Thursday, September 19, 2019

From the Resurrection to Kolob

Behold my hands and feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.
-- Luke 24:39 
Rabbi, where dwellest thou?
-- John 1:38
The Egyptian god Banebdjedet, who apparently has something to do with Kolob

One of the most universally ridiculed of Mormon beliefs is the idea that -- rather than existing outside of space and time, in a metaphorical "place" only metaphorically called "heaven" -- God in fact lives on a physical planet in the physical universe, near a distant star known as Kolob. For many, this is a belief which cannot possibly be taken seriously, and which justifies classifying Mormonism as a transparently bogus sci-fi religion along the lines of Raëlism or Scientology.

However, I think Kolob, or something like it, follows naturally from the Christian doctrine of the Resurrection. Here's my line of reasoning.


1. Jesus was resurrected, permanently, in a physical body. People rarely stop to think about what this implies, but if they do, they will realize that, as Bruce Charlton has pointed out in a recent post (qv), "Resurrection, not incarnation, is the most shocking and strange thing about Christianity." That God assumed human for for a time, lived as a man, and then ascended back to heaven after his human body had died -- there's nothing very strange about that in the context of world religion and mythology. The really strange claim is that, with the Resurrection, Jesus assumed human form permanently. He didn't appear briefly as a man (much as he had appeared briefly as a burning bush to Moses) and then resume his true nature as a purely non-physical spirit; no, the Resurrection means that Christ is a man, now and forever -- that his divine spirit is now inseparably associated with the flesh-and-bone body of a terrestrial primate.

2. A physical body necessarily has a physical location. While he may be "everywhere" or "in our hearts" in terms of his spiritual influence, Jesus the man must nevertheless be in one particular place at any given time.

3. Given that, it seems reasonable to assume that Jesus habitually stays in a particular area -- that he lives somewhere.

4. Jesus no longer lives on Earth. After a brief stay in Palestine following his Resurrection, he ascended to "the sky" -- taking his human body with him. Wherever he went, it must have been a physical place.

5. Since Jesus obviously hasn't been floating around in Earth's atmosphere for the past 2,000 years, "the sky" means outer space -- taken in the broad sense, in which extraterrestrials come from "space" just as Westerners are said in Chinese to come from "the sea."

6. While I suppose an immortal resurrected body could theoretically live on one of the uninhabitable planets of our own solar system, or in the Sun, or even in the near-vacuum of deep space, without suffering any harm -- it seems most natural that someone with a human body would prefer to live in the sort of environment to which such a body is adapted -- namely, an Earth-like one. We can therefore assume that the resurrected Christ lives on an Earth-like exoplanet. A planet must orbit a star -- and this, to end in the style of a Thomistic proof of God, is what all men call Kolob.

7. What we have said of Christ holds also for God the Father. Jesus would not have chosen to resurrect unless having a resurrected body were better than being a pure spirit, so the Father (aliquid quo nihil maius cogitari possit) can be assumed to have a body as well and to live somewhere in the physical universe. Since Jesus spoke of ascending to the Father and is described as being in the bosom of the Father, we can assume that they live in the same place.


I am well aware that it will still be hard for many people (including, in certain moods, myself) to take Kolob seriously -- but, really, what are the alternatives?


Derek Ramsey said...

"what are the alternatives?"

The primary objection is that our current physical realm is finite. It came to be at a point in a time ex nihilo and will eventually and inevitably reach maximum entropy when it will effectively and meaningfully cease to exist. As Bruce Charlton has noted, love, creation, and change are essential attributes of existence. This necessitates an understanding beyond physical being. Jesus' resurrected body was physical, but it was also a different kind of physical. It is never stated how exactly different it was. We do know that Jesus was able to appear behind locked doors, so whatever the paradigm, it is something we cannot even begin to explain.

The logical conclusion, therefore, is that there is another physical realm separate from our current one.

This is not the only possible alternative I can imagine (e.g. philosophies/theories of time; the new-resurrected physical is the spiritual form), but it's a good start.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - I think your reasoning is solid.

The value of the Mormon idea of giving the place a name is probably to be absolutely realistic about it - to get rid of the evasions of abstraction (this down-to-earth realism seems to have been a pervasive, although not wholly consistent, aim of Joseph Smith - from his early days of reading the Bible with a fresh eye).

It seems to me that Mormons have, for such reasons, a more solid faith in Heaven than other Christians (apparently this is reinforced by Temple rituals); and I think this is the proper context for mortal life.

S.K. Orr said...

I can't decide if I'm particularly gullible or perceptive or what, but my own reaction to the idea of Kolob is "Hmm...that's not so far-fetched. I could accept that."

The standard line these days is "Don't listen to what they say; watch what they do." And if I apply this to the LDS folks, their actions are very, very impressive and consistent. By contrast, the things the "real Christians" do these days undercut all the posturing and pontificating that issues forth from their various pulpits. And this is compounded by the fact that even the things the church leaders SAY are goofy and bear little resemblance to reality, so when I add their blithering statements together with their weasely actions, it's a must unappealing picture.

So...Kolob? Not that difficult for me to accept, and I'm nowhere near being a Mormon.

Very thought-provoking post, William. Thank you for it.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Bruce and S.K., your positive reactions are a pleasant surprise! Kolob is a go-to laugh line for anti-Mormon pamphleteers ("The missionaries won't tell you that the 'god' they worship is actually a space alien from the planet Kolob!"), and even those who view Mormonism more sympathetically tend to balk at accepting that.

Derek Ramsey said...

Viewing Kolob as primarily a way to make Heaven a grounded non-abstraction—a physical reality where resurrected bodies go—seems completely reasonable. I just don't expect to be able to find it in a FTL-equipped spacecraft.

As I understand BC's position, it ultimately doesn't make sense to offer scientific explanations for resurrection (and by extension the physical realm that 'houses' the resurrected). Thus calling it a real place in some galaxy in our physical universe is neither helpful nor necessary, except to the very helpful extent that it avoids abstraction. It is superior, in my view, to say it is a spiritual/physical realm that is beyond anything purely physical in the scientific sense: it is more real.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

A strange coincidence: One day after posting this, with its assertion that "A planet must orbit a star," I opened up Chrome on my phone, and the top article it recommended for me to read bore the headline "Some planets may orbit a supermassive black hole instead of a star."

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