Sunday, November 27, 2005
My Religion and Me
WHY A PHYSICAL BODY?
WHY A PHYSICAL BODY?
“The elements are the tabernacle of God; yea man is the tabernacle of God, even temples and whatsoever temple is defiled, God shall destroy that temple.” (D&C 93:35)
In this day of science fiction, orbits, interplanetary travel, flying saucers, and imaginative
fantasies about being lost in space, we are all nudged to think about these questions: What sort of creatures might be out there living on other worlds? Are there really little green men with antennae for ears? It is surprising that all the efforts to please and surprise television viewers has not produced an imaginary creature that is at least in some ways an improvement on man.
How Could We Be Improved upon?
You might try to break that “personality barrier” sometime. Try to sketch a body which in your judgment, at least, is more balanced, more functional, more beautiful, and more capable of winning the admiration of intelligent creatures than the one with which we are presently endowed. You will likely find, that the best, most efficient, most sublime body that you can conceive is the human body perfected.
Is this just egotism based on our lack of imagination? Is it not likely that ants would “idealize” ants but be quite unwilling to think that being manlike is an improvement? Would the same not be true of birds and fish? Perhaps, but from God the Father we have learned that man has dominion over all other creatures because his makeup is divine. Man in the form of his present spirit and body, which, we are taught, resemble each other (D&C 77:2), has an ascendancy over all other creatures. He is the pride of the universe because he was created in the express image of his Creator.
Why have a body at all? Why not simply remain in the condition of spirit bodies, freed of what is sometimes called the prison house of mortality?
It has been commonly assumed over the past 2500 years by most religious cultures, both in the Western world and in the Orient, that the body is much inferior to the soul (what we would call the spirit). By extremists is has been taught that there is no real similarity of substance between the two. They have received, therefore, a dual being, composed of two incompatible components—mater and spirit, or soul. They think of the soul as immaterial, shadowy, elusive, immortal, and the body as an inferior coarse abode in which the soul is housed and from which is will escape happily. Such ideas are not always a part of religious doctrines, but they seem deeply ingrained in many cultures. Are they true?
Much negative teaching about the body grows out of the false premises that the body is matter and the spirit is not, that matter is evil or at least less good than spirit or soul-substance. The idea persists that the body must be abused, ignored, discredited, or crushed into submission because it is forever at odds with the sublime spirit enchained in it.
Modern revelation clarifies the relationship between body and spirit. To combine spirit with matter is a step forward for the spirit. This combination is not of two utterly different and unrealated things but of two kinds of the same substance. The Prophet Joseph Smith declared that spirit is substance and is material but that it is a more pure, elastic, and refined matter than the body.1 Matter is the building block for everything physical or spiritual. It is the “stuff” of which all things are made.
The possession of a physical body makes possible the expansion of our world of perception and participation into the realm of earthly elements. Let us see what that means. Our present degree of knowledge has identified, classified, and characterized more than one hundred chemical elements which constitute our physical world of exploration and are a part of our being. Revelation tells us that there are also spirit elements in the spirit world which are more “pure” and “refined” than the elements of this world of mortality. Possessing an earthly body opens up a whole new kind of world for us, and having a physical body is an advantage in order to become acquainted with this order of elements. But we may project this idea to a third sphere because the Lord has revealed still another kind of world system into which we are shortly to be introduced—the world of resurrected and “perfected” elements. This third system appears to be a combination and expansion of the first two. There are three kinds of worlds—three kinds of elements to know, use, make a part of ourselves, and add to our potential and our joy. Only in association with all of these can intelligences “receive a fullness of joy.” (D&C 93:33) Knowledge of these progressive stages opens to our vision something of the spectrum of possible knowledge and relationships which make possible our eternal progression.
Furthermore, all those who have bodies have the power over those who have not. Angels who have bodies which have been reunited with their spirits have advanced higher in knowledge and power than spirits, according to the Prophet Joseph Smith.2 A body thus working with a spirit becomes a means of power and advancement.
Indeed we know what a diminishment of power accompanies the loss of a limb or an organ or facility in this world. Have you a friend who is an amputee or a paraplegic (paralyzed in the lower half of the body)? Or do you know someone who has lost his eyesight or his hearing or, because of enforced or accidental cutting o a nerve, has lost his taste or smell or touch? Then you know something of what loss of power means. It is remarkable that t woman like Helen Keller, who was in a dark and silent world alone, managed to make contact with the world through touch only. What might she have been with sight and hearing?
We witness occasionally the tragedy of a body which is stunted or deformed in its growth. All the essential parts are intact, but they do not function normally. The person lives, but is not able to move, act, or give and receive of himself the way so-called “normal” people do, who too often take what they have for granted.
When we consider all the handicaps of the amputee or the deformed, we can better understand the delimitation and impotence that would attend having no body at all. And yet many Christians await eagerly the day when they can escape the “mortal coil” and the vicissitudes of the flesh to move to a superior stage of existence—or so they think.. Actually in many respects it is just the opposite. Revelation tells us (D&C 45:17) that we will look upon the separation of spirit and body impatiently, that we will consider the long absence from our bodies as a bondage. Disembodied existence will be equivalent to being an expert violinist without a violin—the great principle of happiness consists in having a body.
Nor is it only external motion that we get from having a body; it is internal emotion as well. There is a direct connection between pleasing the eye, gladdening the heart, and thus enlivening the soul. (See D&C 59:18-19.) We can glimpse the possibilities of a higher sensitivity in daily experience.
There are treble ranges and bass ranges of sound that we cannot yet hear.
There are colors in the spectrum that our eyes cannot catch. How many colors and what magnificent patterns might be characteristic of the worlds to come?
There are tastes that come for fleeting instants in moments of great thirst or luchk accident which no mortal gourmet or professional connoisseur can catch.
What might it mean to feel the touch of the hand of Christ? There are scents…the pure breezes of heaven…that many miss.
There are dimensions, as it were, of mutual feeling when the affinity of one soul for another is so profound that nothing within us remains unaffected. We vibrate, or resonate, like a tuning fork to a rich chord. And something like that, surely, will attend our being in the presence of God and the prophets.
Every spiritual happening at its greatest intensity is not just a joy that touches us in the spirit. It is an “all over” sensation that leads to the use of such expressions as “every fiber of my being” or “from head to toe.” When young Nephi was trying to describe it, he coupled his bodily and spiritual reactions to the love of God, saying, “He hath filled me with his love, even unto the consuming of my flesh.” (2 Nephi 4:21)
Can we say that the body makes possible certain spiritual raptures otherwise unreachable? Yes, we can. That is the central point of the doctrine that when separated the body and the spirit of man cannot receive a fullness of joy. The body then, is not just a “coat of paint” on the spirit. It is a crucially important organism in its own right which opens up new levels of awareness and happiness for mind and spirit. The ancient sage seems to have glimpsed this concept when he said, “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.” (Proverbs 17:22)
If the body is good, why all the emphasis in sacred writ on purifying and sanctifying, on overcoming the filthiness of the flesh, on being, as the scriptures unequivocally require “born again.”?
We have been talking thus far about the kind of body that can emerge from mortality, a celestial body. In mortality the flesh may be diseased, smitten, partially deform ed. In various ways, our mortal bodies give us problems. “But all your losses will be made up to you in the resurrection, provided you continue faithful.” said Joseph Smith.3 Here in mortality bodies may be “opaque” to the light of God, may so darken themselves that they are unsusceptible to the influence of God. Such a condition results from physical abuse or moral license—abiding in sin. Such persons are slowly poisoning their otherwise infinite powers. They must remain filthy still. Unless they receive by their only Christ can give, they will, indeed, be manacled by the body. Such a body will cease to be reward and will become a torment. Only those who live downwardly will be partakers of it.
The process that leads upward is something else again. A statement from the Prophet tells us that the effects of the Spirit of God upon us in preparing our bookies for eternity depends upon, or is adapted to, the fleshy inheritance we have. That is, in our present condition we can receive through the Holy Ghost “pure intelligence” or the “light and glory and power of God.”
It is more powerful in expanding the mind, enlightening the understanding, and storing the intellect with present knowledge, of a man who is the literal seed of Abraham, than one that is a Gentile, though it may not have half as much visible effect upon the body; for as the Holy Ghost falls upon one of the literal seed of Abraham, it is calm and serene; and the whole soul and body are only exercised by the pure spirit of intelligence; while the effect of the Holy Ghost upon a Gentile, is to purge out the old blood, and make him actually of the seed of Abraham…a new creation by the Holy Ghost. In such a case, there may be more of a powerful effect upon the body, visible to the eye, than upon an Israelite, while the Israelite at first might be far before the Gentile in pure intelligence.
A body that has been acted upon by the Holy Ghost can be presented pure in the celestial kingdom, pure enough to endure the eternal burnings of light and fire that are characteristic of celestial glory, filled with intelligence, sensitive to all that is good, triumphant over all antagonizing forces or tendencies, breathing a new atmosphere, nourished by new fluids, equipped for instantaneous motion, and capable of entering into the fruition of all joy that was experienced or anticipated in this world. Such a body, in short, is harmonized into the unity and completeness and wholeness that is divine holiness.
On The Way Up
In the Orient there are religions that seek the “extinction” of bodily desire. In America there are religions (though they are not called religions) that advocate the expansion of physical desire, regardless of its object or its effects. Alma said, “See that ye bridle all your passions, that ye may be filled with love.” (Alma 38:12)
Is that not a paradox? Is not love a passion? Then how can he say “bridle passions” so that you can be “filled with love”? It is not a paradox at all, but divine wisdom. Diffused passion—passion that is blind and has no relationship to the profound nature of a person’s soul—is destructive, frustrating, and inevitably turns to ashes.
To “bridle” passion is not to kill or destroy it but to direct it where the real and lasting satisfactions are. Indeed, after long and seasoned experience, the need to bridle diminishes. At that point you will have lost the desire for sin. But you will have increased in desire, every worth godlike desire. You can concentrate on enjoying the whole landscape instead of having to give your attention to the course you are taking. Your joy is increased, too. In the companionship of others who really know how to live.
God opposes the compulsive, obsessive, blind passion not because he wants you to feel less, but because he wants you to feel more. The glutton hardly tastes the food he wolfs down; the libertine knows only “loves sad satiety,” and never the ever-increasing joys of married love. We are counseled to stay within certain bounds because only within those bounds will we find the essence of everything glad and good.
We recognize that the soul of man results from the union of the spirit and body. Through this harmonious union we can know the ultimate joy of living and can come to a clearer understanding of our relationship to God. The body, so perfectly formed, transcends all fleeting joy as we literally become co-creators with God. The bearing of children is a marriage and possible because of the bodies our Father has given to us in his great eternal plan. It is intended that we co-create and bridge the eternal links of life as a family. What greater and more righteous purpose for our physical and spiritual being is there?
1. Joseph Fielding Smith, comp., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1938), p. 207.
2. Teachings, p. 325
3. Teachings, p. 296.
4. Teachings, p. 149-150.