star in its glory). (1 Cor 15:39-41, CEB)

The Corinthians were pooh-poohing the idea of resurrection, probably because their imaginations were too constrained by the inescapable earthiness of bodily existence, an earthiness they hoped to leave behind.

As we saw in an earlier post, Paul used the metaphor of a seed to point to how one kind of body can be transformed into another.  Here, similarly, he argues that there are different kinds of bodies.  His words echo the creation story in Genesis.  Though he doesn’t say it directly, the implication is that all these forms of physical existence have come from God the Creator, and are therefore good; each has its own kind of “glory.”  The word can suggest radiance, but Paul seems to be using “glory” in its more general sense: in the context of God’s creative will, each of these things is due its own kind of honor.

Earthly bodies have glory?  The very idea may have been repellent to the super-spiritual folk in Corinth.  But there’s a lesson there for us as well.  Whatever our thoughts may be of heaven, they should give due respect to the physical existence that God created as good.