John Hick and "Multiple Resurrection"

I came across this on John Hick's website:
I found what John Polkinghorne had to say in his interview in the March Reform extremely interesting, particularly when he was speaking about resurrection. He believes not only that Jesus rose from the dead in a bodily form but also that we will also be resurrected in bodily form. He suggests that 'in some way the soul might have, in an extraordinary, elaborate sense, doors into the information bearing patterns of the body, which of course dissolve at death. But God remembers it all and God will re-embody it when I am resurrected. That will be the continuity between life in this world and life in the world to come.' Or as he has put it elsewhere, the body has a code or formula expressing its entire nature and structure, and this formula is reembodied as a resurrection body in the resurrection world.

This is a fascinating idea. It goes beyond the belief of the process theologians that we all exist eternally after death in the divine memory by adding that God uses that memory to re-embody us – which is much closer to traditional Christian belief. It is not unlike the 'replica' theory that I myself once proposed.

There does however seem to me to be a problem in it. Some people die in infancy, some as the result of an accident or war in early adulthood, some in middle age, most in old age. Whatever the age, the information or code or formula is that of the person at that age and in that condition. So a resurrected woman in her eighties dying of cancer will be the same woman in her eighties dying of cancer. And likewise with everyone else. But this cannot be what Polkinghorne intends. Are we, then, in our resurrected state suddenly miraculously to be cured of all diseases, and do we suddenly grow younger or older to some ideal age? All this is no doubt possible, but it complicates the theory to a point at which it ceases, to my mind, to be attractive or even plausible.

The older idea that at death we go to either heaven or hell is even more implausible. For at the end of this life few if any are good enough for heaven or bad enough for hell. We almost all need to develop and change, which means that we must live longer. And this must be in an embodied state in which we interact with one another, making moral choices and thus becoming better (or worse) people. This in turn seems to require another finite life, also bounded by birth and death, for it is these boundaries that make life serious and urgent. Because of life’s finitude we must get on with whatever we are going to do – we are not going to live for ever.

But one more such life will not be enough for most of us. This suggests a series of finite lives, each beginning, morally and spiritually, where the last left off. In other words, some form of reincarnation, or re-embodiment, or indeed multiple resurrection.
The article continues with an elaboration of this idea. I'm not sure how "multiple resurrection" would differ from reincarnation. Perhaps Hick feels that the terminology will be more acceptable to a Christian audience, though I suspect that if a Christian is willing to consider the concept of reincarnation as a possibility, they won't be scared of the traditional term for it.

I don't typically find ideas about the afterlife to be particularly interesting, and I don't have any particularly strong beliefs on the subject. Reincarnation is the only idea that could conceivably be empirically verified (to some degree, via past-life memories, for example).

I haven't written much on the subject in the past, but I might do a little bit in the near future, when I review Paul F. Knitter's terrific recent book, Without Buddha I Could not be a Christian. I imagine I could write a dozen posts on that book alone, as it was quite thought-provoking.

You can read the whole article by John Hick here.

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Blogger crystal said...

This is really interesting.

I'm not voting for reincarnation. Not that I'm sure it isn't what happens but just that I hope it doesn't.

The idea that God has our template saved is a little disturbing too - what about people who have disabilities, are they stuck with them forever? Or even a more frivolous point - what if you have brown eyes but wish they could be blue?

I like better the Matrix idea where people inhabit a "residual self image" - their ideal self :)

I guess the belief that when we die most of us are not good enough to go to heaven or bad enough to go to hell is partly why the idea of purgatory came up? I like better Marilyn McCord Adams' idea that when we die God has the will, the patience, and the resourcefulness to take on the job of civilizing and rearing us "up into the household of God."

3:30 p.m.  
Blogger PrickliestPear said...


I guess the belief that when we die most of us are not good enough to go to heaven or bad enough to go to hell is partly why the idea of purgatory came up?

Yes. It's sometimes assumed, I think, that purgatory was invented by bishops so they could make money off of indulgences. But the doctrine came first, the abuse of the doctrine came later.

The concept of reincarnation, incidentally, is also abused in order to support the Indian caste system, and sometimes people point to this fact as if it was "evidence" against reincarnation. But the fact that a doctrine can be abused does not mean it's not true, and I would say that this applies to purgatory as well.

Belief in purgatory need not be anything more complicated than acknowledging that a period of further sanctification is required. Functionally, it is not unlike reincarnation.

I think beliefs about the afterlife, which are necessarily speculative, should be taken with a grain of salt. So I don't really have a strong belief in one idea over another.

Having said that, I think it's important to avoid letting what one wants to happen influence one's beliefs. A lot of Christian belief about the afterlife is so clearly based on wishful thinking, which should obviously be avoided. If we successfully cultivate detachment, we won't care one way or another what will happen to "us" when we die.

Personally, I'm taking a "wait-and-see" approach.

8:18 a.m.  

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