13 April 2022  |

The following is from I Have a Future: Christ’s Resurrection and Mine (Grantham, UK, 2019) by Reinder Bruinsma.

. . . Of course, we have no scientific proof that we will be raised from our death-sleep when Christ returns to this earth. Laboratory experiments have barely been able to ‘create’ even a single cell, let alone a new, fully functioning, perfect body. However, in spite of this lack of scientific proof, I feel confident in my faith that I have a future beyond this life.

To be sure, the second coming of Christ, which introduces the resurrection, is a matter of faith. The signals along the way (the so-called ‘signs of the times’) give us the confidence that Christ will fulfill His promise and will return, and that this will be the moment when the believers of all ages are resurrected in the ‘first resurrection’, while those who are alive at that point in time, and are expecting Him, will be miraculously changed into radically transformed persons.

When we discussed in the previous chapter the historical nature of the resurrection of Jesus, I suggested that we may treat it as a ‘warranted belief’. Now I would also like to include our own resurrection in that same category of ‘warranted beliefs’. There is no absolute proof, but we have enough reason to trust that the fact that the Risen Lord has conquered death – and has thereby also taken ‘the sting’ out of death for us – has thereby opened the way for us to eternal life.

This does not mean that we have easy answers for a number of questions that inevitably emerge when we think about death and resurrection. When we give it some further thought, we will realize that eternal things are still outside our present temporal-spatial parameters. Lutheran theologian Ted Peters (b. 1941) confirms this important point with these words: ‘Revelation reminds us that there is a divine reality standing over against our world. To know exhaustively what that divine reality is, is impossible within the scope of knowledge circumscribed by this world.’[1] And Nancey Murphy, a senior professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, agrees that there are things we can know about the future resurrection life, but many more things that we cannot know.[2] She says: ‘The language of the present aeon is incapable of describing the resurrected body!’[3] I like her creative way of underlining this important fact: ‘We can speak meaningfully about the hand of God, but not of His fingernails.’[4]

With this in mind we approach (with appropriate timidity) the question of our continued identity. Can I be sure that who I am now and who I will be after being resurrected are one and the same person? . . .

. . . as far as the material building blocks are concerned, there is little in my body now that was there when I was much younger. And other changes have taken place. My body (unfortunately) has acquired a different shape, and there is much less hair on my head than there once was. I am sometimes told by people around me that my character has also developed with the advancing of the years. (Usually they are kind enough to say that this development was mostly positive!) I have learned quite a few things as time passed, and my thinking about a great many issues has changed. Yet, in spite of all these changes, I am still recognized by others as the same person I was in the past, and there is no doubt in my own mind that I have continued as the person I have been all along. In other words: even on this side of death, we experience a lot of discontinuity as well as continuity with regard to our identity. In any case, the preservation of our identity does not depend on being constituted of the same stuff.

What is true with regard to our material composition during this present life throws some light on our continued identity between our death and our resurrection. After our death, our body becomes part of the ‘whole web of life’ and it ‘can no longer be materially reconstituted without destroying other forms of life into which it has been integrated’.[5] . . .

Yet, even though the resurrected person does not consist of the same stuff, he/she is the same person. God resurrects the very same people who died. Their identity has ‘somehow’ been preserved. I use this word ‘somehow’ advisedly, because we touch upon divine processes that are beyond our this-worldly experience. Our names – that is, our character; our personality; our identity; the definition of who we were – are recorded in God’s ‘book of life’. There is, so to speak, a permanent record in a divine ‘database’ of who we are.

Schwartz is right when he says: ‘If the one who is resurrected is not the one who died previously, redemption and damnation would be meaningless.’[6] The comparison with computer software and computer hardware may not fit in all respects, but the continuity between what we are now and what we are when we die, on the one hand, and what we will be in the resurrection, on the other hand, may perhaps be expressed in a way that may appeal to computer-savvy readers: When we die, ‘God will download our software onto His hardware, until the time when He gives us new hardware to run the software again.’[7]

    1. Ted Peters, ‘Resurrection: The Conceptual Challenge’, in: Peters et al., eds, op. cit., pp. 197, 198.
    2. Nancey Murphy, ‘The Resurrection Body and Personal Identity: Possibilities and Limits of Eschatological Knowledge’ in: Ted Peters, et al., op. cit., pp. 202, 205.
    3. Ibid., pp. 204, 205.
    4. Ibid., p. 218.
    5. Hans Schwartz, Eschatology (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000), p. 288.
    6. Hans Schwartz, op. cit., p. 289.
    7. Tom Wright, Surprised by Hope (London: SPCK, 2011 ed.), p. 175.

Teacher:

Reinder Bruinsma lives in the Netherlands with his wife, Aafje. He has served the Adventist Church in various assignments in publishing, education and church administration on three continents. He still maintains a busy schedule of preaching, teaching and writing. His latest book is I Have a Future: Christ’s Resurrection and Mine.

Moderator:

Loren Seibold is the Executive Editor of Adventist Today.

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