Thankful Thursday: The Resurrection of the Body

On this third Thankful Thursday, I come to that penultimate line in the Apostles’ Creed: “the resurrection of the body”. Yes, I have been thankful for that truth this year, but explaining why requires me to talk about my body, and that is not something I normally discuss. Obviously, I do not want to draw undue attention to the form in which God chose for me to pass through this life. Yet, my body is a part of who I am, and in order to explain why I am thankful, I must first explain what I have suffered.

I never really cared for my body as a young person. Don’t get me wrong—I had no deep and abiding hatred of my pancreas. There wasn’t something about my lungs that displeased me. Rather, it was all about externals: my nose was too big, or my skin had too many blemishes, or my hair wasn’t full enough. I knew that I wasn’t the prettiest girl in the school. People rarely tell you these things, but you figure them out on your own. I had no confidence in my appearance whatsoever.

Then as I grew older, I found other reasons to dislike my body. As a teenager, I was diagnosed with scoliosis: a crooked spine. Not only that, but my left leg was shorter than my right leg and my feet were flat. Soon I was fitted for special shoes and required to do special exercises. There was some debate over whether I would need spinal surgery, but fortunately I was spared that. I managed to go through life with scoliosis without anyone being the wiser. It still gives me recurring back pain, and I wear a lift in my left shoe on account of the leg length difference, but apart from limiting my choices in footwear, these bodily flaws have not been too serious.

Just when I had adjusted to the scoliosis, I was sent off to college and developed what is known as generalized anxiety disorder. The causes for such ailments of the mind are not well understood, but it is believed that some peoples’ brains are wired in such a way that they are more prone to such conditions. In my case, I had always been a worrier. I was too introspective and analytical for my own good. Yet, it was at the age of 18 that something suddenly snapped, and what had been easy one day was difficult the next. I spent most of a semester reeling, trying to regain my peace of mind. My mother later told me she had feared that I would drop out of school and come back to Michigan. By the grace of God, I survived, even if my GPA took a hit.

The shadow of that anxiety has followed me ever since. While I have gone through entire years with hardly any trouble, periods of transition can sometimes trigger more stress. The symptoms are as much physical as mental. It was in my worst period of anxiety that I began to feel that my body was a prison from which I could not break free. Imagine a time when you were particularly nervous—maybe before giving a speech or having surgery—and how it robbed you of appetite, made your heart pound, created an irrepressible need to move, and caused you great mental distress. Now imagine that you felt that way every day, all day, for weeks on end. Perhaps you understand now.

As I said, the Lord has given me extended periods of victory over anxiety. I have done things I never thought I could do when it first hit me. What’s more, I stopped disliking my body quite so much. I came to accept the hand I had been dealt. This is a very strange thing, and maybe some other ladies know what I mean: after I began dating the man I would later marry and received his constant compliments regarding my appearance, I started noticing that other people viewed my appearance favorably as well. I’m not saying that they were attracted to me as he was, but I think that my increased confidence either made me seem better looking or made me more likely to accept the compliments of others as genuine. I still wasn’t totally happy with how I looked (Who is?), but the man I loved thought I was beautiful, and everyone else found me at least tolerable. That was good enough for me.

I continued for a several years somewhat positively disposed toward my body. Then in autumn 2016, I began picking up every virus that hit the town. I would be sick for 5 days, get better, and then get sick again 10 days later. It was a truly frustrating cycle, but what I didn’t know then is that I had it good. Around the beginning of March 2017, I got sick again. This time, I didn’t get better.

After about 30 different blood tests, consultations with a dozen doctors, an MRI, an EMG, a chest x-ray, and a urine test (just for good measure), the best scientific explanation I have for what happened is that I initially had something called parvovirus. Although this is more serious in adults than children, it typically gives one symptoms similar to a cold or influenza, then disappears after a week or two. We think mine might have stayed around longer, for a reason known only to God. It seems that this virus triggered something known as fibromyalgia, a poorly understood condition in which the nervous system fails to transmit pain signals properly. The only test that can confirm this diagnosis is a functional MRI, which is very expensive and not covered by insurance. Therefore, a patient is typically assumed to have fibromyalgia when they have a certain number of the typical symptoms (which I do) and everything else is ruled out (which it essentially has been).

One of the tricky things about diagnosing fibromyalgia is that it doesn’t look the same in every person. Researchers used to think that such patients had tender points in the body that were worse than others, and the most basic test was to apply pressure to these areas and see how they responded. However, this diagnostic test is now considered to be insufficient, for not all fibromyalgia patients have tender points. As for what causes the condition, no one really knows, except that it can be set off by traumatic experiences or bouts of illness. Thus, one of the specialists who saw me insisted that my mother leave the room and then asked me if I had ever been sexually abused as a child, if my marriage was in good condition, if anyone was pressuring me to have children, etc.

I cannot tell you what this condition feels like for everyone. I can only tell you what it feels like for me. It feels like someone is pressing in on either side of my head. It feels like my ears are full. (I have continual tinnitus.) My sinuses and temples feel under pressure. My tongue, gums, and lips hurt and sometimes feel slightly numb. Is that strange to have tongue pain? I thought it was at first.

My throat will often feel tight, as if there’s a lump there. It usually feels a bit sore. The quality of my digestion just depends on the day. My neck is perpetually stiff. My back is a mess of soreness for the most part, though some of that could be caused by the scoliosis. I often feel aches in my chest and get these occasional jolts that I have decided are slight twitches of the chest muscles. They scared me at first, but not anymore, as I’ve been assured that my heart is fine. Yes, I get chest pain a lot, and I often have muscle twitches in various parts of my body.

My abdomen is usually ok, apart from the general soreness I have everywhere. My arms often feel fatigued, and sometimes my hands feel arthritic or stiff. My legs feel as if they have strings running through them and someone is pulling on the ends. Is that a weird way to describe pain? It is in my legs that I most often get the tingly or shooting pains, but they can show up anywhere. I also get this stage where the pain starts to feel kind of itchy. It is not exactly like the itch of a bug bite, but more like when you’ve just smacked something and in the dulling of that pain you feel a kind of irritation. I used to hit a stage where I would feel kind of fluid-y, for lack of a better term. I don’t get that as much anymore. Everything is sharper.

My eye muscles feel so tired at times, almost like they don’t want to focus. Ah, tired…that word does not begin to describe my condition. I have never felt this level of fatigue in my life. Day in and day out, exhaustion hangs on me—exhaustion of both body and mind. I have been so weary for so long that I hardly remember what it feels like to be fully energized. I could sleep for ten hours, and I would still be exhausted. Of course, I rarely sleep ten hours. I take naps most afternoons, but that doesn’t help much either. I’ve tried taking two naps, one in the morning and one later in the day. I still wake up tired.

Additionally, I feel that my condition makes it harder for me to focus. My thoughts tend inward and I become anxious. Every new symptom has been a cause for alarm, particularly when we thought my condition might be more serious. If you read my previous article in this series, you know that I have suffered emotional pain in addition to physical pain. This is common for people in my condition. I know this essay is about my body, but my mind is part of my body, and my mind has suffered as well.

There are other forms of pain that I feel, but I will not discuss them here. Not every medical issue is appropriate for public consumption. Suffice it to say, my body is not in good shape. You wouldn’t know it from looking at me—that is, on the days I feel well enough to put on makeup, dress nicely, and go to a social function. You might notice me looking slightly tired, but that’s it. You wouldn’t know that as I sit there listening to a sermon in church, my head is pounding, my legs are screaming, and I am envying the infants who can sleep whenever they want. It’s not as if I can’t walk or even jog a short distance. I just do so in pain and exhaustion. Everything feels more difficult…everything.

“…for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it…” (Ephesians 5:29a)

The Apostle Paul wrote those lines about how a husband should treat his wife. Yet, I can’t help thinking that they are not strictly accurate in a broader sense. Until you have come to feel that your body is a prison and known it to be the source of most of your suffering, you may not understand how anyone could hate their own body. I don’t exactly hate my body. We have a rather complicated relationship. Even though I blame it for causing me this pain, I would never purposely do it harm. It is part of who I am, and I cannot hate myself, even on the days when I don’t particularly like myself. The source of my pain is part of me. Is that not strange?

There is no way to know how long this state of affairs will last. If I indeed have fibromyalgia, there is no cure. There are only things meant to help manage it, such as certain exercises, warm baths, and a couple of different drugs approved by the FDA for nerve pain. No one knows exactly what causes the problem, so even if the drugs work, no one knows exactly how. Fifty years from now this condition will be entirely understood. It will be immensely treatable. That day is not here yet. The best I can hope for is that I will enter a period of relative remission. However, it is equally likely that I will be in some form of pain for years. It may follow me for the rest of my life.

There is an odd fellowship of people in pain. I had met individuals before who dealt with such chronic issues. I saw how it limited them and made every day a trial. I saw the toll it took on their emotions. “There but for the grace of God go I,” I would say to myself. Now I need the grace of God. My body tempts me to respond in frustration, to cling to idols, and to sink into despair. I won’t say that I have completely avoided those pitfalls this year. What others might see as admirable perseverance, I see as clinging on for dear life and hoping that the storm will pass.

Christianity is different from many world religions in that it is not only concerned with the soul. It affirms that our bodies are a part of us. We are creatures bound by matter, space, and time. Yes, there is an invisible part of us, but our visible flesh is fundamental to our existence. This is why scripture teaches that we will not spend eternity as disembodied souls. We will have resurrected bodies in the new heavens and the new earth.

Whereas some religions tell us that pain is an illusion or something to be embraced, Christianity says that pain is a curse. It was not part of God’s good creation. It is the effect of sin upon this world. That is why, when God the Son became incarnate as a man, the first curse he took upon Himself was the curse of living in an imperfect body. Though He was not born with original sin like the rest of us, we must know for certain that Jesus Christ felt pain, not only in His Passion, but also in His daily life. He encountered illness wherever He went, and He never dismissed it. He touched those who were sick. He healed both their bodies and their souls.

Obviously, our greatest concern as Christians is for souls, but we must understand the intimate connection between a person’s soul and their body. I have written elsewhere that we must not treat people as only bodies. Now I say we cannot treat them as only souls, because God does not treat them like that. If bodies were unimportant, He would not bother to resurrect them. If they had no effect on our souls, then He would not command us to abstain from certain forms of physical immorality. No sin occurs only in the body, but neither are our bodies exempted from the guilt and consequences of sin, even as they also partake of the curse upon creation.

When the Bible proclaims the hope of the resurrection, it tells us that our physical pain is going to be redeemed as well as our mental and spiritual pain. It affirms the fundamental dignity of the human body. Like our souls, our bodies were designed for good, and they too need to be restored. An hour is coming when that which is incurable will be cured. Our bodies which succumb to the final indignity of death and disintegration will be raised to life. As the Apostle Paul tells us, “The last enemy that will be abolished is death.” (1 Corinthians 15:26)

Back when I was in college, we had chapel services every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Some of the speakers were amazing—in my time there, we were visited by John Stott, Sinclair Ferguson, Vaughan Roberts, and Alistair Begg, just to name a few[1]—but there were also less stimulating messages. On such occasions, I would sometimes flip through the pages of the Bible in front of me and read something else. God forgive me! During the time that I was suffering from anxiety, I stumbled upon a passage I had certainly read before, but which took on a new significance.

That which you sow does not come to life unless it dies; and that which you sow, you do not sow the body which is to be, but a bare grain, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body just as He wished, and to each of the seeds a body of its own. All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one flesh of men, and another flesh of beasts, and another flesh of birds, and another of fish. There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one, and the glory of the earthly is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.

1 Corinthians 15:36b-44

Jesus Christ did not die for disembodied souls. He died for embodied, broken, sinful, helpless human beings. Our souls were already dead in transgressions. Our bodies were following close behind. When He surrendered His own body to torture and execution, Christ did so to redeem both our souls and our bodies, for our bodies are a fundamental part of who we are. That is why, in the resurrection, our bodies will also be restored. The pains we carry now will be removed. We will be given heavenly, glorious bodies, but they will still be our bodies. In both body and soul, we will be redeemed.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.

Romans 8:18-25

There is something about our adoption as the children of God that involves the redemption of our bodies—not only that, but the restoration of God’s good Creation. Brothers and sisters, what awaits us is better than we can fathom. We will be glorified not only in our souls, but also in our bodies. This does not mean that we will become gods, but we will be godly. As the Apostle John saw in a vision, “there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away”. (Revelation 21:4b)

For the first month or two of my present illness/condition/ailment, I did what people normally do when they are sick. I spent a lot of time resting and didn’t accomplish much. Then I realized that whatever I had was not something that was going to pass quickly. It would be with me for the foreseeable future. That is when I said to myself, “Self, if we’re going to get anything done, we’re going to have to do it despite being exhausted and in pain.” Thus, I have continued to the best of my ability, working despite the pain, and maintaining as much normalcy as possible. I think that my output of writing has been decent under the circumstances. However, I admit that when I got the proof copy of my novel and realized the cover was too dark, I didn’t have the energy to go through the process it would take to fix it. Therefore, the cover is now black and not blue. Oh well.

This is neither here nor there. The point is that I am trying to press on toward the prize. There have been some difficulties this year, for sure. Nevertheless, I have experienced a certain amount of success with my writing. Would I trade that for a body that wasn’t in pain? Yes, I would. There are other people who can write. I want to visit the Taj Mahal. Actually, I want to visit anywhere other than the American Midwest. I’d like to meet some of the people I converse with in person, but mostly I’d just like a change of scene. Perhaps in God’s mercy I will experience some improvement in my condition, and this will be possible. Until then, I have a source of hope: I know that my body will be resurrected one day. Even if the medical community decides that my condition is permanent, I know that it is not truly permanent. It can only last 50 more years if I have an average life expectancy, or 70 if I challenge my great-grandmother. That does seem like a lot, but it is not eternal. There will be an end to the pain. There will be an end to the fatigue. There will be an end to my anxieties.

This year, I am more thankful than ever for the resurrection of the body. I know some of you who are reading this have also suffered from physical maladies, and that you are also looking forward to the day when our bodies are renewed. If you are in the prime of health, don’t worry: you’ll end up where I am someday, should you live long enough to be truly old. Death will find us all, and thus we all live in hope of the resurrection. This Thanksgiving Day, let us confess that most blessed truth that the Lord Almighty will raise our bodies from the dead and transform them into a glorified state. Thank God and thank you all for reading!

All scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright The Lockman Foundation.

[1] I’ve just had the terrible realization that I named two Scotsmen and two Englishmen. Heaven help the Yanks!