Wednesday, April 26, 2006

John Polkinghorne on our eschatological hope

...My understanding of our nature is not framed in the dualist terms of an incarnated soul. The Christian hope is, therefore, for me not the hope of survival after death, the persistence post mortem of a spiritual component which possesses, or has been granted, an intrinsic immortality. Rather, the Christian hope is of death and resurrection. My understanding of the soul is that it is the almost infinitely complex, dynamic, information-bearing pattern, carried at any instant by the matter of my animated body and continuously developing throughout all the constituent changes of my bodily make-up during the course of my earthly life. That psychosomatic unity is dissolved at death by the decay of my body, but I believe it is a perfectly coherent hope that the pattern that is me will be remembered by God and its instantiation will be recreated by him when he reconstitutes me in a new environment of his choosing. That will be his eschatological act of resurrection. Thus, death is a real end but not the final end, for only God himself is ultimate. Although there have, of course, been strands of he Christian tradition which have used the language of the survival of an immortal soul, I believe that the tradition which is truer, both to the New Testament insight and to modern understanding, is that which relies on the hope of a resurrection beyond death.

If this psychosomatic understanding is correct, then it is intrinsic to true humanity that we should be embodied. We are not apprentice angels, awaiting to be disencumbered of our fleshly habitation. Our hope is of the resurrection of the body. By that I do not mean the resuscitation of our present structure, the quaint medieval notion of the reassembling of bones and dust. In a very crude and inadequate analogy, the softward running on our present hardware will be transferred to the hardware of the world to come. And where will that eschatological hardware come from? Surely the 'matter' of the world to come must be the transformed matter of this world. God will no more abandon the universe than he will abandon us. Hence the importance to theology of the empty tomb, with its message that the Lord's risen and glorified body is the transmutation of his dead body. The resurrection of Jesus is the beginning within history of a process whose fulfillment lies beyond history, in which the destiny of humanity and the destiny of the universe are together to find their fulfillment in a liberation from decay and futility (cf. Rom. 8:180-5).

--John Polkinghorne, Science and Christian Belief, pp. 163-164


anOther Jeff said...

This quote ROCKS!

Pax Christi,

Steve Blakemore said...

Polkinghorne would better his insightful articulation if he attempted to harmonize this view with the clear statements in holy scripture from St. Paul that "to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord." One has to think, then, that some kind of intermediate state of existence can be expected upon the death of the body. Hence, the hope of resurrection is not simply that the Lord can remember the "pattern" that is me or you. We are not patterns we are persons, essentially embodied in our full personhood.

We can, therefore, affirm something like the following: upon death a real dying has occurred and the soul that made life possible is no longer animating a body. However, since no one is his or her soul simpliciter, a loss of full existence has occurred. One that God has not intended, but is visited upon us through the falleness of sin. My identity is, however, not kept in God's 'memory' for safe-keeping. Rather, since even in my present earthly existence (NOW) my identity is hidden in Christ through my union with him in the Holy Spirit by faith, when I die my identity is maintained because of my union with him. This can be so, because more completely than my psychosomatic union, my union with Christ is the fullness of my life. This allows us to begin (not to finish) our reflections on how to understand both St. Paul's comments and the continuity of existence that many of us feel is necessary to do justice to personal identity. Polkinghorne does not, in my view, do justice to either.

lexorandi2 said...

I agree, Steve. While I like what Polkinghorne has said in general, it seems that he is ambivalent on the question of the intermediate state. But in fairness to him, he was simply using a software analogy.

Mario said...

To listen to Polkinghorne is like to listen to powerful music and poetry... Yet there's this sensation of ambivalence... not because some theological misinterpretation... but because he cannot be totally sincere to science... the conundrum of the "missing body"... The theology of it is perfect! The science is garbage!

The science which is most important for a post-modern matured theology is not darwinian evolution but freudian psychology of the unconscious mind. Why the missing body if God is Spirit?

"So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day."(Mathew 28 15)

"Why this?" From a scientific obliged perspective, we must ask why this story surfaced as part of Jesus's resurrection. What
is the truth the unconscious mind wants to reveal?

No to say that Jesus's body had the same biological fate as any other human body seems to destroy any possibility of a genuine interface between science and theology.