Excerpts from this robust conversation between two BRILLIANT professors with divergent worldviews:
NT: Grief is the shadow side of love. When you love someone and they’re gone, you grieve. If you bottle that up, it will be bad for you in all sorts of ways.
But of course, the big difference is that within the Jewish hope, as expressed in some strands of Jewish belief in the 1st century, particularly the group called the Pharisees – they believe creation is the work of a good God, though it has gone radically wrong, this good God is going to sort it out. And He’s going to sort it out not by abolishing the space-time universe and physicality, but by recreating it. That was the Jewish hope, which focuses particularly on times of persecution when the people were being killed because they adhered to the Jewish faith. This was going on 2 centuries before Jesus’ time. When He sorted it out, He will raise those died in the struggle to new life as well. [8:14] … Then, it’s in that context that the early Church believed that after Jesus had been crucified, put to death violently, he was raised to a new kind of bodily life.
SK: That death is, what appears to be, the end…. I believe that people are just physical object. …lump of flesh and blood and bones and muscles
NT: For a start, the phrase “the afterlife” is systematically misleading. Because if you believe in resurrection like classical ancient Judaism (the rabbis, for instance), like some Muslims do, and like classical Christianity does, then it isn’t the afterlife that matters; what matters is the AFTER afterlife.
And since that’s going to be deeply puzzling to many people, let me explain it: that if you believe in resurrection, one of the classic ways which that is expressed is in terms of a 2-stage post-mortem process. The first stage is much harder to describe because after the dissolution of the body, believing that there is any kind of continuity is systematically difficult, and all generations have found that.
But if you believe that there is a Creator God who is going to remake the world, to make the whole cosmos over again out of the present one – not scrap this one and do a new one – then, what matters is that the new life within THAT world. So that you have the new creation with resurrection so that human beings would be within that new creation. A revalidation of the goodness of the created order, and the goodness of the material order.
NT: ...it is not a problem for God to bring bodies back together again, because, apart from anything else, as you know, the atoms and molecules which make up my body and your body are at constant process of flux; they change basically at every 7 years. I think it’s a little over 7 years since I was last here at Yale, and that means that I am physically not in any respect the same person that came last time. One way of putting this: we have continuity of form, but discontinuity of matter. Paul says in I Corinthians that God will give us a new body.
My way of seeing this is this: if God wants to use the existing stuff, whatever bones still left in my coffin whatever, that’s fine. God is perfectly capable of doing that; He’s the Creator; that’s not a problem.
Somebody asked the theologian Tertullian supposing a cannibal eats a Christian and then the cannibal converts, then in the resurrection, who’s going to get which bits? Tertullian basically says, don’t ask silly questions.
But interestingly, the theologian Origen around the same time (early 3rd century) gave the argument that I just gave, that our bodies are in a state of flux and God will give us new bodies with such continuity as is appropriate.