AskRob: Question on the Resurrection and Heaven

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Q. Hey Rob,
Okay, my cage is rattled again. It's about your stance on people not 
recognizing each other in the resurrection. I'll be surprised if mine is the 
only e-mail you get about this. First, I agree with you completely that we 
probably won't even care and that just being in God's presence and seeing 
Him in all His glory will be all-consuming and probably overwhelm any other 
thought or feeling.
That said, I have to wonder if your position is entirely correct when I 
think about instances like when King Saul paid the medium to call up Samuel: 
Saul recognized Samuel from the medium's description. In Jesus' parable 
about the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man recognized both Lazarus and 
Abraham. In the Matt. 17 account of Jesus' transfiguration, Peter, James and 
John recognized Moses and Elijah. Whether this was from ancient drawings, 
maybe, or some God-granted telepathy-type thing, we don't know, but they 
obviously were recognizable as those specific Biblical figures. In Matt. 22, 
Jesus tells us He's the God of the living, not the dead, and names Abraham, 
Isaac and Jacob. This implies that they're still known by those names and 
recognized as those people even after death. In this same chapter, Jesus 
tells us there will be no marriage, but rather that we'll be like the angels 
in heaven. Is it taking that verse too far to suppose we'll be known by 
names and recognizable as the angels Michael and Gabriel clearly are? The 
most persuasive example to me is that of Jesus Himself after His death, who 
was immediately recognized by His disciples when He appeared to them in the 
locked room. Scripture even depicts Him retaining the wounds of the 
crucifixion. There's the obvious delineation between our humanity and His 
deity, but we're told that we will be like Him.
As far as having memories, if we are to give an account after death (Rom. 
14) of the acts done in this life, we would surely be able to remember them, 
along with the others' whose lives are included in the memories of what 
we've done.
 Thanks for your time.

Oh yeah, and who were the Nephilim? (Just kidding)

A pre-Abraham Boy-Band. (Just Kidding)
Here you Go:
Since this is a rattled cage issue, I will answer it first, because if you are anything like me, you would want this answered first.  If not, sorry for the assumption. As you will see in the quote below from an older theologian that pretty much states how I would view the general particulars (as oxymoronic as that sounds) of the resurrection and heaven, I agree with what you said, about the general particulars. What I was also dealing with are the existential implications of that question about seeing relatives.

QUOTE:  That the resurrection body of both the good and the evil will have the common characteristic of being destitute of fleshly appetites and passions and will be a “spiritual” in distinction from a “natural” body is proved by the following: “They neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God” (Matt. 22:30); “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 15:50); “they hunger no more, neither thirst any more” (Rev. 7:16).[1] 

The resurrection body is an identical body. An identical body is one that is recognized by the person himself and by others. No more than this is required in order to bodily identity. A living man recognizes his present body as the same body that he had ten years ago; yet the material particles are not the same identically: “We shall rise again with the same bodies we have now as to the substance, but the quality will be different” (Calvin 3.25.8); “the dead shall be raised up with the self-same bodies and none other, although with different qualities” (Westminster Confession 33.2). In saying that the substance is the same but the quality is different, Calvin does not mean that all the qualities will be different. This would be incompatible with sameness of substance. But some of the qualities are changed. Calvin explains his statement in the following words: “Just as the very body of Christ which had been offered as a sacrifice was raised again, but with such new and superior qualities as though it had been altogether different.” Certain qualities of the “natural” body will still belong to the “spiritual,” such as extension, figure, etc. The difference will be in the secondary, rather than in the primary properties of the natural body.

That the spiritual body is recognized is proved by Luke 9:30–33: Moses and Elijah were recognized by Christ and pointed out to the disciples; “you shall see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God” (Luke 13:28; John 14:3; 20:16–17, 20); Christ prepares a place for his people and receives them individually: “I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me” (2 Sam. 12:23); “Jacob was gathered unto his people” (Gen. 49:33); “Abraham died and was gathered to his people” (25:8). (See supplement 7.3.5.)

That the spiritual body does not consist of the very same particles of matter with the natural body, no more, no less, and no different, is proved by St. Paul’s illustration in 1 Cor. 15:35–40: “You sow not that body that shall be; but God gives it a body as it has pleased him. All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one flesh of men, another of fishes, and another of birds. There are also celestial bodies and bodies terrestrial.” [2]



Let me explain.

First, it seems that you and I are on the same page about the primacy of activity in heaven, in that the focus will be on the LORD.  We will respond to Him, for Him forever.  Heaven is fellowship with God, without sin. Having said that, what are we to make of “the rest of it?” This is where the existential (or philosophical approach to existence and/or experience[which really means that I am speaking more phenomenologically than existentially]  - but whatever)  becomes part of my view.  Even though I agree that in the general particulars we will have identity (as in many of your examples and the point of our “dwelling places (mansions)” of John 14:2 show), what people usually mean in that question is, “Will my family and those who have gone before me be a prominent part of my life?” I think that people are also interested in having a recognizable reality in heaven, because they are a bit nervous about the unknown.  So…

What I am saying is that I agree that we will have identity, and that identity will be identifiable. I am saying that whereas this identity will be a reality, it will still be a completely new expression of what is yet our still true identity – even more than just a perfect form of the “us now.” I think that the nature of our being brought into the presence of God will be so overwhelming that it will eclipse any and all other passions we have now and that our relationships with others will only be as relates to our worship of God. So I am really working mostly with this concept, namely that Heaven is where we get to finally live the ultimate reality -  that it is all about God.

Now, do remember that I qualified my view as being a “me-thing” that is clearly extreme, and that others have another view. In my extreme view is a desire to bring about a pendulum swing from a man-focused view of heaven where it is great that God is there and I cannot wait to see my wife or grandmother again, to simply, I cannot wait to be with the LORD (Phil. 1:21-23).

Now, it is also important to deal with texts as you mentioned to determine what import they have on this topic.  Of the passages that you mentioned, the quote above affirms the best of your mentionings, and with the others I would say:
  1. That the primary point of the (I believe) parable in Luke 16 of the rich man and Lazarus is a teaching about greed and accountability, not the particulars of the afterlife.  Now having said that, there are some details present, but because they are secondary in nature, they must not be afforded a primary slot in building the doctrine of the afterlife.  Notice for instance that the “saved man”, Lazarus goes to be with Abraham and the Lord is not mentioned.  Should we assume that this is some lesser place in heaven where he does not get to be with God, only Abraham?  No. This (again, what I believe to be) euphemistic phrase for where Paradise would obviously be to the Jews -  where Abraham is. It was employed to communicate just that it was paradise.
  2. In Matthew 22, the distinction of being the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was a common link to being the God of Israel, yet being employed by Jesus, saying that they are still clearly themselves and that they are living.  A better passage for this view would be Matthew 8:11. Still showing that it is an excellent point to the position that you are espousing.
  3. The giving of an account requiring our memory is stretching our abilities too far.  The Lord will have a Book, as it were, where the deeds would be (Revelation 20:12), as is with the Book of Life. To give an account means more of being held accountable and judged, whether or not we remember what we have done.
So, try not to think of me as offering some unbiblical view based on what the texts are saying, but rather a view that stretches one as to the practical aspects of what that means, namely that even though we will be recognizable in our true identity, we will not recognize each other for the purpose that people usually mean. You will find that this issue of ultimate meaning is a metanarrative of how I do theology. Thanks for the dialog!
[1]William Greenough Thayer Shedd and Alan W. Gomes, Dogmatic Theology, "First One-Volume Edition (3 Vols. in 1)"--Jacket., 3rd ed. (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Pub., 2003), 870. [2] Ibid, 871.