If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.—1 Corinthians 15:19
So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.—1 Corinthians 15:42-44
This past week in a morning quiet time I read 1 Corinthians chapter 15. It is a long chapter, mostly about resurrection and the life we will live after this one. I have read it before, but this time two things stood out to me: 1) it is right and good to look forward to eternity, and 2) in eternity we will have bodies. If you put those two things together, I think I’m being biblical in saying that it is right and good to look forward to the new bodies will have in eternity.
In some circles in the Church, it’s popular right now to downplay the eternal aspect of our faith, and to emphasize the here and now. Christians need to be more concerned with making this world a better place, people say. Our focus should be on loving the people around us. If you’re too heavenly-minded you’ll be no earthly good. Except for that last statement, I would agree with them. We should definitely put our energy into loving people well and bringing the light of Christ into our world. But I would argue that the Apostle Paul was pretty heavenly-minded, and did a fair amount of earthly good. And he said that if there is no eternal life, we are wasting our time following Jesus. People should feel sorry for us, because we would be better off living for earthly pleasures than making sacrifices to serve and glorify Christ. The Bible is not ashamed to say that eternal life is the payoff, the thing that makes it all worthwhile.
That being the case, I plan to keep on making the sacrifices, offering my life to Jesus to bring Him glory on this earth, and at the same time looking forward to eternal life in a new body. Elsewhere in 1 Corinthians 15 Paul says that the body we have now is like a seed, and the body we will have then is like the plant that grows from that seed. In 2 Corinthians 4, he says this body is like a tent, and that one will be like a real house. The bodies that you and I have had our whole lives are a shadow, a warm-up, something far less than the real thing that is coming.
This is such good news. Earlier this week I went to the weekly prayer meeting here at Community Church, and like most prayer meetings at churches all over the world, many of the prayer requests were for physical problems. People asking God for healing as cancer spreads through their body. People asking for protection as they anticipate a surgery. This person is having a joint replaced, that person has pneumonia, someone else has lived with pain for years. Sometimes God graciously answers these prayers with a “yes”; surgeries go well, tumors miraculously disappear. Sometimes fallen nature takes its course, and the body gets worse, not better.
Our bodies matter. This life is unavoidably physical. God designed it that way. He put spirit inside of flesh and called it good. The problem is, because of sin in this world and in our flesh, these current bodies don’t work so well. They get sick and injured, they break down. Sooner or later, they fail us. But in the meantime, they work well enough to give us a taste of the good life God intended for us, and still intends for us.
Some of us love to be active, to move and play. When the snow falls, we want to be outside in it, sledding and skiing and building snowmen. Others prefer the more relaxed physical experience of cozying up under a blanket with a cup of hot chocolate. When spring comes, some people love to be out in their garden, smelling the fresh earth and getting their hands dirty. Some ride horses, some use their hands to create beauty or to build things or to fix what is broken. We wrestle and snuggle with our kids. In one way or another, most of us have something about this life we especially enjoy that involves this body God made as a temporary home for our souls. We run and taste and feel and play, and we know this is a part of what we were made for.
I know a missionary who has devoted his life to training pastors in Africa. He and his wife live sacrificially for the glory of Jesus, investing their lives in health of the church and the spread of the Gospel. He also happens to be the son of missionaries, so he has lived most of his life in Africa, making regular visits to the United States, never really knowing where his home is, and not worrying about it too much. What matters is pouring out his life for Christ.
But he also has a rather unusual hobby. Somewhere along the way, he developed a passion for flying without an airplane. He loves to go paragliding, which involves jumping off of a cliff near the town where he lives and soaring over the African countryside attached to a special kind of parachute. He does this any time he gets a day off, when the conditions are right. Every time he visits the US, in between speaking at churches, he is sure to go skydiving at least once. This man loves Jesus deeply, and he also loves jumping out of planes. There is something about flying through the air, high above the earth, the wind rushing past, that makes him feel alive, and that he believes is an important part of the life God created him to live. I agree. Some would say he is foolish, and that He is wasting his time. I would say he is tasting heaven.
Someday, of course, he will no longer be able to jump out of planes. Someday his name will be on someone’s prayer list, asking God for healing, and someday the answer will be no. He will leave his tent behind; the seed will be planted. But I do not think he will be done flying. Who knows whether in his new body he will even need a parachute? I think in eternity we will fly, and run, and swim, and climb, and dance. I think we will build and paint, work and play. And I think it is okay to dream about these things, even as we labor for Jesus in the here and now. That life will not be less than this one; it will be more. This life is the shadow. And it just may be that the more we believe that, the more we will be a blessing to those around us in the here and now.