During worship services this Easter season when we say the Apostle’s Creed together, I naturally attend especially to the words focusing on the Easter event. “On the third day he rose again from the dead,” we proclaim. And in the section on the Holy Spirit, we profess our faith in “the resurrection of the body.” Familiar, precious words. A couple weeks ago it occurred to me, though: do we believe in the resurrection of the mind?
I have spent the last few weeks helping my 85-year-old parents through the latest crisis. Dad had been in the hospital for bronchitis and then went to a nursing home temporarily for rehab. The plan was to get him stronger through physical therapy and then get him home again, with supporting visits from nurses and home health aids. The homecoming happened a couple days ago, he’s doing much better, and the present crisis has resolved. But I have watched him for several years getting physically weaker and mentally more forgetful, more confused, more distant. The truth is, we may be OK for the moment, but the overall trend is downward. Diminishment is the unavoidable, relentless, cruel truth of old age.
We believe in the resurrection of the body. We take deep comfort in this faith as we watch a dear friend fight cancer, as we grieve with a young person paralyzed in an accident, as we watch our elders grow more stooped and thin. In the resurrection, our broken and scarred bodies will be healed, renewed, even enhanced—if we can take Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances as a clue. My children are definitely planning on superpowers of some kind. “The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable,” writes Paul to the Corinthians. In that triumphant hope we endure the body’s weakness and rejoice when bodies heal. We receive the healed body as a sign of the resurrection.
How much harder it is, though, to heal a mind. That New Testament word nous is very rich: it encompasses reason, intellect, perception, will, moral judgment, feeling, desire, purpose. Nous is different from pneuma for spirit or psyche for soul. Nous sums up just about everything we think of when we imagine a personality—nous is what makes a person recognizably that person.
If the body is weak in this life, the nous is even more fragile. My dad struggles to keep his grip on people’s names and what happened yesterday and where he is. So many of my students paddle hard against the threatening waves of depression. So many friends live daily with the challenge and heartbreak of their children’s autism. My dear nephew, only eleven years old, is bewildered by overpowering anxiety. A cousin, a former colleague, and a childhood friend all wander in the wilderness of schizophrenia. And think of all the people—all of us, really—who live every day in the cloudy haze of our self-deceptions, neuroses, and ignorance. Paul urges the Romans to offer their bodies “as living sacrifices” and to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Neither is an easy thing, not even under the best of circumstances. It takes a miracle of the Spirit.
I was recently reading the story of the Gerasene demoniac in Mark 5, the man who lived, crazy, among the tombs and who broke any chain meant to hold him. Jesus encounters the man and asks him, “What is your name?” But the man himself cannot answer; instead the demons within him offer a chilling reply: “Legion, for we are many.”
Jesus calmly delivers this man’s nous from a legion of possessors. The man is restored, the text says, to “his right mind.” In a comic and culturally significant move, Jesus sends the demons into a herd of swine and they promptly rush off a cliff. So far does he remove our demons from us. Strangely, the Gerasenes are both angry and afraid about this. They’re mad about the pigs and they beg Jesus to leave. Perhaps it was easier for them to imagine that all the madness in town was contained in the man of the tombs. There was no need, then, to face the madness within themselves.
Do we believe in the resurrection of the mind? The signs here and now giving promise of the resurrected mind seem hard to find and harder to trust. Yet how can the resurrection be anything less than a full transformation of each mind into its full glory? In the resurrection, I believe the confusion of dementia will be cleared away. Anxieties and depressions will subside completely. Addictions—gone. Mental illnesses—gone. Even our ignorance, self-deception, stubborn pride—all the clouds of our sin and mortality will be swept aside for good. I suppose, come to think of it, that we will know each other truly and fully for the first time. The limitations on our minds will be removed, like tire-clamps, like chains, dissolved in a shimmer of clarity.
I believe in the resurrection of the mind. Maybe when we experience this resurrection, we will wonder how we ever imagined, in these dim shadows, that we lived.