The doctrine of the general resurrection is central to the Christian theological conception of the afterlife. At the core of the doctrine is the claim that numerically the same body that dies will one day be restored to life. Conceptually it is relatively straightforward to envision this process in the case of Christ who died on Friday and rose on Sunday. But it is rather more difficult to envision this process for a body vaporized by a nuclear explosion or simply one decayed away to nothing eons ago.
Given the nature of these and other perplexities, Christians have long reflected philosophically and theologically on the nature of the resurrection body. Some of that reflection is carried out in my forthcoming book on heaven. But here I want to consider another question.
In recent decades human beings have come to terms with the fact that they are not just living beings and living systems (e.g. we’re full of living cells). We are also living ecosystems with countless tiny creatures living out their miserable little lives in and on our bodies. And that raises a question: will the resurrection of our body entail the resurrection of a community of microscopic living creatures with it?
Now in some cases the answer is relatively straightforward. Those of us who suffer at present from the itch and social stigma of head lice will surely undergo a thorough nit picking prior to entering the pearly gates. After all, head lice are foreign intruders, readily dispensed with in this life and thus all the more eliminable in the next.
But other freeloaders are not so easily dispensed with. Among the countless microorganisms that populate the human body are millions of gut flora which aid us in digestion. Is there any reason to think our bodies will be purged of these creatures at the resurrection? It certainly is possible to envision a body that no longer requires a balance of intestinal bacteria for healthy digestion and bodily maintenance. But most of us are probably not particularly perturbed by the possiblity that they might remain. If we have no problem drinking ten billion bacteria in a yogurt drink now, why should we have a problem doing so after the resurrection?
Much more disturbing are creatures that are neither readily eliminable like nits nor so tiny that their presence is undisturbing like bacteria. I’m thinking here, in particular, of (cue scary organ music) face mites!
Read this fascinating discussion of the nasty little Demodex mite from the Discover blog: “Everything you never wanted to know about the mites that eat, crawl, and have sex on your face.”
Human beings are not born with the Demodex mite. Rather, it hitches a ride on us after we emerge from the birth canal. You might think then that we’re okay because surely God would have no reason to recreate such icky things to place them on our faces.
But things may not be that clear. Christian theology teaches that God will restore not just the human body but the entire creation. As I note in my heaven book, the concept of resurrection is properly extended not just to the human body but to the creation: God will raise his creation to new life as surely as our bodies. This raises all sorts of perplexing questions including this one: If all dogs go to heaven, what about all Demodex?