Unification News for August - September 1999
Human History and Man's Transformation from Death to Life.
Volume 5 . Part 1.
i thank you God for most this amazing day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything which is natural which is infinite which is yes (i who have died am alive again today and this is the sun's birthday.) e.e cummings.
It may be said that the story of religion is the story of life and death. Certainly the joyful and triumphant verse above reflects this theme for the twentieth century, and other literature reflects it for all time. The Bible records that in the beginnings of human life of our first ancestors were told that they should not eat of the forbidden fruit for "in the day you eat of it you shall die." While through their wayward act, we may assume, some kind of death made its grim appearance, in the saving work of God death is overcome and life is won. Within the Christian faith, this is most clearly portrayed in the Gospel of John, where Jesus is characterized as the harbinger of life. Releasing humanity from the deathly Genesis curse, Jesus proclaims:
I came that they may have life, and have abundantly (Jn 10:10).
Webster's tells us that the passing from death to life is resurrection. From having "died" to being "alive again today" then, such a person as e.e cummings has in some way been resurrected.
The process of resurrection has many facets, and in this section of the Divine Principle we will examine them. We will enter the controversy over the physical versus the spiritual interpretation of resurrection. up-dating some antiquated thoughts on the matter. We will examine humanity's ascendance toward true life as both a historical process affecting all people and as a particularly real hope for individuals today. Finally, we will look at some issues related to resurrection, such as reincarnation and religious unification and offer some unusual suggestions as to how resurrection may affect us, even after death.
Inner Death, Inner Life
Traditionally we are told that three days after his crucifixion Jesus rose and conquered death. Through his victory all those who follow him can themselves inherit eternal life.
Accordingly, the traditional teaching of the Christian Church -- and the firm belief within fundamentalist circles today -- is that all those believers who have previously passed away will, with the return of the Lord, be redeemed from the dead.
Early in his ministry, for example, Paul settled a burning issue of order among the eager Christians by declaring who it was that would be the first to meet Jesus. According to Paul, with the Second Coming of Jesus "the dead in Christ will rise first." (1 Thess. 4:16). Perhaps taking its cue from such affirmations as these, the Nicene Creed, recited even today in most Catholic masses and many Protestant services embodies a belief in the resurrection of the flesh.
A Spiritual Understanding
If we think of the process of resurrection as actually being physical however, we are involved in immediate problems. Are we to believe, for example, that with the advent of Christ, long-buried and decomposed bodies are to be reconstructed? Such notions do little to enhance the credibility of religious faith.
Modern scholars, somewhat embarrassed by such a materialistic connection of eternal life, have thus tried either to substitute for it the Greek view of the immortality of the soul or explain that the doctrine of the bodily resurrection is a symbolic way of insisting that God cares for the total human personality.
Divine Principle's view of resurrection reflects a spiritual understanding of the meaning of life and death. Luke tells us the story of a young disciple who comes to Jesus to pledge his active loyalty but who requests to first return home to attend his father's funeral. Jesus' reply is apparently paradoxical:
Leave the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you go and proclaim the kingdom of God (Lk 9:60).
In these words of Jesus we find two different concepts of death. The person to be buried is physically dead while those who are doing the burying are, at least in Jesus' view, dead in a spiritual sense.
The concept of spiritual death is ancient within the Hebrew tradition. Ezekiel, for example, compared the return of the exiles from Babylon to a resurrection from the dead (Ezek 37: 1-14). The Psalmist writes not infrequently of such things as being "brought up" from Sheol and "restored to life" (Ps. 30:3) and of the hope that having been in the "depths of the earth" the Lord will "revive" him again (Ps 71:20).
Reflecting a parallel idea, the New Testament author of the book of Revelation writes scornfully to the Church at Sardis:
"I know your works; you have the name of being alive, and you are dead" (Rev. 3:1).
Also in support of this view of inward resurrection, the Gospel of John reports Jesus teaching his disciples that
"He who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live" (Jn 11:25).
Here we are told that whoever is connected to God's dominion through Christ is alive, regardless of whether his physical body is functional or not. In John's view, life is essentially a spiritual quality, not a physical state, and one acquires it through his relationship with Jesus.
For all these Biblical writers death also is a spiritual state, a state of the heart. It is characterized by feelings of despair, lack of love and separation from God, the Source of life. By contrast, one who possesses spiritual life is empowered by his relationship with God to feel hope and express love. He is a person who is reconciled with God and with himself and who can share the life he has found with others in need. In the words of Paul Tilich, he is a new being.
"Resurrection...is the power of the New Being to create life out of death, here and now, today and tomorrow... Out of disintegration and death something is born of eternal significance?"
Belief In Physical Resurrection
Against the spiritual interpretation of resurrection is the remarkable phenomenon reported on the twenty-seventh chapter of Matthew. Here we read of events occurring immediately following Jesus' death on the cross. Among other dramatic happenings, we are told
"The tombs also were opened and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after (Jesus) resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many" (Mt. 27:52).
Certainly if such an event actually transpired it would led strong support to a belief in physical resurrection. However, if all this had actually taken place, what happened to the risen saints? Should we not read of their subsequent exploits, perhaps in such places as the Book of Acts or the Letters of Paul? Should they not have been able to dissuade their fellow Jews from persecuting God's new work? It is perhaps because of such obvious problems with the story that so few people today take Matthew's account literally.
Divine Principle assumes that since resurrection does not involve bringing corpses back to life, there were in fact no physical bodies that arose from the grave at the time of the crucifixion. Rather, the spirit selves of the deceased saints were seen at that time, such as Moses and Elijah were seen with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. It must be recalled here that in addition to a physical body, each person possesses a corresponding spiritual form that he continues to inhabit eternally. For this reason, Moses and Elijah were recognizably themselves when they appeared with Jesus centuries after their deaths.
The Day You Eat Of It
A further assertion made by many faithful is that had our first progenitors not separated themselves from God none of us would have ever known physical death. In support of such a tenet, these believers cite Genesis 2:17, where the author quotes God as forbidding Adam and Eve to eat of the Fruit of the tree of knowledge for, as the Lord says, "in the day you eat of it you shall die." If they had been obedient, the argument runs, they and all their descendants would have lived eternally.
Divine Principle teaches that such an interpretation is incorrect. It was never God's intention that man would live eternally on earth. Our physical bodies are destined inevitably to age, to die and return to the soil. Indeed, Divine Principle points out that if God had intended us to live eternally in our physical bodies He would have had no reason to create the spiritual world for our spirit selves to go to. Rather than being the product of some retrospective thinking on the part of God. the spiritual world was created from the beginning to receive our spiritual selves/ The death that Adam and Eve inherited as a result of the Fall was thus not physical in nature, but, again, spiritual.
In addition, of course, we see from the account in Genesis that despite the promise of death, even after Adam and Eve ate the fruit they continued to be active and alive; they sustained themselves and gave birth to children. Indeed, Genesis tells us they lived over nine hundred years (Gen 5:5). Clearly their death "in that day", was something other than physical.
In the New Testament writings of John, we read that "He who does no love abides in death.' (1 Jn 3:14). Such was the fate of Adam and Eve, Separated from God's love, they knew no love. Thus they encountered death.
Next month Part 2
Resurrection by the word
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