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Saturday, June 19, 2010

Resurrection: Re-assembling the body. John Wesley's thoughts

From John Wesley's sermon 137, "On the Resurrection of the Dead." (1872, Public Domain):

God can distinguish and keep unmixed from all other bodies the particular dust into which our several bodies are dissolved, and can gather it together and join it again, how far soever dispersed asunder. God is infinite both in knowledge and power. He knoweth the number of the stars, and calleth them all by their names; he can tell the number of the sands on the sea-shore: And is it at all incredible, that He should distinctly know the several particles of dust into which the bodies of men are mouldered, and plainly discern to whom they belong, and the various changes they have undergone? Why should it be thought strange, that He, who at the first formed us, whose eyes saw our substance yet being imperfect, from whom we were not hid when we were made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth, should know every part of our bodies, and every particle of dust whereof we were composed? The artist knows every part of the watch which he frames; and if it should fall in pieces, and the various parts of it lie in the greatest disorder and confusion, yet he can soon gather them together, and as easily distinguish one from another, as if every one had its particular mark. He knows the use of each, and can readily give it its proper place, and put them all exactly in the same figure and order they were before. And can we think that the Almighty Builder of the world, whose workmanship we are, does not know whereof we are made, or is not acquainted with the several parts of which this earthly tabernacle is composed? All these lay in one vast heap at the creation, till he separated them one from another, and framed them into those distinct bodies whereof this beautiful world consists. And why may not the same Power collect the ruins of our corrupted bodies, and restore them to their former condition?

Wesley didn't know much, or anything, about atoms, those almost indestructible particles that molecules are made of, that can, in some cases, be part of the air one moment, and part of a plant the next, then eaten by a human. Atoms that I am continually giving off as I breathe, sweat, and excrete. He didn't know that some of the Carbon atoms in my body may have also found, for a while, in Moses, or in Jezebel, or in the bodies of countless other people from all parts of the earth, and from all of human history, or prehistory.

But the usual indivisibility of atoms, and their almost infinite ability to substitute for other like atoms, don't negate Wesley's argument. But perhaps it could use some modernization.

One thing Wesley didn't seem to consider is that our bodies are changing. I now have cells, and atoms, that I didn't have 30 years ago, and many of the cells and atoms I had then are gone. I've been a moving target for re-assembly all my life. So have you. God must have some way of determining what sort of body I will have when resurrected. Will I be a mature person? A teenager? Something intermediate, or transcending all human stages? I don't know. But, whatever it is, as Wesley said, an omnipotent and omniscient God should have no trouble in figuring out how to resurrect me.

Then there's the matter of the migration of atoms from one person to another. One way of updating Wesley's assertion about "particular dust" is to point out that, as far as we know, all Carbon 12 atoms are alike. Exactly and precisely alike. They are made of the same particles, be those neutrons, quarks, or something else. So, if my resurrection body contains Carbon 12, God doesn't necessarily have to bother with keeping track of which particular Carbon 12 atoms were in my body at some particular time. He just has to use the same number of Carbon atoms in the same way, since they are all identical.

Another way of updating Wesley's assertion is to say that, for all we know, God does differentiate between particular atoms of Carbon 12 (and, of course, other atoms, as well) even though we can't. If that's the case, and one of my Nitrogen 14 atoms was also part of, say, Dorcas, an omnipotent and omniscient God should have no trouble in making a new one, and in giving both of us an identical Nitrogen 14 atom.

Aren't you glad that how we are resurrected is up to God? Please, God, may I experience that.

Thanks for reading.

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