Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The resurrection of the animals

I don't know if anyone has addressed this question in any detail before, whether in contemporary times or else in the history of the church: will the animals be resurrected as well?

Certainly the reasoning of the ancient church fathers about the resurrection of humanity may tend in this direction. Some of them write about the resurrection as being a product of the union of the divine and human natures in Jesus Christ, such that human nature itself is transformed through this very union. Thus all persons will be resurrected ultimately because of the incarnation, since they all share a human nature. Human nature, however, has much in common with the animals; indeed, if you follow Aristotle, humanity just is rational animality as opposed to the non-rational animality of birds, fish, etc. But since animality is shared among the natures, you might think animality as such has been transformed for immortality.

More than that, in some critical ways, the narrative of the scripture suggests that animals are victims of humanity's mistakes. It is only post lapsum that humans eat animal meat, and if you buy the greater point that death itself is a product of Adam's sin, it would seem that Adam brought death upon the animals when otherwise they wouldn't have died. If anything it would seem that the restorative nature of God's justice asks that animals be resurrected as well, that the wrong done to them be righted, even if this is beyond their comprehension.

Now some difficulties may certainly arise regarding the nature of these animals. Will carnivores be resurrected carnivores? What will they eat, if animals will be immortal? Moreover, given the insanely huge number of animals that have ever existed on earth -- many more than humans -- where would they all fit? What about parasites and otherwise intrinsically harmful creatures?

No doubt resurrection invites questions, for animals as much as for human beings. Still, the inability to answer technical and logistical questions is not ultimately damning, since the same sorts of problems exist for the resurrection of human persons as well. Yet no one is ready to give up belief in the resurrection of humans just because it isn't obvious where they will all go, or what will happen to those with developmental disabilities, etc.

In a way it seems to me affirming the resurrection of animals, unique and unexpected and even avant-garde though it may be, is a way of taking seriously that "new" insight of N.T. Wright and others who follow his lead. I am talking about all the language of the redemption of creation. It wouldn't seem to me plausible to talk about a redemption of humanity without the redemption of currently corrupted human persons, as opposed to a mere recreation of an entirely new humanity, discontinuous to the previous. Mutatis mutandis the same point can be made in the case of animals: the creation will hardly be redeemed if all the compromised elements are merely destroyed forever, and an entirely new creation brought into existence with no ontological continuity with the previous one.