Resurrection and the Timing of Healing

Bear with me as I go out into the theological weeds to explore an obscure doctrinal debate about the resurrection.  As my wife and I studied the “Come, Follow Me” curriculum section on Easter, we discussed Amulek statements about the resurrection in Alma 11.  Our question was: What exactly does it mean to “restored to its perfect frame, as it is now, or in the body” (Alma 11:44)?  Does it mean that the body is perfectly brought back to the condition it was when it died (“as we now are at this time”) and may undergo further healing and development or that it is brought back in a perfected, ideal state (“its perfect frame”)?

Decades ago, the same question was asked by a priesthood quorum.  According to a Church periodical:

It was the opinion of some members of the class that when the body comes forth it will be just as it was when it was laid down.  That is to say, if an arm or a leg were missing or the person otherwise maimed, the body would come forth as it was laid down and the restoration of any missing part would be added later.  Others thought that it would come forth in physical and mental perfection.

When they turned to the then-apostle Joseph Fielding Smith for clarification, he wrote that: “There would be no purpose whatsoever in having the body of any individual come forth from the dead just as it is laid down, showing the effects of disease which would have to be eliminated following the resurrection.”  He noted the exception of Jesus having the wounds in his hands, feet, and side, but stated that this was merely “done to convince [his disciples] that they were not beholding a spirit” and was “for a divine purpose of bearing witness.”[1]  In Elder Smith’s opinion, the resurrection was one where bodies are brought back to a perfected, ideal state.

There are several indications in the scriptures that support Elder Smith’s statement.  Alma told his son that “the soul shall be restored to the body, and the body to the soul … but all things shall be restored to their proper and perfect frame” (Alma 40:23).  In stating that bodies would be restored to a proper and perfect frame, Alma does seem to indicate a resurrection to ideal bodies.  That is also seems to be the most straightforward interpretation of Amulek’s words, cited at the outset of this post.  Paul gave similar indications when he answered the questions “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?”  He responded that: “You do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed. … What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable.  It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory.  It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. … For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality.”[2]   Paul believed that the body we are resurrected with will be a dramatic improvement over the one we have at death.  This evidence suggests that Joseph Fielding Smith is well-supported in his belief that the resurrection brings us immediately to physical perfection.

Yet, other at least one modern prophet has given statements that stand contrary to this.  President Joseph F. Smith stated that: “The body will come forth as it is laid to rest, for there is no growth or development in the grave. As it is laid down, so will it arise, and changes to perfection will come by the law of restitution. But the spirit will continue to expand and develop, and the body, after the resurrection will develop to the full stature of man.”[3]  He believed that people will rise the same way we knew them in mortality, “even to the wounds in the flesh.” Afterwards, there would be a gradual perfection and healing of the body: “Not that a person will always be marred by scars, wounds, deformities, defects or infirmities, for these will be removed in their course, in their proper time, according to the merciful providence of God.”  We will, according to President Smith, “be made perfect, physically as well as spiritually, through obedience to the law by which he has provided the means that perfection shall come to all his children.”[4]  To President Joseph F. Smith, the resurrection initiated a gradual process of healing and perfection rather than an immediate, one-time fix.

While Joseph F. Smith’s understanding of the resurrection may have been influenced by the image of Jesus rising with wounds still in his body (he mentions the two together on at least one occasion), a major part of how he arrived at that conclusion came from his understanding of the resurrection of children.  His uncle, the Prophet Joseph Smith, taught that: “Will mothers have their children in eternity? Yes! Yes! Mothers, you will have your children … But as the child dies, so will it rise from the dead.” [5]  Joseph F. Smith felt that he was interpreting this statement of his uncle when he taught that there will be no change in the grave, but growth and development of the body will come after the resurrection: “According to the word of the Prophet Joseph Smith the body will develop, either in time or in eternity, to the full stature of the spirit, and when the mother is deprived of the pleasure and joy of rearing her babe to manhood or to womanhood in this life, through the hand of death, that privilege will be renewed to her hereafter, and she will enjoy it to a fuller fruition that it would be possible for her to do here.”[6]  Joseph F. Smith’s teachings that there is growth and gradual healing or development after the resurrection seems to have largely developed from his understanding of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s statements about children being resurrected as children.

More recently, President Russell M. Nelson has given some interesting and potentially relevant statements about the resurrection.  He once stated that: “Our bodies undergo constant rebuilding according to genetic recipes that are uniquely ours. Each time we take a bath, we lose not only dirt, but cells dead and dying, as they are replaced by a newer crop. This process of regeneration and renewal is but prelude to the promised phenomenon and future fact of our resurrection.”[7]  This statement potentially suggests a process of regeneration and healing that could align well with Joseph F. Smith’s statements.  On another occasion, however, President Nelson also stated that “The Lord who created us in the first place surely has power to do it again. The same necessary elements now in our bodies will still be available—at His command. The same unique genetic code now embedded in each of our living cells will still be available to format new ones then.”[8]  This provides a mechanism that makes sense to restore bodies that have decayed, been burned, eaten, or otherwise destroyed in ways that don’t lend themselves well to the idea of rising in the physical state in which one died.

The problem of the destruction of the body brings up one of the difficulties with Joseph F. Smith’s understanding of the resurrection.  With President Nelson’s statement that God can re-assemble our bodies from the template of our DNA at command, it would make sense for the body to be put together in a perfected state rather than with the same wounds, degenerations, or scars it accumulated during mortality (though this doesn’t account for imperfections caused by the DNA).  Perhaps there is an acceptable compromise between the views of Joseph F. Smith and his son, Joseph Fielding Smith.  The latter’s statement that there would be no purpose to rise in the resurrection showing the effects of disease that could be eliminated during the resurrection makes sense.  It also seems like the most straightforward interpretation of the statements in the scriptures cited above.  Yet, it does make some sense that children will rise as children so they can learn how to master their bodies gradually. It is, according to one line of thought, one of our purposes in life to learn to harness and master our bodies so we can access their full potential. As written by Parley P. Pratt: “You came to the earth to be born of flesh, / To fashion and perfect your earthly house.”[9]  Hence, it seems possible that adults will rise in a perfected form during the resurrection, but children will rise as children in order to “fashion and perfect [their] earthly house.”

Ultimately, the priesthood quorum that had a disagreement on the subject could find support for both sides of the debate.  Those who held that a body “would come forth in physical and mental perfection” have the support of several statements in the scriptures and gained the support of a senior apostle during the 1950s.  Those who held that “when the body comes forth it will be just as it was when it was laid down” had the support of the 6th president of the Church.  For those of us today, the statements of Joseph F. Smith on the subject are printed in an important and current manual of the Church, giving them the Church’s official sanction and imprimatur.  Yet, other Church publications align with Joseph Fielding Smith’s interpretation as well.  For example, True to the Faith states that: “Resurrection is the reuniting of the spirit with the body in a perfect, immortal state, no longer subject to disease or death”[10]  The Gospel Topics essay on resurrection, however, modifies the statement by removing the word “perfect,” potentially seeking to leave interpretation open to both viewpoints.[11]  In any case, it seems like a bit of a stalemate on trying to find an answer to the questions at hand.

This seems to be one of those grey areas that hasn’t been fully clarified.  Whether Amulek’s statement that the spirit will “restored to its perfect frame, as it is now, or in the body” during the resurrection means that the body is perfectly brought back to the condition it was when it died (and may undergo further healing and development) or that it is brought back in a perfected, ideal state remains unclear.  Both possibilities seem to be left open by the current publications of the Church.

 

Footnotes:

[1] Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions: The Classic Collection in One Volume (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1966), 5:43.

[2] 1 Corinthians 15:35-37, 42-44, 53, New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).

[3] Joseph F. Smith, “Editor’s Table: On the Resurrection,” Improvement Era, June 1904, 623–24. Cited in Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1998, 2011), 91. https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/teachings-joseph-f-smith/chapter-10?lang=eng

[4] Joseph F. Smith, “Speech at the funeral services of Rachel Grant,” Improvement Era, Vol 12, p. 591, June, 1909.  Cited in Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, 91-92.

[5] Stan Larson, “The King Follett Discourse: A Newly Amalgamated Text,” BYU Studies 18, no. 2 (1978), 15.  As we have received the King Follett discourse, the Prophet makes the odd statement that a resurrected child “will never grow, it will be the child in its precise form as it was before it died out of your arms. Children dwell and exercise power, throne upon throne, dominion upon dominion, in the same form just as you laid them down.” Admittedly, there is a bit of a disconnect between uncle and nephew in the written record—while both state that children will rise from the grave as children, the former stated that children remained children (albeit with the intellects of gods), the latter that they develop and grow to adulthood.  Perhaps Joseph Smith’s words were recorded incorrectly or perhaps he meant what he said but the Latter-day Saints who heard it understood it differently, but there does seem to be a difference between what he is recorded saying and how Joseph F. Smith understood it.  Elder B. H. Roberts suggested that the first possibility was the correct one, stating that the reports “were reported in long hand and from memory, so that they are very likely to contain inaccuracies and convey wrong impressions,” and noted several individuals who indicated that Joseph F. Smith accurately represented what Joseph Smith had communicated.  Isabella Horne, for example, recalled that when she heard the Prophet teach the same thing on another occasion, she understood that he meant “that children would grow and develop in the Millennium, and that the mothers would have the pleasure of training and caring for them, which they had been deprived of in this life.” (Recorded in the Documentary History of the Church, 4:556, footnote 7. https://byustudies.byu.edu/content/volume-4-chapter-32).  Joseph Smith did teach the same thing on at least one other occasion (a sermon on 20 March 1842), so I suspect that the latter possibility is probably the correct one.  In any case, Joseph F. Smith’s interpretation of the issue is accepted as the correct one by the Church today.

[6] Joseph F. Smith, “Remarks at the funeral of Daniel Wells Grant, child of Heber J. Grant, and Emily Wells Grant, in family residence, Salt Lake City, March 12, 1895, Young Woman’s Journal, Vol. 6 pp. 369-374.  Cited in Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, 131-132. https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/teachings-joseph-f-smith/chapter-10?lang=eng

[7] “Life after Life,” CR April 1987, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1987/04/life-after-life?lang=eng

[8] “Doors of Death, CR April 1992, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1992/04/doors-of-death?lang=eng

[9] Essential Parley P. Pratt (SLC, Signature Books: 1990), 149.

[10] “Resurrection,” in True to the Faith (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2004), 139. https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/true-to-the-faith/resurrection?lang=eng.

[11] “Resurrection,” Gospel Topics, churchofjesuschrist.org, accessed 1 April 2020, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics/resurrection?lang=eng.

11 comments for “Resurrection and the Timing of Healing

  1. Wondering
    April 11, 2020 at 8:27 am

    Interesting. But some (at least some of those with genetic/DNA anomalies — intersex, Turner syndrome, Down’s syndrome, etc. or persons born with missing limbs, and probably many who just don’t like their body types or height or facial characteristics) might not like either of those alternatives. “[as] it is now” may be quite undesireable regardless of when “now” may be. Maybe “perfect frame” means something other than what could be reconstructed from DNA or made healthy after being resurrected in the form/condition/age in which one died. Maybe Amulek got carried away with his rhetoric, just as others have done at times. What’s the point in such speculations? .

  2. April 11, 2020 at 12:56 pm

    I’m more in the Joseph F. Smith camp. While there’s bound to be some quickening at the time of resurrection, I believe that to achieve a celestial body will require work. Picture in your mind someone with an ideal body. Now think about what that person does. Are they lazy? Do they pig out? Or do they exercise? Do they eat healthy? I don’t see why this pattern wouldn’t also apply with resurrected bodies. After this life is patterned after the next. I suspect that those with celestial bodies follow the laws required for achieving and maintaining those heavenly bodies. Just like how no celestial being is forced to be full of good works and righteousness (it’s who they’ve become through decisions they’ve made), celestial bodies are likely not magically gifted but something that’s worked for and maintained.
    If you don’t take care of your body in this life, how much will you be taking care of it in the next?
    Another debate point for resurrecting in the same frame as when you died, is then that way your family members will recognize you, and then (de-)aging/perfecting begins according to however that happens.
    Whether instantly or overtime you get to the body and degree of glory you’ve earned. So if it turns out I’m wrong, no biggie.

  3. The Other Clark
    April 11, 2020 at 1:33 pm

    Huh. Fascinating. There is evidence that portions of our DNA (genes) can be switched on or off, and this switching is belief, emotion, and lived experience. This makes up the field of epigenetics. Maybe we get our DNA back, but the mutations/imperfections are “turned off” as we overcome our sins, mistakes, and erroneous beliefs?

    Also, Jader3rd gives light to a longstanding Gospel question of mine: If we get resurrected BEFORE the final judgement, how is the glory of the resurrected body determined? The answer, maybe, is that we grow into our glory and power, as we live according to our further light and knowledge.

    Thanks for the chance to go “into the theological weeds,” as you put it.

  4. Basil
    April 11, 2020 at 4:02 pm

    Perhaps the theological weeds are so high that I cant see the wood for the trees, but If one infers by Ether 3:16 that the appearance of an individual’s physical body is determined by (the appearance of) their spiritual body, then the conundrum is resolved. It would then be immaterial as to whether or whatever physical loss or disfigurement occurred in mortality. The resurrected body would be simply determined by the spiritual (body).

  5. Chad Nielsen
    April 11, 2020 at 4:08 pm

    Wondering, I suspect that whatever the case may be, things will end up working out well for people. As you indicate, though, it is all a bit speculative until we experience it for ourselves. I’m reminded of a quote attributed to J. Golden Kimball in his old age about how it was almost time for him to go beyond the vale and find out how much of what he had been preaching was true. It is, however, interesting to discuss and consider, especially since it is an effort to make sense of words recorded in the scriptures and spoken by important Church leaders.

    There is also an interesting implication for progressing in the afterlife that you both touched on, Jader3rd and Other Clark. One key point that at least Bruce R. McConkie used to support his belief that you were locked into a specific degree of glory was that you are resurrected to a body specifically prepared for that glory (based on a very specific understanding of Paul’s words). Many earlier Church leaders (including Brigham Young and James E. Talmage) believed, however, that you would not be locked into the kingdom you were initially placed in forever, but could progress into high kingdoms eventually. If the resurrected body is changeable, as Joseph F. Smith suggested, then it would open the door to progression in body, which softens one of the key points for being stuck where you are at the time of resurrection.

    I suspect, Other Clark, that epigenetics may be part of how our bodies are perfected, but even that can only go so far. As Wondering pointed out, there are some genetic conditions that cause big problems for people that would require the actual DNA to be changed. Given that we, in our bumbling imperfect understanding, can manage some genetic engineering, however, I suspect that God has ways to do that. Perhaps major flaws in our bodies like that are fixed when it’s put back together initially (along with the changes that make us able to be immortal), but those bodies are still able to grow and develop in other ways afterwards. It will be interesting to find out one day.

  6. Chad Nielsen
    April 11, 2020 at 4:12 pm

    To your point, Basil, the Joseph F. Smith quotes (ones I don’t think I quoted in full above) suggest that you grow from the state your physical body was at death to the state of your spirit body.

  7. DeAnnS
    April 11, 2020 at 5:05 pm

    Hmmm…. My teeth were too big and crowded for my mouth so when I was a teenager I had 4 teeth pulled (and later 4 wisdom teeth) and then years of braces to bring everything into alignment. Without the orthodontia I would have looked like Eleanor Roosevelt with crooked, buck teeth. So I hope that my expensive dental treatments rise with me in the resurrection!

  8. lastlemming
    April 11, 2020 at 8:41 pm

    I have a son with Down Syndrome and have contemplated this question a lot. The idea of him being resurrected with 47 chromosomes and having one removed from every cell in his body later on makes no sense at all to me. Inherent in the idea of a “perfect” human body is 46 chromosomes–no more, no less. Furthermore, I believe that a “perfect” resurrected body has all of the parts implied by those 46 chromosomes–victims of the guillotine will be resurrected with heads. This does not mean growth of various types is not possible in a resurrected body.

  9. lastlemming
    April 11, 2020 at 8:46 pm

    Of course, it is also possible that we will be resurrected into the the Matrix and have virtual bodies which we will not recognize as such. In that case, the number of chromosomes is irrelevant as long as the program contains a mechanism to “fix” everything (which our current state seems not to have).

  10. kelleyk
    April 12, 2020 at 5:57 pm

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. A podcast called “Restoration or Resurrection?” (number 36 on the Iron Rod podcast), answered a lot of my questions on this & other matters…by sticking to what the scriptures say.

  11. kelleyk
    April 12, 2020 at 6:40 pm

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