Monday, August 18, 2008

Mysteriously Important Bodies

There's something very important about having bodies that I don't fully comprehend, but a couple of items recently have given me reason to consider anew the importance of physical bodies in Mormon theology.

First, a quote from Joseph Smith.

So plain was the vision, that I actually saw men, before they had ascended from the tomb, as though they were getting up slowly. They took each other by the hand and said to each other, ‘My father, my son, my mother, my daughter, my brother, my sister.’ And when the voice calls for the dead to arise, suppose I am laid by the side of my father, what would be the first joy of my heart? To meet my father, my mother, my brother, my sister; and when they are by my side, I embrace them and they me.

The "first joy" is to "meet my father" and other relatives? We believe that the the spirit world has a similar social structure to this world. If that is the case, we will have just come from being with our righteous fathers and sons and mothers and daughters. Why then would the resurrection be a time of singular rejoicing? I can only imagine that the thrill of an embrace--a physical embrace--will be something we've been longing for since the separation of our bodies and spirits.

The second point of emphasis for bodies is the work we do in temples for the dead. Let's take baptism for the dead as our example. Baptism is a time to make a covenant. God has specified a particular ritual we must go through to enter into a covenant with Him. We must have an authorized priesthood holder immerse us in water.

I suppose that God could have easily chosen any other act to consummate this covenant. He might have insisted that we all speak a particular phrase, or that we wave our hands in the air, or that we lie on our backs very still for several minutes. For a number of good reasons, he chose the symbol-rich ordinance of baptism.

So now consider those people who didn't have an opportunity to be baptized in mortality. What is so special about the physical-body part of the ordinance that God requires it for all people, even if it must be done by proxy? For the life of me, I can't image why he couldn't have them perform some similar body-free ordinance in the spirit world. But they apparently need water baptism just as mortals do. I don't understand it, but it seems to be saying something very important about bodies.


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  • Good questions all around. I wish I had good answers.

    By Blogger Geoff J, at 8/19/2008 9:16 AM  

  • D&C 138:50 tells us that the dead looked upon the long absence of their spirits from their bodies as a bondage. So, yes, I guess resurrection will be a time of joy.

    For those who didn't have an opportunity to be baptized in mortality the physical-body part of the ordinance is necessary to force the living and the dead to work together; to turn the hearts of the children to the fathers and visa versa.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8/19/2008 11:34 AM  

  • So, Howard, you think baptism for the dead has less to do with physical bodies and more to do with needing a welding link. Interesting thought.

    It may only push the question further down the line on baptism for the dead. If we only need to bind the generations, isn't water baptism a labor intensive way to accomplish that? Couldn't we find a shorter ordinance that would accomplish the same thing?

    By Blogger Bradley Ross, at 8/19/2008 2:33 PM  

  • The time and labor intensity of doing work for the dead empowers the welding link.

    We can see the welding link in action from the side of the living. As we begin our genealogy the dead begin to come alive in our minds and we begin to see them as people. We visit the grave yards, read the epitaphs, listen to the family folklore and we imagine their lives. The more engaged we become, the greater our connection.

    Sure, many of them don’t care; some may even want us to stop. But, I often think about the grateful few who want us to complete their work. They can see the people next door watching TV or surfing the net as we drive to the Family History Center, log onto FamilySearch.org or drive to the Temple. They are dependant; they cannot do it for themselves. Our selfless effort must be obvious to them. Is it any wonder that their presence is often felt during these ordinances?

    What would quick and easy ordinances do to the participation of the dead?

    My guess is that having the same ordinance done for them offers meaningful closure and it says; they are us and we are them.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8/19/2008 6:51 PM  

  • Thanks for that post, Brad. I especially like the Joseph Smith quote. Howard makes some good points about welding links. It's often true that when we put effort into something, we appreciate it more, and I would agree that that is the case with temple work.

    As a related example, I've often been intrigued by the idea that many people are willing to say they accept Christ and follow Him, but when it comes to baptism--where the rubber hits the road--they are hesitant to do it. Or similarly, there are many couples who say they are committed to each other, but they are hesitant to get married. We mortals seem to be "wired" to acknowledge some inherent significance in physical actions. Physical actions seem more "real" to us.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8/21/2008 7:56 AM  

  • I'd add 2 Nephi 9:8 to the list of sources that demonstrate the importance of having a physical body. It says that "if the flesh should rise no more our spirits must become subject to that angel who fell from before the presence of the Eternal God." Personally, I don't fully understand the cause-effect relationship between no resurrection and becoming subject to Satan (why is it necessarily the case that our spirits can't live under God's influence unless they have bodies?), but apparently there is a connection, which reinforces the importance of having a physical body.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8/21/2008 7:57 AM  

  • I think baptism is the switch that activates the atonement in one's life. There is a quote in a YW lesson that talks about our physical bodies. It says that as we become more perfect, so do our physical bodies ( I am paraphrasing). Baptism makes us children of Christ (born again), not what welds the generations together.

    I believe it is the sealing ordinances that bind us together, or links the generations. I also believe that if we repent in this life through the atonement, that repentance can be retro active though past generations of ancestors with the same sin that has been passed from generation to generation. We hear how some sins have a 'genetic' component and I agree-it is the physical manifestation of a spiritual weakness that runs through generations and can be worked out only while in the flesh (thrusting off the natural man)-hence the idea that our ancestors would be lost without us being sealed together.

    By Blogger ShelleyG, at 8/23/2008 5:01 PM  

  • Also, I think if we truly understood how essential these links are, we would be more diligent in working to free our ancestors from the sins they are bound by as they no longer have those physical bodies to excercise the changing power of the atonement with.

    By Blogger ShelleyG, at 8/23/2008 5:04 PM  

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