The Body Of Hope
Dr. Beth Felker Jones is Professor of Theology at Wheaton College, in Wheaton, IL and a senior John Wesley Fellow.
Rob Haynes 0:10
Why do bad things happen in God’s good creation? How do we live into the hope that Jesus teaches when things may look bleak? Welcome to World Methodist Evangelism’s Real Faith Real World podcast where we connect the faith within us with the world around us. Our mission at World Methodist Evangelism is to provide resources and events to strengthen discipleship and equip Christ followers to share their faith in Jesus Christ. My name is Rob Haynes of World Methodist Evangelism and today I’m joined by Dr. Beth Felker-Jones who is Professor of Theology at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois. Beth and I will be discussing some of her work on a theology of the body and what that means for creation, what that means to live in difficult times like the COVID crisis, and how we live as people who are between the resurrection of Jesus and we look forward to our own bodily resurrection one day. May I ask a favor? Would you please rate and subscribe to this podcast wherever you get your podcasts? Your five star rating and subscription helps us get the word out to others to let them know about these resources. We want to thank the generosity of Christ Church Global in Memphis, Tennessee for making this podcast possible. Beth, thank you for being with us today.
Beth Felker-Jones 1:34
Glad to be with you.
Rob Haynes 1:35
Help us get to know you a little bit more; introduce our listeners to you.
Beth Felker-Jones 1:39
Sure, I teach theology at Wheaton College and that’s my life. That’s my ministry. My husband, Brian, is a United Methodist pastor and we have four kids. I’m either at the college, teaching, reading, writing, or at home with the kids. I grew up United Methodist and here I stay.
Rob Haynes 2:02
As we’re recording this and you are joining us by the Zoom app, we’re in the middle of the the initial response to the COVID 19 as it’s going around the United States and around the world. To be quite honest, this has shaken our sensibilities in many ways. You know, one thing we might see as an act of violence, we may not understand why, but we can at least point to someone who’s done that — the perpetrator, or if a natural disaster, we can talk about weather or something like that. But it’s when a disease like this that attacks silently and invisibly, sometimes it’s hard to think about those things. So, can you tell us? What does it say about creation? As Christians, how would you make sense of these types of things? Where do we begin?
Beth Felker-Jones 2:51
It’s been a rough two weeks, hasn’t it? I don’t know that we can or maybe even should make sense of times of deep suffering and sorrow, such as the one we’re all going through together right now. But I do think there are certain basic Christian truths we can hold on to in the midst of that. Scripture teaches us that Creation is good, right? God made it, God loves it, God has good purposes for it. And so when we see something gone wrong in Creation, like this current pandemic, we know that what we’re looking at is big picture a consequence of sin. It’s not God’s good intention for us to undergo this suffering. It’s a bentness, or a warpedness that has come into the world under the weight of sin. And by that I don’t mean it’s like punishment for any one specific sin. But that the whole world is groaning and disease is a part of that groaning. So Creation is good. God has good purposes for it. But it’s fallen to not just humans, but the whole of Creation. And God promises to finish redeeming.
Rob Haynes 4:09
You’ve done a lot of work and thinking about the body and that ties into Creation because sometimes we get into thinking that there’s this separation from the body and the spirit, that this body is corrupt and will fall away and there are some indications in Scriptures to that. Help us think about the relationship between, like you said, the good of Creation and the fall in that. How can we reconcile those sorts of things?
Beth Felker-Jones 4:39
The body is one of my very favorite theological topics, in part because understanding what God has to say about our bodies has been so important to me and to my life of discipleship. So if Creation is good and God has good intentions for it, that means that our bodies are good too. God made human beings as embodied creatures on purpose. It’s not a mistake that we have bodies. Our bodies are included in the fall, they are groaning too under the weight of sin, but also looking forward to redemption. So as Christians, we don’t hope for some kind of escape from Earth and bodies as our salvation, but we hope for the resurrection of the body and the reign of God in the new Heavens and the new Earth. That means that our bodies matter to God, right? Our sickness and suffering, the sickness and suffering of the people we love, it matters to God, and that God has made good promises again to finish His work of redemption one day as He finally renews all things.
Rob Haynes 5:46
Maybe you can help us think about this in terms of where we are headed then. Is this all that there is or what does the Bible tell us about what comes next or what God’s plan is in the bigger picture?
Beth Felker-Jones 6:00
There is of course a lot the Bible doesn’t tell us and I think sometimes we fill in those gaps with things that look very mythical: angels with wings, playing harps, on clouds, and so on that’s not been in Scripture. There is a lot of good news in Scripture about what is coming and what we see in that good news is a pattern, a pattern in which we see that what is coming will be continuous with what God is doing right now. It will also be transformed beyond what God is doing right now. So continuous, right? This world, these bodies are part of God’s vital good intentions for all things, we expect them to be carried forward into the kingdom, but also transformed, we need transformation desperately. Both of those things are really, really good news. It means that our bodies matter and it means that the healing that we long for is something we can hope for and expect in faith.
Rob Haynes 7:04
I wonder if even this has played out, where sometimes the world expects that this is all that there is? And when we pass from this earth that’s all and we can only want to make ourselves happy now, that’s the first and foremost priority. I think this has been evidenced in things like the panic buying and the hoarding of some of those basic necessities. Would you say so?
Beth Felker-Jones 7:34
Yeah, I think we’re always searching for security in this world when ultimately our security is in God. I can have all the toilet paper in the world, but that’s not going to bring me security, it might bring me a tiny bit of comfort. At the end of the day, these things are going to change, be renewed. And that’s a theme again in the Scriptures, as Jesus helps us think about what it means to store up treasures on Earth versus storing up treasures in Heaven. It’s a very human impulse I think, to want to make things work right here, right now, but it’s always going to be impossible. In this hard moment, we’re all more aware of that, maybe than we were a month ago.
Rob Haynes 8:34
Another thing that you have written a bit about is the image of God in relation to the body. How can we think about that a little bit? You’ve pointed out in referencing First Corinthians 15, that we share in Adam’s fallen image. At the same time, while we share in that fallen image, we’re meant to share in all that belongs to Christ. How does that speak to the church today, to a pastoral leader or maybe someone who is just trying to make it through the next day? How can we think about those things and put them into practice for our own discipleship first?
Beth Felker-Jones 9:16
Yeah, this is, again, one of those really core Christian teachings that I think can give us strength and comfort in the day-to-day. When Paul talks about how we’re baring the image of Adam and that means we’re groaning under the weight of sin, he doesn’t leave it there, but he points forward to the hope we have in Christ. We who have borne the image of sin will bear the image of the Man of Heaven. Paul is of course connecting back to Genesis and to the basic truth there in Genesis that all of us are created in God’s image. What that means at a really fundamental level is that every human being is beloved of God, every human being has a value and a dignity and a worth. So, as we go through our daily lives or as we go through struggles, it matters. I think “it matters” is a really consistent refrain in Scripture. We can be empowered and encouraged by the Spirit who’s transforming us into the image of Christ, to keep doing what matters in ways that reach towards God’s future kingdom and towards God’s holiness.
Rob Haynes 10:31
Then the second question, if that’s for our discipleship, how then would that impact our mission and evangelism, faith-sharing and that, with such a posture?
Beth Felker-Jones 10:43
This teaching about every human being made in the image of God increases I think both the need for and the universality of evangelism. It’s not just the humans who look like us, who we care about, who we want to share the Good News of Christ with. It’s every human everywhere. Christians have taken that teaching to share the Gospel around the world. I think in our own day and age, it can also remind us of the need to share the gospel at home, of how much each precious son or daughter of God, each precious image bearer, stands in need of and can be offered an abundant life in Christ. It’s everything, right? It teaches us to look at every human as one who Christ wants to transform.
Rob Haynes 11:43
Beth, in 2014, you published Practicing Christian Doctrine: An Introduction to Thinking and Living Theologically. Help us think theologically about some of these issues that the world faces today, for example, the COVID 19 pandemic, should we think about it theologically? Or is it just something that’s up to the doctors and the nurses and the politicians to figure out? I guess that’s a good place to start.
Beth Felker-Jones 12:09
Well, this may be my bias as a theology professor, but I think we should think about everything theologically. I’m always encouraging my students to think of all the things they encounter in this world as theological texts, even if it’s not a text, if it’s a conversation, a sermon or relationship, a news story, it’s a theological text, and something is always being said about what we believe or don’t believe about God. We need theology to read life, to read relationships, to read all those things well, so that we can see where the good words that are in Scripture might offer a different, a better picture and where something’s being said does cohere with those good words of Scripture. I’m always thinking as a Christian, as I scroll through my social media feeds or watch the news, or what have you, and there’s always implicit messages there about who God is, whether there’s a God and what God might be up to in this world. The thing that guides all my work more than any other is the conviction that Christian teaching, Christian doctrine matters, that it’s going to shape our lives in big picture important ways. I’ve been reflecting on that in these last few weeks as we’re going through the COVID 19 pandemic in its beginnings and just trying to think in some big picture ways about how Christians can be given courage and hope here. I don’t think that courage and hope is easy. It doesn’t translate easily into a meme or a bumper sticker. Are there still bumper stickers in this age of memes? But it’s there and it’s deep and it’s in Christ. So, big picture truths like: Creation is good and God has good plans for us. Jesus is the Lord of Creation. Jesus has suffered with us and for us. Those are the truths that are going to help us make our way in the world. Moment to moment and day by day. And especially that last one, the truth of Jesus suffering with us and for us has been on my mind a lot this week. I don’t know the answer to why evil and suffering exists. I think anyone who claims to know the answer, well, I’m a little suspicious. I know that Jesus is with me in it, right? He’s become fully human for our sake. He’s borne all the pain and all the grief that we can imagine and He loves us through that. That’s the doctrine of the Incarnation, but practically it’s what I’m clinging to right now.
Rob Haynes 15:06
So the doctrine of the Incarnation and everything from the 23rd Psalm where though we walk through the darkest valley we don’t go alone, to the fact that Jesus shows up, maybe some people would say late, and Lazarus is dead and there is already a stink in the tomb his sister says when Jesus has to unroll it. At the same time, though He knows He’s going to raise Lazarus from the dead, He still weeps with those who mourn. I think that’s a beautiful image of where we are with this, that we can mourn and mourn deeply about what’s going on around the world but we mourn as a people with hope.
Beth Felker-Jones 16:01
Christians are allowed to grieve, right? We don’t grieve as those who have no hope. Christians are allowed to feel pain and suffering, Jesus has felt it too. It’s also the case that pain and suffering will one day end, that we have a final hope and future which doesn’t make this world not matter. It makes it matter all the more, but it means this world is being redeemed and death is not the last word. For me, for you, for our loved ones. COVID-19 is not the last word, right? Jesus is the last word. The One who is Lord of the universe will pick up those we love, pick us up and make all things well. It’s not a trite, easy way forward to that hope, but it’s a deep in the bones truth that is ours in Jesus Christ.
Rob Haynes 16:57
What a beautiful reminder of that, and that you mentioned a moment ago, too, if anybody has the simple answers to be a bit suspicious. In a time where much of our communication is done by memes or, you know, what are we up to 280 characters or less on Twitter and that sort of thing. We have to do more careful nuancing and careful discussions to help people unpack those things. So if we’re practicing Christian doctrine, what are some ways that not someone with a theology degree or someone who’s a pastor can live that out, whether that be on social media or whether that be as they’re moving about in their daily life, too?
Beth Felker-Jones 17:46
Of course, I am going to give a nerd answer first because I am a professor and we’re nerds. I do think there’s so much to read where we can find strength and comfort from sisters and brothers in the faith who’ve gone before. From good, nuanced, careful guides in the present who have the training to help us sort these things out. This might be a time when we have more time to read than usual, it isn’t my best, some of us are busier than ever if you’re home with small children. I think we can both delight and hope as basic Christian practices. We can delight in the goodness of the world that God has made and in which we are living. When we feel the loss of something being torn from us, that loss is lost because it’s good and we can delight in all that good. Whether that’s the goods that we’re left to as we’re stuck in our houses right now or the goods that we look forward to one day being able to participate again and again: hugs, worship, right? Communal worship, not digital worship. We can delight in those. We can hope, rightly in Christ, that God’s good purposes for those things will be brought to fruition. So delighting and hoping maybe those don’t sound like practices, but I think they are and I think they’re really basic and essential. I try to bring those practices into my life with prayer as well, to thank God for the good things He is doing and to pray and hope to God who has promised to make all things new.
Rob Haynes 19:35
Speaking of all things new, I think it’s really interesting that a lot of the things that we’re facing in this time of year will take place around Easter. Not just Easter for all that Easter is, but Resurrection Sunday as we in the Christian faith know that it is. So, talk about bodily resurrection for just a minute and why is that important? First of all, for Jesus, and then for us in terms of how we can go through these dark valleys with that in mind.
Beth Felker-Jones 20:19
It’s going to be a strange Easter, right? It’s going to be an Easter where we may not be feeling it in quite the ways we usually get to feel it. That is true of the space that we’re in right now, which is the space between two bodily resurrections: the first, the bodily resurrection of Jesus as He rose from the tomb that first century Easter long ago and the one we look forward to right at the last day when God will raise the living and the dead. Most Christians have focused most of our attention on Jesus’ resurrection. We know about it, we hear about it, at least on Easter but we haven’t often been taught very much about the general resurrection, the resurrection that includes us. Scripture teaches us to connect the two. Paul in First Corinthians 15 connects the two so closely that he says you can’t even think about Jesus’ resurrection if you’re not also thinking about our resurrection, the fact that one day we will be raised from the dead. That pattern I talked about earlier of continuity and transformation is the same pattern here for resurrection. Think about continuity for Jesus; He’s the same Jesus He was before He was raised from the dead, right? He’s the same guy, He has the same friends, He still has the scars from His crucifixion but He’s also transformed. There’s some weird stuff going on where people don’t always recognize Him and He ascends to Heaven which He had not done before. That same pattern of continuity and transformation is ours to look forward to. God will take us, these bodies who we are, and carry us forward into His future, but that we will also be transformed and healed and redeemed. We can expect and hope that all of that might happen after the pattern of Jesus; that’s kind of a lot of technicalities. What does it have to do with a weird Easter where we’re worried about death? It means that we’re stuck in this space between these two resurrections, between Jesus’ and the future. It’s a space in which we’re empowered to live and to move and to love because of what Jesus has already done for us and what He promises to finish doing one day. So my hands that I’m washing 15 times a day and I’m trying to still use to do the work I’m supposed to do like writing things and taking care of my children, those hands are part of God’s future as I look forward to the resurrection of the dead. And that means that they matter, even on hard days, even if the hard day is Easter, because those hard days don’t have the last word.
Rob Haynes 23:20
What a beautiful place to leave that, that those hard days did not even have the last word. Beth, you’ve written quite a bit on these topics and you’ve helped people think about them in some really deep ways. You have a chance to shape students as they are preparing for the ministry, whether that be in a pastoral way or through some other vocation. How has this sort of thinking and research and teaching formed your own discipleship as well?
Beth Felker-Jones 23:51
Well, teaching I have an office and my students know if the person teaching them is a fake. They know if you’re trying to talk about the goodness of Creation or the hope you have for God’s future but you’ve clearly never prayed a prayer about any of those things. And so, teaching shapes me in ways that encourage me to connect the truths that I know, to my life, day by day and moment by moment. That means in days that are really hard I am trying to remember to look for my courage only to Jesus, to turn in prayer to Jesus, to know that He is with me in these hard times. I think we want these truths to be so deep in our bones that we can reach for them when we need them and praying is a way to do that. There’s more I could say but I think shaping my life of prayer is an important way the theology shapes my discipleship.
Rob Haynes 25:08
What a beautiful reminder for scholars as well that it all begins with prayer, as it would for anyone who wants to live a discipled life. Wow, what a gift that you’ve shared with us today and you’ve given us so many rich thoughts to consider. We appreciate that very much. If someone wanted to get some more information about this or get in touch with you, how would they go about doing that?
Beth Felker-Jones 25:37
You can find my books anywhere books are sold and my Facebook page is Beth Felker-Jones. I’m also Beth Felker-Jones at Twitter. I’ve been writing some devotions, specifically in the COVID 19 pandemic, and those are available for free on my Facebook page or you can get them as a Kindle book on Amazon. The title is Pandemic Prayers. In most devotions, I’ve tried to think about how truths in the faith will help us through this day-to-day.
Rob Haynes 26:08
Wonderful. Well, thank you so much to Dr. Beth Felker-Jones. We appreciate your time and the richness of your teaching today. We want to thank again Christ Church Global for this sponsorship of this episode and be sure to rate and subscribe. If you want to tell us more about what God is doing in your part of the world, visit our website: WorldMethodist.org/podcast for instructions on how you can upload your own ministry moment to be shared on a later podcast. I’m Rob Haynes and you’ve been listening to World Methodist Evangelism’s Real Faith Real World podcast. Thank you.
« Back to Podcasts