Your Body Will Be Whole: A Physician’s Thoughts on Heaven

During my surgical training, I helped care for an aging professor who bemoaned his declining health. His mind still moved in academic circles, pondering the high points of chemistry and physics, but arthritis had so fused the bones in his neck that he couldn’t nestle into a pillow anymore. Cancer riddled his chest and squandered nutrients until his frame wasted away to skeletal proportions. The simple routine of enjoying a meal pitched him into coughing, and pneumonia festered from the secretions that pooled in his lungs.

After one of many bronchoscopies to clear his airways and ward off a ventilator, he motioned to me and mumbled something. I drew closer, listening for his raspy voice above the hiss of the oxygen mask.

“Don’t get old,” he said.

Wages of Sin

While our medical conditions and paths in life vary, if our Lord tarries we’ll all join this professor in his grief at some point as we endure the failure of our earthly bodies.

It’s easy to dismiss this truth when we’re healthy and can so easily enjoy the fruits of God’s exquisite design. When we savor the rush of air through our lungs as we run or the vigor of our limbs as we dance, the precision and fluidity of God’s creation moves us to thanksgiving. We join with the psalmist in his praise: 

For it was you who created my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I will praise you
because I have been remarkably and wondrously made.
Your works are wondrous,
and I know this very well. (Psalm 139:13–14)

And yet, our vitality has a time limit. When we neglect the truth that the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, we prime ourselves for disease (1 Cor. 6:19–20). The cigarettes we smoke blacken our lungs; our overindulgences at the dinner table coat our arteries in cholesterol; our extra glasses of alcohol inflame and destroy the liver.

Even when we aim to steward our bodies well, our health eventually fails because “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). The consequences of sin penetrate even to our vessels and bones, unraveling the physiological systems that God has meticulously interwoven. As we age, our immune systems deteriorate, and we succumb to infections. Calcium hardens our arteries, driving our blood pressure dangerously high. Our bones thin, our spines weaken, and we stoop toward the dust from which we came. Even our faces reveal the march of time as the production of elastin in our skin dwindles and creases deepen around our eyes.

This inching toward death, with our bodies slowly falling apart as the years drift by, awaits us all. As Paul reminds us, “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, in this way death spread to all people, because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12).The brokenness that afflicts the world also afflicts our earthly bodies, ushering us from the bloom of youth into pain, fragility, and ultimately, the grave. For many of us, humiliation and pain, frustration and grief walk beside us as we decline.

Redemption of the Body

Yet we have hope.

As we toil in the shadow of the cross, despising our tally of diagnoses and wrangling ever-mounting aches and pains, we cling to the promise that when Christ returns “He will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes. Death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4). We confess our belief in the “resurrection of the body” through the Apostles’ Creed because the New Testament teaches that the transformation which the Holy Spirit has already begun in us will come to completion in the new heaven and the new earth.

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now,” Paul writes. “Not only that, but we ourselves who have the Spirit as the firstfruits—we also groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:22–23). In saving us from all our sins, Christ has also saved us from their wages, including the heavy toll upon our bodies.

Christianity, then, doesn’t promise that our souls will float in heaven, wrenched from their corporeal vessels. Instead, when we pine for Christ’s return, we anticipate a complete renewal: a softening of the heart, a sanctification of the mind, and even a renewal of the bodies that in their present form so easily wither and break. And all so we might know God and enjoy him forever, for His glory.

Spiritual Body

While still tethered to the aches and groans of this mortal coil, it’s hard to envision a body unsullied by sin. “What will it look like?” we may wonder. “How will it be different?”

When the church at Corinth raised such questions, they drove Paul to exasperation. Corinth was a metropolis steeped in pagan influences, including a Greek philosophy that viewed the body as debased and corrupt, and the spirit as sublime. This thinking proved a stumbling block to some early Christians in Corinth, who struggled to accept the truth of the resurrection. How, they wondered, could the Son of God rise in the flesh, when the body was material and depraved?

Paul balked at such questions, and highlighted that the Corinthians’ thinking reflected the limitations of human experience rather than the wisdom of God:

But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? What kind of body will they have when they come?” You fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And as for what you sow—you are not sowing the body that will be, but only a seed, perhaps of wheat or another grain. But God gives it a body as he wants, and to each of the seeds its own body. (1 Cor. 15:35–38)

In this rebuttal, Paul argues that our resurrected, spiritual bodies will be something totally new, dramatically different from the bodies we leave in the grave. Just as a plant bursts forth from its seed, so also the resurrection body will arise from the earthly body that is sown, but a radical change will occur. Through the resurrection, the body will transform from something that is perishable, dishonorable, and weak—like a dormant seed—to something wholly new: imperishable, glorious, and powerful.

In short, the resurrection will transform us into the image of Christ.

A Body Like His

Through Christ, God has adopted us as his own children, and shares with us the inheritance of his Son, including a body made new. Paul writes,

Our citizenship is in heaven, and we eagerly wait for a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humble condition into the likeness of his glorious body, by the power that enables him to subject everything to himself. (Phil. 3:20–21)

So also, John writes,

See what great love the Father has given us that we should be called God’s children—and we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it didn’t know him. Dear friends, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that when he appears, we will be like him because we will see him as he is. (1 John 3:1–2)

While we may struggle to wrap our minds around the resurrection promise, when we look to Christ—risen, glorified, joined with the Father in love for eternity—we see a glimpse of the future that awaits us when he returns and we come before his throne.

Paul calls Jesus the “firstfruits” because his resurrection serves as a preamble for the path we will follow (1 Cor. 15:20). “As in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22). While we cannot wholly understand how our redeemed bodies will look or feel, we have tremendous hope in the promise that regardless of the details, our bodies will resemble Christ. Our bodies will be like His: clean, new, glorious, powerful, imperishable.

Bodies Made New

This promise offers a balm for the weary soul. As our earthly bodies bend and break, as our strength wanes and our groans lengthen, we cling to the hope that a day is coming when all the aches will fade away. Jesus has saved us from wrath, both body and soul. He has triumphed even over death (1 Cor. 15:55). And through the Father’s great mercy, we share in His victory.

Our sufferings within these mortal coils may drive us to our knees. But when Christ returns, and we kneel before his throne, by his grace we will “[put] on the imperishable” (1 Cor. 15:54 ESV), raise rejuvenated voices, and praise him with bodies made new.

Note: A version of this article was originally posted at:
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About the Author

Kathryn Butler

Kathryn Butler

Kathryn Butler is a trauma surgeon turned writer and homeschooling mom. She earned her MD from Columbia University, and trained in surgery and critical care at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, where she served on staff before leaving … read more …

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