21 November 2006

of respiratory viruses and resurrection

Our trip to Washington, DC last Saturday went well, complete with a visit to see the pandas along the Asian Trail at the National Zoo, some time hanging with the dinosaurs at the Museum of Natural History, a brief time spent viewing ancient biblical manuscripts in the Sackler Gallery, and meeting up with some friends to chat.

Unfortunately, the marathon day in Washington took its toll and the colds that Laurel and I had been trying to recover from this past week have resurged, more so for Laurel who spent the better part of Monday in bed. Claire, however, seems none the worse for wear and really enjoyed spending time with me in the midst of a busy semester where she's seen less of me than usual.

With all the sickness that's been going around, both within our family and among friends and my students, perhaps our mortality has been on Claire's 4 year old mind. In the car recently, as we drove to work, she fell into one of her quiet, pensive moods. As Laurel and I discussed some mundane plans for later in the day, Claire broke her silence.

"Daddy?" she pipes up from the backseat.

"Yes, sweetheart?"

"Can I ask you something?"

"Sure thing." I look back at her furrowed brow through the rearview mirror.

"Daddy...at the resurrection - you know, after we die and God makes our bodies alive again...?" She pauses, looking at me to see if I'm following her question.

"Yes, at the resurrection...?" I prompt.

"At the resurrection, how old will our bodies be?" Laurel and I look at one another, thrown off a bit by the query.

"That's a very good question, sweetie," Laurel comments and looks at me to handle this one.

"Well, that's a question a lot of people have wondered about. And I'm not sure we know the exact answer." I glance back to see if I still have Claire's attention. "Some people think our bodies will be like Jesus' body after he was raised and he was around 33 years old."

"You're older than that now aren't you, Daddy?" Claire asks, reminding me of my age.

"Yes I am, a few years older." I try to collect my thoughts, how to explain where my own thinking goes on this question. "At the resurrection, Claire, I think we can say that our bodies will finally be everything that God meant them to be. Our humanity will be fulfilled..." I trail off.

Laurel jumps in, "We won't be able to get sick or grow old or die any more."

I finish, "So in one sense we will finally be all grown up, but at the same time we'll never grow old."

Claire looks from Laurel to me and back again, seemingly satisfied. Then she opens her mouth to ask something more, stops herself, and then asks, "What does human skin taste like?"

Okay, I wasn't expecting that as a follow-up. "Well, I..I..I don't really know, sweetheart...Probably like chicken," I joke. "Why do you ask?"

Claire looks at me as if I've asked her to explain the obvious. "What will happen to someone at the resurrection if a lion ate them?"

Ah, that's the missing connection: resurrection bodies, being devoured by wild beasts, and what people taste like. I knew there was some kind of logic there.

"Hmmm." I glance over at Laurel who raises her eyebrows in an expression that says, "Don't look at me; you're the philosopher." Claire is waiting for an answer in the backseat. "Again, sweetheart, I don't know for sure, but a God who make the world out of nothing can certainly restore bodies even to people who've been eaten."

"Do lions eat the bones?"

"No, they don't," Laurel states matter-of-factly. "They don't even eat all the flesh off of the bones. Scavengers clean the bones."

Claire perks up at that thought. "You mean like hyenas and vultures?!?" she asks excitedly.

"Yes, like hyenas and vultures," Laurel affirms.

After another silent couple of blocks, Claire concludes, "Maybe God will make new bodies out of the bones." Maybe he will.

I'm not confident about what the eschaton will precisely look like or how all the details will work out - though I'm confident that even if some of my imaginings are, in some sense "wrong," my every expectation will nonetheless be fulfilled (see James F. Ross's "Eschatological Pragmatism" [pdf] for a philosophical exploration of how such truth claims function).

A few weeks ago I gave my "Human Person" classes the standard quiz that covers, among other topics, Pauline anthropology and eschatology. Despite my best efforts - including powerpoint charts of salvation history - in my one section of 20 students, only one of them successfully identified "resurrection of our bodies" as where human existence is headed. At least none chose "annihilation."

In that light, I'm very encouraged to see Claire grasping and wrestling with the conceptual riches posed by Christian doctrine. I hope this sense of wonder and critical reflection only grows and matures even as she does, especially given our cultural context (sometimes even within the Christian community itself) that seems not to value such reflection.

And as I sit here coughing and sniffling, feeling groggy even after 10 hours sleep, I nonetheless, through the resurrection of Jesus, am able to rejoice in the hope of a body that will be everything that God has always meant me to be.