Question: I have read one theory about the resurrection that we will come back as our best possible selves, say, 30 years old and healthy. What form of ourselves do you think we will come back as? Will I have my tattoos?
Answer: The paradigm for our resurrection bodies is the risen body of Jesus. His risen body was “glorified.” He was able to appear in the upper room with the disciples through locked doors. But he was not a ghost. He ate and drank with his disciples on several occasions after his resurrection. He didn’t have tattoos, but he still had the marks of the nails and the spear from his crucifixion. He even invited so-called “doubting” Thomas to put his fingers in the open wounds.
Those wounds were crucial to Jesus’s post-resurrection identity because apparently the disciples didn’t always immediately recognize him. One can excuse Mary Magdalene, deep in her grief, for thinking that Jesus was the gardener and wanting to know where the body of Jesus had been taken. She did not recognize him until he addressed her in a familiar tone of voice. But the two disciples on the road to Emmaus talked with Jesus all afternoon as they walked with him and interpreted the Scriptures to them and he was only recognized “in the breaking of bread” when they sat down to eat. Of course, Luke’s theological point may have been that Jesus would continue to be present to his disciples, his church, in the Eucharist.
We need to ask: what is important about our identity to others that will establish our continuity between these mortal bodies and our resurrection bodies?
We need to ask: what is important about our identity to others that will establish our continuity between these mortal bodies and our resurrection bodies? Is it our tattoos? I can’t disqualify that since Jesus’ physical wounds established his continuity for his disciples. The question asks, “will we come back as our best possible selves?” What would that be? Is our best self when we were young or middle aged or old? Will a human being who died as a baby be a baby in the resurrection or will that person be raised in his or her full adult potential? And as long as we are thinking in those terms, what about the babies who were never born because they died in the womb or because their lives were aborted? And since we like to think about seeing our loved ones again in the afterlife, is there something about the unborn that will cause their would-be parents in this world to recognize them in the world to come?
I’m obviously engaging in speculation here. But I’m trying to keep it based on what we know from the Biblical records and promises. The Bible envisions the whole creation being made new — even a new heaven as well as a new earth. If Isaiah envisions the lion and the lamb lying down peaceably together in God’s kingdom, why should not the abortioner and the aborted, the executioner and the executed, murderer and the victim, be at peace with each other? You can let you imagination go on from there. The hostilities and alienations of this world cannot be carried into the life of the world to come and expect that the new creation will be a peaceable kingdom. Either some people have to be excluded from it or reconciliation must be a final reality.
We can’t deal with the personal in isolation from the universal — not in God’s kingdom.
I will not venture beyond this point because it would get us into the hoary realms of hell, purgatory, or universal salvation. But we aren’t really moving beyond the question of personal identity in the resurrection. In fact, we can’t deal with the personal in isolation from the universal — not in God’s kingdom.
An individual self is a good thing. That’s why resurrection of the body is promised. But the individual self cannot function in the afterlife any more than in this life in isolation from other individual selves. So I dare say that what our risen bodies will bear will depend on what others need to see in us, just as Jesus’ failed disciples needed to see him as their crucified Savior who broke bread with them in a gesture of hospitality with its implied forgiveness. In this logic, your tattoos will be a part of your risen body not because you like them but because others need to see them to continue their relationship with you.
See “Frank Answers” at www.ilcevanston.org