Humiliation and Dignity

In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.
-Acts 8:33

Someone showed me a picture and I just laughed
Dignity never been photographed
I went into the red, went into the black
Into the valley of dry bone dreams
-Bob Dylan, Dignity

Life is a struggle. A struggle against humiliation. A struggle to gain dignity. And in the battle against humiliation in the hope of gaining dignity we may experience some triumphs. The dignity of courage. The dignity of wisdom. The dignity of noble gesture. The dignity of rising above base animal instinct and becoming fully human. But in the end its a war we all lose. Death sees to that. Death is the final and ultimate humiliation. In death we are laid low. In death we return to dust. In death we are humiliated. In death we return to the humus. Humiliation and humus are related. We strive for the stars, but we return to the soil. Humus. Humiliation.

Some will say, “All the better for being done with this mortal shell.” But I will have none of it. Neither will the Hebrew prophets. Neither will the Christian apostles. The human body is not a mere “mortal shell” and much less is it a “vile prison of the spirit.” Let the Manichaens talk that way, I won’t go along for the ride. The human body is integral to the human being. And the decay of the human body is a decay of humanity itself. The return of the human body to the humus is the ultimate humiliation of the human. It stinks. Literally.

And this is why the gospel is the Christian belief in the resurrection of the body and not the Gnostic belief of an eternal disembodied soul. In the inaugural sermon of the Christian era the Apostle Peter said this:

“David spoke of the resurrection of Messiah, saying,
He was not abandoned to Hades
Nor did his flesh experience corruption.

This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.”
-Acts 2:31, 32

Jesus overcame the humiliation of death and decay, not by becoming an eternal, disembodied spirit existing in a non-spacial, non-temporal Platonic heaven, but by resurrection from the dead!

The humiliation of death is conquered by the dignity of resurrection.

In the Greek Orthodox icons of the resurrection, Jesus is never depicted as risen alone, but as bringing Adam and Eve out of the grave with him. Jesus conquered death, not as an individual, but as a representative of the human race. Jesus took death into himself that death itself might be destroyed and that the human race might be liberated from the humiliation of death and brought into the dignity of resurrection.

The eternal life the New Testament speaks of is not the immortality of the soul dreamt of by Plato and it is not the “harps and clouds” angelic existence of popular imagination. When Jesus and the Apostles speak of eternal life they are speaking of a resurrected life — a fully embodied, physical life that has achieved immortality through resurrection. This is the Christian hope. The hope of dignity that rises (literally!) above humiliation.

And so we who believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ labor with the assurance that our labor is not in vain. We are assured that every good thing we do now will somehow carry over into the resurrection. The interruption of death and our interim period of “absent from the body, present with the Lord” will not prevent our good works from carrying over into the new creation.

This makes me happy.

I was never going to be a very good Platonist. And I was certainly never going to be a very happy Platonist. Plato may pine away for the realm of perfect forms, but I want to feel…I want to feel the sun on my face, the wind in my hair and the sand between my toes. I want to be a human, not an angel. I don’t want to be “liberated” by death. It’s not liberation, it’s humiliation. But Jesus Christ has taken the humiliation out of death by his resurrection. The Apostle Paul says it like this:

“When this perishable body puts on imperishablity, and this mortal body puts on immortality,
then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:
Death is swallowed up in victory,
Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!”
1 Corinthians 15:53-57

And how is death defeated? Not by going to heaven — that is simply death. Death is defeated by resurrection! That is the whole point of 1 Corinthians chapter 15. It’s amazing (and tragic) that so many have missed this and settled for Plato’s paltry substitute. A Christianity where resurrection is not the central hope and the primary focus of the good news is either a paganized Christianity or a Christianized paganism. Either way it’s not the Christianity of the Apostle Paul.

My faith is founded on bodily resurrection.
(There is no other kind of resurrection.)
My faith is guaranteed by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
My hope is that I too will be raised to immortality.
Call me crazy.
But call me a Christian.
For this is what Christians believe.
The dignity of resurrection triumphing over the humiliation of death.



(The painting is The Lamentation of the Dead Christ by Mantegna.)