Feast upon the Word Blog

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Posted by BrianJ on April 23, 2014

In the comments section of another post, I got into a discussion with Robert C and JKC about the purpose of having a resurrected body and the undesirable nature of being dead.

I see those comments (and others) making a few points:

  1. We needed a body to progress beyond our premortal existence.
  2. It is comforting to know that we will be resurrected because it assures us of an ongoing existence.
  3. The resurrection assures that our ongoing existence will not be disembodied.
  4. Knowing that a body is important eternally should elicit reverence for our bodies, not disdain as other Christians would teach.

I agree with each of these points. 100%.

Now let me express how these points don’t really answer the question* for me.

1) We stagnated were limited in some way premortally. Experiencing mortality and/or a physical body gives us a chance to progress. I accept these explanations even though I don’t know why mortality and/or a body was essential for that change. More directly: I don’t think we have enough information about our premortal existence to know why it had stagnated was limited. (We have almost no information.) It’s hard to explain how something could solve a problem when I don’t know what caused the problem or what the problem really was.

It is clear, on the other hand, that Heavenly Father had a body and we didn’t. He wanted us to be like him so presumably that entails gaining a body. See below (3b) for one reason this doesn’t answer the question for me. Additionally, I don’t know why Heavenly Father could not just give us bodies like his—for some reason it couldn’t work that way (or maybe he just chose not to have it work that way). I accept that as a fact even though it is not an explanation.

Thus, this mortal body experience is an essential part of God’s plan, but it’s not clear to me why it would have to be part of God’s plan; i.e., that he was constrained to do it this way.

2) I wouldn’t need to know about resurrection to be assured of an ongoing existence. I have no proof of resurrection—I take it on faith—so I could just as readily take it on faith that there was some ongoing existence even if God had chosen to keep resurrection a secret. (A distraction here is the claim that there were eye-witnesses to the resurrection; that’s proof for them, but not for me: I have to take their witness on faith.)

If there were no resurrection, there would still be some kind of life after death. Case in point: those who currently await resurrection. Suppose their resurrection were delayed indefinitely: they still exist.

Thus, knowing about resurrection does not add to the assurance of an ongoing existence.

(Side note: I believe it was Brigham Young who taught a sort of “spirit disintegration and recycling” model. Resurrection certainly gives me an assurance that that won’t be my fate. But then again, all I really needed was for God to say, “Your spirit is eternal,” and I wouldn’t worry about Young’s doctrine.)

3) Our ongoing existence will not be disembodied. Okay, but why should I care whether or not I have a body? Here are the answers I’ve heard:

a) being dead is painful…in some way. Probably. At least, that’s one way to interpret “the pains of death.” Alternatively, it could just mean that actually dying is painful, but being dead is painless. This seems like one of those “describing the taste of salt” problems: I believe that being dead is undesirable because God says it is.

b) having a resurrected body makes us more like Heavenly Father. Okay, but what I am really interested in is being one with him—attaining godhood. The pre-mortal Jesus and the Holy Ghost enjoy(ed) this state without having a body; thus, God does not by definition have a body. If God says that I can’t do likewise without a body then okay, but I don’t understand why.

c) having a resurrected body allows us to do things that require a resurrected body. The only “thing” that I’ve heard fit this description is: have spiritual children. There are two ways this could work: First, it just does (no explanation). Second, the same way it works here on earth: i.e., sex, pregnancy, and birth. I reject this second one on the grounds that I believe that spirits are eternal (having no beginning or end).

Thus, I “believe” that having a resurrected body is important and desirable, but I cannot contextualize that “belief” (therefore it gets isolated in scare quotes to indicate its limited utility).

4) The eternal nature of the body causes us to revere, not hate, our bodies. I completely agree. This is the one area where I see a practical application for the doctrine.

Thus, while I don’t understand why we need a body, I do understand why we need to know that we need a body.


Wild speculation alert: I have recently been toying with the idea that while the spirit is, as Joseph Smith taught, “matter,” it is matter that does not exactly inhabit the physical universe—perhaps something like dark matter. If so, then gaining a body would open up a whole new world—a whole universe, actually—of possibilities for us. Retaining a physical body via resurrection would be the only way to maintain a connection to that new universe. (Did I just answer all of my questions?)


* “the question.” Yeah, I’m using that as a phrase without actually articulating what the question is. Sloppy, I know.

11 Responses to “Body”

  1. ldstaco said

    First, an analogy that answers one question but I’ll have to just explain the other.

    Think of your spirit as the software and your body as the PC. Your spirit can’t do much without the proper hardware. The Spirit is limited by what it can do if it has insufficient hardware (our bodies now) but can do a whole lot more than without any body at all. The resurrection is like going from an Apple IIE to a TARDIS.

    The other is that our bodies change our spirits. Mostly, we think how bad the changes can be, such as in addiction, or trauma. However, when we repent we change the chemistry, and structure of our brains (there is scientific proof of this). What we can’t see is that we also change the makeup and structure of our spirit.

    That is why repentance will be so much harder in the next life. Imagine jonesing for a cigarette, but you’ve quit. In a couple of months you still want one, but the temptation is less than it was that first week. In 6 months you want a smoke once in awhile but its not constantly on your mind. Years later you have no desire at all. Thank your body for that adjustment.

    As you repent, stop addiction, whatever, your body is there to help with the process.

    Without our bodies we are left with the addiction and no way to either indulge, or stop jonesing for another hit. Imagine wanting that cigarette, drink, porn, or whatever it is, but never being able to have it, and even if you can get to i, you can never get the release from it without a body. And no matter how long you “live” without a body, and stear clear of the addiction, you’ll never “get over it.”

    Does that make sense?

    • BrianJ said

      Ldstaco: yes, your analogy makes sense: our spirit software is limited without physical hardware. But to illustrate how it still leaves me with an unanswered question, let me rephrase my question: Why were Jesus and the Holy Ghost apparently capable of Godhood (awfully lofty for any software, no?) without owning any hardware?

      While I can comprehend the idea that our bodies change our spirits—indeed, I think it must be so—I don’t think your example of addiction quite works. You say that without the body we would be unable to readjust to become free from an addiction. Inasmuch as the cravings of addiction come from the body, wouldn’t a body-less spirit simply not experience those cravings? (Maybe there is some spiritual aspect to addiction and cravings, but that would be purely a guess.)

      • ldstaco said

        It is a limited analogy in that sense. I don’t have an answer for you on how Premortal Jesus and the Holy Ghost have Godhood without bodies.

        I base my thoughts on repentance and addiction in the Spirit World on Alma 34:34-35. These were conclusions I came to after pondering these Scriptures for a long time.

  2. RyanC said

    I think it’s important to examine DC 138:50 and DC 93: 33-34 in context of the points you have discussed above. It’s very limited in it’s revelation yet gives much to the question of “why we need a body” – Now ponder the why we need a body in connection with why would Heavenly Father choose to combine the gift of a physical body with part of the plan where we are separated from His presence and sent to earth to not only be tested but to gain experience.

    • RyanC said

      Moreover I don’t believe we ‘stagnated’ in our pre-existence. There is much evidence to conclude that many of the intelligences in the pre-earth life attained a level of Godhood. I realize that gaining a mortal body is part of the journey but something doesn’t ring right to me when we think of the pre-existence as a state where we were stuck and couldn’t progress any more until we came to earth. It’s more complicated and beautiful than that.

      • BrianJ said

        You’re correct that “stagnated” was not the right word. I edited it in the original post, replacing it with “were limited.”

        Am I correct that you believe that the “many intelligences in the pre-earth life [that] attained a level of Godhood” are those who come to this earth but for some reason (childhood mortality, mental retardation, etc.) never reach a point of accountability?

    • BrianJ said

      RyanC: I don’t see how D&C 93 or 138 provide much to my question of why we need a body other than to state what I wrote above: “because” (point 3b) and “it’s unpleasant not to have one” (point 3a). Could you elaborate?

  3. Robert C. said

    Nice thoughts, Brian. I’m swamped right now, but I should have time to say something in reply this weekend or so.

  4. JKC said

    Brian, I said something similar on the other thread, but I think it makes sense to express the same thought here: my take on it, similar to RyanC, is that having a resurrected body is not necessarily a prerequisite to oneness with God. The fact that the Holy Ghost and the pre-mortal Jesus were part of the Godhead illustrates that point. But the difference is that neither the pre-mortal Jesus nor the Holy Ghost were mortal. Once we take that step into mortality, death stands between us and God. I don’t fully understand how, but it does.

    In other words, you seem to conflating two related but separate questions: (1) Is having a resurrected body a prerequisite for an unembodied pre-mortal spirit to be one with God, and (2) Is having a resurrected body a prerequisite for a mortal being to be one with God? The answer is not necessarily the same.

    I think you and I may be thinking of the relationship between the spirit and the body in slightly different ways. An oversimplified view held by many church members is the old hand a glove analogy, which might lead one to see the spirit and the body as totally separate things that are just together for a little while during mortality. That framework is useful as far as it goes, but my view is a little different. I don’t view the body as something that the spirit can just put on and take off. Rather, when we become mortal, and our spirit enters our body, it fundamentally changes the nature of our being. In other words, it is not the case that my spirit is me, and my body is just something that I have for a while, rather, my spirit is me, and my body is also me. It is not that my spirit is half of me and my body is half of me, it is that both my body and spirit are 100% me. We are not just spirits wearing bodies for a while, we are human beings, which means that we are spirit and body, and when our bodies die, they don’t cease to be part of us. So when we die, we don’t just revert back to being incarnate spirits, we become disembodied spirits—human beings with a part of our very soul trapped by death. I think that may begin (but only begin) to answer what section 138:50 is talking about. I don’t think it’s just that being dead is uncomfortable or undesirable; it’s that being dead is having a part your soul–your very core–trapped and stuck, and you can’t do anything about it. In other words, when your body dies, you can’t just say, “it’s okay, I didn’t want it anyway” and then just go on as an incarnate spirit. Nope, that body is part of you now, and you’re stuck with it, so if your body is stuck, that means you are stuck.

    Now, I’ll readily concede that this doesn’t fully answer the question, because it only leads to the further question, okay, then why can a disembodied spirit not attain godhood? There may be no good answer to that question, given what we know, but it is a different question than asking why a pre-mortal spirit cannot be one with God, so pointing to the pre-mortal Jesus and the Holy Ghost as examples of unembodied spirits that attained godhood does not show that a disembodied spirit can attain godhood.

  5. jakeW said

    These are mostly thoughts based on 3a and b (and I confess I haven’t read through the comments yet, so hopefully what I say has some relevance), but what strikes me is that you have articulated two states – that of being disembodied, and that of being embodied. However, I think each of these states can themselves be broken into two parts or ways of being experienced. The embodied ways are obvious (and in fact are central to your whole concern) – one can be embodied and subject to a future physical death (pre-resurrected), and one can be embodied without being subjected to a future death (resurrected). Nothing new here. However, it should probably also be borne in mind that these two ways entail two completely different types of bodies! One corruptible, mortal, weak, the other incorruptible, immortal, glorious.

    As to the two ways of experiencing bodilessness (and this is my reaction to 3a), it seems to me that you collapse being a pre-mortal being and being dead into more or less the same category, but a major (and I think, significant) difference is that pre-mortal beings have no concept of being embodied (that is, they are not disembodied spirits, they are just the beings that they are with no relation to bodies whatsoever, whole in and of themselves), whereas dead spirits experience their existence as being precisely disembodied, as being dead, as being incomplete. A good analogy may be something like this: a pre-mortal spirit is like somebody born blind, where sight and seeing are not a part of their world, and a dead spirit is like somebody who suddenly goes blind at the age of twenty-three (or whatever arbitrary age you please). At any rate, this may provide at least a partial (if still perhaps unsatisfactory) explanation as to what the pains of death entail.

    But I think in the end the above probably won’t help too much in answering your main question, which I read as simply being “why bodies?”. Specifically, you’ve invoked the examples of Jehovah and the Holy Ghost to show that obviously great power and godhood and oneness with God don’t require a body. Even if a body is a fantastic thing to have and comes with all sorts of powers and benefits, what are the why’s and how’s of it’s essentiality to our progression towards God and exaltation?

    A few comments: Jehovah did in fact receive a body as the man Jesus Christ, died, and resurrected. Thus, one cannot rule out the possibility that even for Jehovah, obtaining a body was not necessary (I understand that the chronology of His godhood and resurrection are flipped, but assuming that Jehovah could have still been Jehovah without the promise of someday receiving a body seems to beg the question). Also, did the nature of Christ’s godhood (or perhaps even His relationship with God) change or progress after His resurrection? I’m just throwing that question out there without having any ideas or scriptures to articulate an answer, but maybe it’s worth considering.

    As far as the Holy Ghost not having a body goes, I’ll just say I can’t make heads or tails of who the Holy Ghost is or how His (lack of a) body may or may not have anything to do with our eternal progression or God’s plan.

    One more thought: After reading through these posts, the main question I currently have is not “why bodies?” but “why death?” It seems that one of the main effects (and I assume purposes) of getting bodies is in order to make death a real possibility (or even certainty).

    • BrianJ said

      JakeW: thanks for sharing your ideas. I appreciate you clarifying the two different ways of experiencing bodilessness. Just to be clear, I see no conflict between what you wrote and what wrote in 3a: “being dead is painful…in some way.” And I had no intention of collapsing “being a pre-mortal being and being dead into more or less the same category.” That is why I kept any mention of a pre-mortal state to 3b. I think you could be right that the pains of death amount to “missing what is missing.”

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