Affirming stuff, part one...

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Christian faith has always unapologetically been affirming of “stuff” - physical stuff. So affirming of stuff, in fact, that the entire world is scandalized by it. Some might say that one problem with our godless generation is its denigration of stuff; like a child in formation within his mother’s womb. The reason such a child may be incautiously discarded (killed) is that it is said to be nothing more than a mess of tissue - you know, it’s “just” stuff.

The word 'gnostic' is so abused of late that it can refer to nearly anything—so nebulous, it defies concreteness. This is a sad irony. But the fact remains, Christians have always scandalized the world by our unapologetic affirmation of stuff—insofar as our spirituality is divorced from stuff, some form of dualistic juju is wreaking havoc on our very humanity. It is a violent form of dualism which rages against our identity—an identity created by God which is identifiable through our bodies... 

Instead of using the more nebulous term "gnostic", I prefer Manichean. When the body is considered a concealment rather than a communicative medium created by God, embodiment is considered tragically. It is a heretical notion of fallenness rooted in createdness rather than revolt [1].

Our fathers were accused of cannibalism due to their obedience in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Scandal used to ensue at the preaching of the resurrection of the body. I’m convinced that today, if we are faithful, we could create a scandal which pleases the Lord by declaring Christ’s continuing incarnation—His ascension to the throne in heaven where His rule is over all stuff. Not in the future. Now. Perhaps then we would experience what other witnesses (martyrs) have.

To speak of His continuing incarnation and reign, we would combat the heresy of a disembodied “aphysical realm” of bliss where we are “freed” from our bodies. Our preaching on heaven has lapsed into a purely future-oriented destination we arrive at upon death, but this is not even half the story. Heaven is not merely a contrast to hell. If it we think and preach this way, we are functionally violent dualists who can in no way prepare men for heaven.

But in our preaching, shouldn’t we start with hell? After all, there is no fear of damnation any longer. 

No. We should start with heaven. Heaven is dreadful, and the revelation of heaven when Jesus returns on the clouds will be most dreadful for unbelievers. Heaven declares the sovereign Kingship of the God-Man. Jesus.

But why speak of heaven if you want to emphasize the importance of stuff? If you’re wondering, then that’s exactly why we must start with heaven. It would seem to presume that hell is more tangible than heaven.

Heaven is no airy place in the sky. It is concrete. In fact, when it came to plans for Moses to build the tabernacle, he was given blueprints based on the heavenly archetype. Earth is to become patterned after heaven, so it must be that Heaven is truly concrete (Jesus instructs us, after all, to pray in this way (Matthew 6:10)). In fact, if earth is to be shaped after heaven, it is arguable that earth is less concrete and is not fully mature.

If we fail to see the continuity of our embodied fallen existence and the continuing incarnation of Jesus; we fail to prepare embodied men for a gloriously concrete heaven. So when Scripture speaks of heaven being unseen, it doesn’t mean it is immaterial [2].

Heaven is not an escape hatch where we kiss the material world goodbye and enter a neutered spiritual ecstasy. In fact, it doesn’t even appear that heaven is necessarily pure bliss this side of the eschaton:

Revelation 6:9-11
9 When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; 10 and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11 And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also.

But really, is heaven concrete? Sure. We’re told as much:

Hebrews 12:25-27
25 See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven. 26 And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven.” 27 This expression, “Yet once more,” denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.

Revelation 21:3-4
1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them,4 and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”

Heaven is veiled to us, but only for now. Heaven is not a place we go to transcend physicality. It is a place of meeting where the incarnated Christ is seated. The state of the earth and the state of heaven are transitional; it is only when what remains of them are united that all things are consummated.

We can say, with Paul, that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord; but this should be motivated by faith expressed Paul, to the point of death. We shouldn’t seek an escape hatch from our bodies. We are to use them for godliness. We are to present them to God as instruments He uses. We are to offer them up as offerings to Him. If God accepts them as an aromatic offering, it must be that they are good. Our bodies have not fallen more than our souls.

Whatever we do with our bodies is spiritual in nature—we must remove the notion of a violent duality between man’s spirit and his body. Such a violent dualism has the lamentable consequence of many experiencing an excruciating alienation toward their bodies. Since this is rarely addressed head on, the infection becomes gangrenous because identity is divorced from embodiment. Because men refuse to be identified by their bodies, if they retain any notion of heaven, it is devoid of a Man ruling over all the stuff. A heaven devoid of such materiality is an emasculated one, which is the goal of LBGTQ-Z and egalitarianism. An emasculated eternal ideal cannot be reconciled with everlasting hell fire—so we must begin with heaven, otherwise the terrors of hell will burn down to a gentle warmth, until finally, they cease altogether. Hell cannot withstand an emasculated heaven.


[1] James K. A. Smith has written some very helpful books developing the idea that much of modernist thought (which has latencies within the church) elevate mind above body such that to be embodied is, by definition, to be fallen. Smith offers some incredibly helpful critiques at times and provides a springboard for real development. I cannot recommend his books without qualification, but the discerning reader is encouraged to explore The Fall of Interpretation.

[2] For a fantastically helpful discussion of embodiment, incarnation, ascension, and heaven; I can't recommend The Ascension: Humanity in the Presence of God highly enough.

Craig French is a former deacon and member at Christ the Word (PCA) in Toledo, OH. He and his wife Tai have four daughters.