Junior Ganymede
We endeavor to give satisfaction

Why are bodies better than spirits? In a word: agency

March 24th, 2017 by Bruce Charlton

Going back to the first philosophers of Ancient Greece – the body is seen as subject to disease, corruption, ageing and death… naturally the spirit was more highly prized; naturally the eternal real was seen as immaterial spirit, where there could be no decay because no ‘matter’…

Yet Christianity insists we will be resurrected into bodies – albeit perfected bodies that are immune to decay, destruction or death. But why? Why bother mucking-around ‘confined’ in bodies when we might we free-ranging spirits…?

Mormonism goes a considerable way towards explaining this, by the insight that God the Father (as well as Jesus Christ) is embodied – and that this is a necessary part of attaining the highest level of creative divinity. (For example, while creation does not require a body, and Jesus Christ created – or co-created – this world; divine procreation – the begetting of spirit children – requires the body; in some way.)

But there is not much indication of why this should be – why ‘bodies are better’ – whereas three thousand years or more of philosophical and religious history suggest that bodies are a limitation, not an advantage.

Why, then, are bodies better – as it seems they must be?


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Comments (12)
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March 24th, 2017 00:55:46

Naked Rat
March 24, 2017

How does this square with the presumed agency in the Council of Heaven; that Satan chose and others followed and were denied bodies?

Mark Clifford
March 24, 2017

It is articles like this that keep me reading JG (and Dr. Charlton’s) blogs regularly. For example: I have never been able to figure out why an embodied God (construed as Father and Mother) would have unembodied offpring; and this provides a reasonable idea. Among other good ideas.
Much thanks, and I will be reading,
Mark Clifford

March 24, 2017

Bruce: I’ve always understood that Lazarus being raised from the dead was not in fact a resurrection; his body was not made perfect, and the pharisees conspired to kill him. There isn’t note of Lazarus going around being all resurrected and causing a big stir; we understand resurrected bodies are different in a number of fundamental ways from “gross” bodies. (no longer subject to disease and death, being clothed in glory, etc)

I would liken the body increasing one’s agency the same way progression in the church does. As we make covenants, we are given power, and that “increases” our agency. A spirit with a body has more knowledge (experiencial knowledge in a very different way than we imagine a spirit’s experience. Even just the feel of knocking on my desk is radically different I imagine than my experience as a spirit.) A spirit can’t, from anything we know, commit… Well, hardly any sins. *most* sins require a body. With a body comes opportunities, dangers, responsibilities, and choices…

Bruce Charlton
March 25, 2017

Thanks for the comments – note that these following answers reflect my current understanding, and can’t be regarded as definitive.

@Naked Rat – You must be correct to say that there was agency at work in the council, and in other accounts of pre-mortal life – and the answer must be that agency is quantitative – it is not all or nothing.

This is what I believe – I believe that even ‘minerals’ have some agency (rocks, water, gases etc) – presumably of some much slower and simpler kind than humans – and plants and animals lie in-between.

Agency increases (or is itended to increase) throughout human maturation – and I see a similar quantitative aspect to the growth between pre-mortal spirit life and mortal incarnation.

@Mark Clifford: Thank you.

@bobaduck: If you search ‘Lazarus’ on my @notions’ blog you will see that I have the unusual belief that Lazarus was indeed ressurected (which, I think, is why the Gospel gives such detail in its description of Lazarus, and places it in such a central position… this is not merely another ‘parable’) – and Lazarus after resurrection became the Evangelist John writing the Gosepl about the miracle – and John is still alive and active today (as I understand the discussion between Jesus and Peter to mean, at the end of John’s Gospel).

To modern eyes John’s Gospel has a strangeness in parts, a mysteriousness as if referring to things we are ‘missing’- and I believe this is because he was writing indirectly about sacred matters which would have been undertsood at the time by those they were intended for (for example, the episode of Mary of Bathany, Lazarus’s sister, pouring ointment and wiping Jesus’s feet with her hair was, I think, reference to a sacred ceremony of spiritual marriage – after which Mary was renamed ‘Magdalene’)

But we moderns may again understand some of them for our personal needs by personal revelation (although this is not a matter of official teaching for the whole church and its organisation – it is personal revelation for personal use).

Your point about bodies seems to ring true, and I imagine it is an aspect of the situation. However, the ‘drasticness’ of incarnation seems to require some more fundamental explananation – and I tend to think of it in terms of enabling the mind to become wholly ‘insulated’ from other beings, and thereby fully-agent. (After which we ought to re-connect with other beings – the isolation is a necessary step and possibility – but we are not supposed to remain isolated from spiritual influences… maintaining this spiritual isolation has been one of the most serious and lethal errors of modernity).

March 25, 2017

@BC, the current LDS understanding is that Lazarus was brought back to mortal life, as in the manner of the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-17), and Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:21-43). Though the latter may have been a healing, not a restoration from death to life.

Old Testament examples of restoration from death to life were the raising of the son of the widow of Zarephath, by Elijah (1 Kings 17), and the raising of the son of the woman of Shunem by Elisha (2 Kings 4).

There were prophets who were _translated_ into immortality but not resurrected to a full post-mortal glory, prior to the Savior’s resurrection. And some afterwards, too. We believe Moses and Elijah were translated.

See the LDS Bible dictionary and Topical Guide on “Translation”. There might also be an entry in McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine on translation that will get you up to speed.

We believe John the Evangelist, along with the “Three Nephites”, were somehow translated, or made immortal, while maintaining an outward appearance of mortality. Though that may not have been along the same lines as Moses and Elijah.

There are a couple of principles that modern prophets have emphasized:

This has been restated by many modern prophets and apostles, and published in official post-1960 “correlated” material, that we can be fairly certain.

One, that the Savior had to be the first to be resurrected to post-mortal glory, “firstfruits of the resurrection.” Therefore, any previous instances had to be mere resuscitaton to _mortal_ life.

Two, the callings of some prophets who lived before the Savior’s mortal ministry required them to have physical bodies later on for assignments such as conferring keys upon subsequent prophets. This is illustrated in the Transfiguration where Moses and Elijah appeared, and we are told by modern prophets that they gave “keys” to Peter, James, and John. This is what we call “translation”, a lifting or change of a person from mortal to immortal, but not (yet) resurrected to glory. Technically, at the time of the transfiguration, Moses and Elijah had never died, but underwent some process to keep their physical bodies.

We believe John the evangelist, and the Three Nephites went through a similar process.

But at some point, I think it’s explained in the book of Moroni, translated beings eventually do go through a resurrection process to receive their glorified Celestial body.

Bruce Charlton
March 25, 2017

@Books – I hope I made it clear that the views I expressed wrt Lazarus-John and Mary of Bethany/ Magdalene are my own understanding which I derive from reading John’s Gospel as our primary source of Christian understanding; with the other Gospels (and the rest of the Bible) regarded as less authoritative – I don’t claim to speak for anyone else, certainly not the official church understanding.

March 26, 2017

I have long wondered about the verse, “For as ye have looked upon the long absence of your spirits from your bodies to be a bondage”, so this make sense in a lot of ways.
thanks, Bruce

March 28, 2017

This is great stuff. Still thinking it over.

April 6, 2017

One of the better posts and comment sections we’ve had. Still enjoying it.

@Bruce C., did you ever see this post?


Bruce Charlton
April 6, 2017

@G – Yes, I remember it. It’s one of those things I need to keep trying to explain to myself in different ways…

April 6, 2017

I think that God gives the Righteous all kinds of trials, problems, and simply experiences, so we can be in a position to help others.

Jesus became mortal, so he could help us mortals. Likewise, I think many of us go through these experiences, so we understand how to help others. We can’t serve them unless we understand, at least partially.

We are in a fallen world, and we are going to have experiences with the Fall. I suppose, likewise, we can’t appreciate the Atonement, without actual experience struggling with the Fall, and the side effects of living in a fallen world.

And all those fallen things, will be remade, purified and put in their proper place. For now, we need to put ourselves in the proper place.

[…] Charlton again argues that bodies are “better” than spirits (posted on Junior Ganymede with a link to the full article on his personal blog). (See previous installments on this […]

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