Tuesday, January 24, 2012

C. S. Lewis on the Resurrection of the Body

Last summer I wrote a post on the often neglected but absolutely central Christian belief in the resurrection--not only the Easter Resurrection of Jesus, but the coming general resurrection of all of God's people (see, for instance, Is 26:19; Dan 12:1-3; 1 Cor 15:20-22; Heb 6:1-2; 11:35).

Recently, while reading through the gospel of John in The C. S. Lewis Bible, I was reminded of an important and powerful reflection of Lewis's on the resurrection, from his book Miracles:

The Resurrection was not regarded simply or chiefly as evidence for the immortality of the soul. It is, of course, often so regarded today: I have heard a man maintain that "the importance of the Resurrection is that it proves survival." Such a view cannot at any point be reconciled with the language of the New Testament. On such a view Christ would simply have done what all men do when they die: the only novelty would have been that in His case we were allowed to see it happening. But there is not in Scripture the faintest suggestion that the Resurrection was new evidence for something that had in fact been always happening. The New Testament writers speak as if Christ's achievement in rising from the dead was the first event of its kind in the whole history of the universe. He is the "first fruits," the "pioneer of life." He has forced open a door that has been locked since the death of the first man. He has met, fought, and beaten the King of Death. Everything is different because He has done so. This is the beginning of the New Creation: a new chapter in cosmic history has opened.

Here the citation in the CSL Bible ends; in the book, Lewis goes on: "What the apostles thought they had seen was... the first movement of a great wheel beginning to turn in the direction opposite to that which all men hitherto had observed." The Resurrection of Jesus is the beginning of the great work of reversal that is God's new creation: streams break forth in the desert, the hungry are filled with good things, the wolf and the lamb graze together, and the earth gives birth to the dead. Everything is different now.
This biblical picture of hope is not the gospel of souls floating up to heaven to be with God, but of God making things right in the creation that has been invaded by the powers of sin and death. This is a gospel about healing the world--including our human bodies--not abandoning it.

To me, this is a much richer and more compelling picture of God's saving work than you get with this idea of a disembodied eternity with God in heaven. Of course it also has the added advantage of being the biblical and traditional Christian vision of God's plans for his people and his world.

6 comments:

Daniel McLain Hixon said...

Nice quote! 500 points for Magdalene college!

ah, but according to my Eyewitness introduction to Philosophy, Lewis is supposed to be a classic example of the neo-Platonic philosophy! Oh well.

Nance said...

Now that you mention it, that's what N. T. Wright suggested as well, in his "Simply Lewis" lecture. Since Wright is always correct, we must be just completely misinterpreting this passage. Oh well.

Charity said...

Are you both joking...(I hope). To me Lewis sounds biblical.
Isn't an eventual Restoration or "Re-Creation" where "it's at," or do I misread the Bible?

Nance said...

I think you are right on, Charity. (And yes, we were both joking.) Usually I'm in agreement with N. T. Wright--who is one of the most reliable voices on this very topic today!--but I think he was misrepresenting Lewis: Lewis has really nailed the biblical vision of the hope for the world here.

Anonymous said...

C.S. Lewis seems to believe that time and eternity are not the same. This can be seen when he talks about God and millions of prayers from us all at the same time. In the Last Battle, it seems that we are raised to eternal life at the moment of death. Time and eternity are not the same. At the Second Advent, those who are still in time will experience eternity coming into existence. Christ and those with him in eternity will be revealed to us (Colossians 3:1-4). One does not need to raise that which has already been risen. It needs only to be revealed. My parents are already in the new earth, i.e., in eternity and heaven. They are not ghosts; on the contrary, they live, for God is not a God of the dead but of the living, for to Him all live. C.E. Miller, BA, MA

Anonymous said...

Dear Rev.,

How do you feel about what I stated above? I would like to read your opinion in reference to what I said.

Merry Christmas,

Charles Miller