Preaching the Resurrection of the Body in the Face of Post-Human Alternatives: Homiletical Thoughts on 1 Corinthians 15
In Christ, God gives us not a posthuman future but a human future in His children through His Son.
Who needs the Resurrection when we have technology?
Brent Waters, in his 2006 book, From Human to Posthuman: Christian Theology and Technology in a Postmodern World, writes “What were once called humans will survive by becoming... software rather than hardware, or in more evocative imagery, by casting off the poor jelly in which the mind was encased. In short, spatial, and temporal constraints will not just be transcended but eliminated” (64). Waters paints a picture of transhumanism as a transitional movement that transforms human beings into posthumans as he describes advances in regenerative medicine, improved health care, better diet, performance enhancing drugs, coupled with stem cell research, cloning, genetic engineering, the introduction of sophisticated prosthetics, mechanical organs, and artificial tissue. The Apostle Paul wrote that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.” With posthumanism there is no flesh and blood left to inherit anything, for the perishable is constantly being transformed, re-configured to carry the imperishable human will.
Such is the celebrated vision of a posthuman future, one which engineers a highway around death by the replacement of the flesh and blood with synthetic substitutes that are more durable, intact from disease and age. Boundaries are crossed. Transcendence over biology is achieved. Human beings become their own Maker and Preserver. A tempting prospect indeed for creatures whose inborn inclination is to be like God, is it not? It is a tantalizing thought not to be limited by the confines of a mortal body that will be reduced to dust. But this future would indeed be posthuman, for that which makes us human would be left behind.
As Christians, we are given another future. It is not a posthuman epic, but a future given us in the resurrection of the One who is both God and man from the dead, our Lord Jesus Christ. This is also a narrative of transformation but is not transformation achieved by technology. It is by the victory of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. So, Paul begins with what the scientist also knows and affirms, the human body is mortal. It can be injured by accident, afflicted by disease, and rendered weak by age. It is mortal, subject to death. If the body is not shut down by viruses or cancerous cells, it will finally be worn out with the passage of time.
As Christians, we are given another future. It is not a posthuman epic, but a future given us in the resurrection of the One who is both God and man from the dead, our Lord Jesus Christ.
There is something more. The human problem is more than biological. It is not just that we are finite creatures lacking immortality; we are sinners under a death sentence. It is not that we fade away and perish but we die stung with sin empowered by the Law. It cannot be put more starkly than Paul does in our epistle: “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the Law.” There is no technological solution to that destiny. And it is God, the Giver of life, who takes life. Recall the words of Moses at his most “Mosaic” in Psalm 90, as Luther puts it, where Moses says of the Lord God:
“You return man to dust and say, ‘Return, O children of man! For a thousand years in Your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night. You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning; in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers. For we are brought to an end by Your anger; by Your wrath we are dismayed. You have set our iniquities before You, our secret sins in the light of Your presence. For all our days pass away under Your wrath; we bring our years to an end like sigh” (Psalm 90:3-9).
No wonder there is a longing and lust for a posthuman future! But before the eternal God, technology provides no escape route to detour death.
In Christ, God gives us not a posthuman future but a human future in His children through His Son. So, Paul confesses that in this Jesus, “Death is swallowed up in victory,” and then goes on to taunt death, mocking death: “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55)? In that strange and dreadful strife where life and death contended, Jesus has defeated death by His death on the cross, and by His resurrection the Father vindicates His Son and gives Him the life which is now yours for eternity. In this world of sin and death, we live by the promise that these perishable and mortal bodies are destined to be dressed in immortality so that Paul’s doxology is now on our lips: “Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57). Praising that resurrection victory, we live toward a future which is open and secure in the empty tomb, steadfast and immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in Him our labor is not in vain.