Last week we marked Ascension Day, forty days since the resurrection of Jesus, and the day that his body was taken up into heaven.

The writer of Acts makes a big deal out of the details here — he gave the disciples “many convincing proofs” that his body was alive. He sits around a eats. Back in Luke, it’s the same: he shows them his scars. They touch his body. He has a snack.

There’s a critical point being made here: it is not a spirit that rises from the dead, it is a human body. It’s not a spirit that ascends to heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. It is a human body.

Since Ascension Day, we have learned that more than fifty Palestinian bodies gunned down in the Gaza protests, on what President Trump tweeted was a “Big Day for Israel,” and that Christians in the Middle East note they have been abandoned by American Evangelicals.

We have learned that the U.S. government is making plans to house the bodies of children, taken from their parents at the border by the government, on military bases.

We have learned that President Trump stated, “Those aren’t people,” referring to immigrant bodies being removed from the country, “they’re animals.”

The writer of Luke and Acts needs us to understand that this wasn’t some spirit that ascended to the right hand of God — it was a human body: scarred, abused, broken.

Any understanding of God’s promises, any doctrine of eschatology, any hope of heaven that focuses so much on an afterlife that it can be used to excuse or ignore suffering and oppression of human beings in this life — in this moment — has totally forgotten about the ascension of Jesus.

The ascension does not allow us to focus on heaven, but requires us to pay attention to the human body in our midst.

It requires us to see the mother, separated from her baby at the border, and declare her holy. It requires us to see the black man, handcuffed and tossed in the cop car, and declare that he is holy. The child throwing stones in rage at the buffer zone between Gaza and Israel: holy. The refugee, told there is no room for them in the safety of America: holy. The “animal” gang member, tattoos on his face, gun in his hand: holy.

Heaven is not a place that forgets our skin or our scars or our selves. It is a place where being human is so valuable it sits at the right hand of God.

Photo by Larm Rmah on Unsplash

Kate is a minister of the Reformed Church in America who serves in the Christian Reformed Church Office of Social Justice in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

36 Comments

  • Shannon Jammal-Hollemans says:

    Beautifully said, Kate. Thank you for the gospel hope.

  • Jim Payton says:

    Thank you for putting this clearly and sharply. It need to be said, read, and taken to heart.

  • Lou Roossien says:

    Yes. The God-Man is ascended and among us Image-bearing Humans. Thank you.

  • Marty Wondaal says:

    Thanks Rev. Kooyman.

    I agree with you that our bodies are important. The duality of human nature is a well-established concept across cultures.

    What I find unpleasant and disingenuous is the rhetorical trick of using the word “body” instead of “person” in what seems to be an effort to express the victimhood of a person or group. As far as I can tell, this originated from Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book “Between the World and Me”. I’ve seen other writers copy this style, most recently in a Banner article by a Calvin Seminary employee about two black men who refused to make a purchase in a Starbucks.

    To me, this just seems creepy and dehumanizing.

    But, maybe I’m wrong. This is just one body’s opinion. Other bodies may disagree with me.

    • kate kooyman says:

      Hi Marty — I’m guessing it’s my use of the word “body” that you find to be unpleasant and disingenuous? I did read and learn a lot from Coates’ book, so it probably did influence my thinking on the emphasis that the writer of Acts places on the physicality of Jesus’s human body. I’m not seeing the creepy factor, nor what is dehumanizing about it. (Certainly a “person” is more than a body, no argument from me there.)

      • Marty Wondaal says:

        I will try to reply tonight. My body, particularly the area between my ears, is tired.

      • Eric Van Dyken says:

        Hi Kate,
        I can see where Marty is coming from, and I would agree that it is both kind of creepy and also somewhat dehumanizing. To speak of housing “the bodies of children” would in almost all circumstances be understood to be referring to dead, lifeless bodies. To speak of “immigrant bodies being removed from the country” would in almost all circumstances be understood to be referring to dead, lifeless bodies. We call people “people” for a reason: because they are more than their bodies. Suppose I asked you to come to my house and I said, “Will one of your kids be bringing your body over, or will your body be bringing itself?” Ya, that’s kinda weird.

        As to dehumanization, we clearly are not human without our spirit/soul, so to refer to people as simply “bodies” does in an essential and critical way rob them of their humanity. Suppose I was somewhere amongst a group of people who did not particularly like me because of the color of my skin, and I was told: “Get your white a$$ out of here!” In this sentence, “white a$$” serves the purpose of dehumanizing me because it refers only to my body, which they find offensive. There is actually a history of this type of language between various groups who don’t love each other as God wills. It seems inescapable to me that your use of “body only” language echoes this same pattern, however honorable your intentions are.

      • Eric Van Dyken says:

        Thinking just a bit further on this, isn’t a key message of the #metoo phenomenon that women shouldn’t be reduced to their bodies, because to do so is dehumanizing? “Say, I’m having a party this weekend, and the bodies of a bunch of women will be there, so swing on by!” Not so cool.

        • Anneke says:

          What I’m hearing from Kate is that we often forget the importance of the body. I don’t think she’s implying reduction, as you have read her piece to mean. It seems to me that her argument is that we ought to celebrate the body, and value it (Kate, feel free to correct me if I’ve misinterpreted). I’m not seeing her fall into the trap of Cartesian dualism or reductionism. And as for the #metoo movement, I’d agree. I think the movement would also concur with Kate’s celebration and valuing of the body — not an overemphasis, nor an underemphasis. Body and soul are both part of the human person, as you and I both know. Bodily autonomy and its inextricable connection with personal autonomy more generally is perhaps a more complete picture of what the #metoo movement advocates for.

          • Eric Van Dyken says:

            Hi Anneke,
            I understand that part of what Kate is saying, and don’t disagree with it. Marty and I are reacting to the use of the word “body” or “bodies” in place of person or people.

        • Anneke says:

          Hi Eric, I do understand that. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t think she’s using “body” and “bodies” in place of “person” and “persons.” What I gather from her article is that she is emphasizing that part of the human person — that part which we often vilify, or which bears witness to our vulnerability in ways that are often most obvious in the visible aspect of the person . But I understand where your disagreement is coming from.

  • Eric Van Dyken says:

    The police officer laying down her life to protect black, brown, and white people from danger: holy. The Israeli soldier striving to maintain order in the midst of terroristic threats of violence and annihilation: holy. The morally impure president striving to govern in the face of a press hostile to his every action: holy. The southern redneck whose culture is the only culture that may not be cherished: holy. The forgotten unborn child who is dismembered and sold for profit: holy. The conservative speaker chased off a college campus by an intolerant mob: holy. The loving neighbors of varying ethnic backgrounds who simply want to live and love while in a culture that incessantly tells them that they are at odds and that one of them is wicked simply because of his skin color: holy. The I.C.E. agent, attempting to enforce the laws of a country while being daily maligned and impugned by a political class bent on stoking racial strife: holy.

    • Marty Wondaal says:

      The young black body who wore a MAGA hat to the Cheesecake Factory and was harassed by the Chessecake Factory employees for wearing the MAGA hat: holy?

    • George E says:

      Certainly not! They’re deplorable, and clinging to their guns and bibles!

    • kate kooyman says:

      Eric, of course.

      Also, just curious: does “These aren’t human beings, they’re animals” alarm you? It would help me to know whether we’re on the same page about this.

      • Eric Van Dyken says:

        Hi Kate,
        Absolutely, yes. In fact, it is so disturbing to me that I can hardly imagine someone thinking and speaking that way about *any* fellow image-bearer. I share your disgust. For the record: I did not vote for Donald Trump, and I am not a Trump “supporter”, though I will push back on occasion against criticism that I view as wrongheaded, and I do track with some policies of President Trump. Beyond that, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Christians should be able to be of one accord that referring to people as animals is dehumanizing and in no way respects the image of God in our neighbor, no matter who that neighbor is. No matter how I might feel about any policy prescription, if the one who forwards the prescription speaks like that, they allowed themselves to become the proverbial “clanging cymbal” of I Cor. 13. I suspect that you also have similar feelings about referring to vast swaths of the population as “deplorable”. Would that our political discourse would rise above such wickedness.

      • Eric Van Dyken says:

        Hi again, Kate. Quick follow-up: If those other categories (types) of people are also obvious (“of course”), do you think your offering would resonate and connect with a broader set of brothers and sisters if you deliberately included those types of people as well? In other words, if you purposely broadened your perspective, and the perspective expressed in your articles, do you think that would be conducive to fostering greater understanding and unity in goodwill and purpose? Honest questions, not meant to be strictly rhetorical.

        • Kate Kooyman says:

          Hey Eric, just wanted you to know that a) I’m on vacation, so I’m going to prioritize a bit of distance from the internet over engaging deeply in the many important questions that you (and others) have raised on this blogpost. And b) I’ve been mulling over this particular comment / piece of feedback, and want you to know that I’m willing to take it to heart. I appreciate your offering it, and aim to be a person who is committed to the goal of fostering understanding, unity, and goodwill.

      • Marty Wondaal says:

        DT was not referring to immigrants. That was a lie and slander by Andrea Mitchell, the NYT, and others. CNN, Jake Tapper, and the AP are backing away from their initial reporting, others will follow.
        This is what happens when you allow hatred to consume you.

        • Eric Van Dyken says:

          Hi Marty. Here is the quote that I found reported pretty consistently: “We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in — and we’re stopping a lot of them — but we’re taking people out of the country. You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people. These are animals,” I guess I haven’t seen anything contrary. Do you have a source that gives a different perspective?

        • Matt Huisman says:

          From the Associated Press twitter feed:

          “AP has deleted a tweet from late Wednesday on Trump’s “animals” comment about immigrants because it wasn’t made clear that he was speaking after a comment about gang members.”

          • Eric Van Dyken says:

            I don’t think that makes me feel any better. Last I checked, gang members were made in God’s image too.

          • Matt Huisman says:

            MS-13 motto: Rape, Control, Kill
            Hamas motto: We love death more than you love life

            Murderous gangs are able to flow in and out of the country with relative ease inflicting real destruction in the lives of other (image-bearing!) citizens. “Animals” is an attempt by the civil magistrate (not our pastor, mind you) to remind the rest of us that it’s not acceptable to be indifferent in the face of this evil. I suppose “image-bearing(!) murderous thugs who are loved by Jesus” would have been the better choice of words though, and I’m happy to support such an admonition to the President.

          • Eric Van Dyken says:

            Hi Matt. I know full well what the President was attempting to do and communicate. That does not mean he did it well or that the language and descriptions he used are language and descriptions that Christians can feel is God-honoring and in keeping the commandment to love our neighbor. The moment we begin to think of people as somehow “irredeemable”, then I think we have become like the Pharisees, thanking God that we are not like that “animal” crouched in the corner. I think there are many ways to express concern about crime, immigration, gangs, drugs, law enforcement, etc. without resorting to that sort of rhetoric. One can believe that the President has good and right intentions and still believe that he did not honor God in how he communicated those intentions.

          • Matt Huisman says:

            The reason we’re stuck with Trump is because all of the “people who are better than him” are incapable of ignoring the Left’s laser pointer away from things that actually matter and spend their days flogging themselves over linguistic subtleties. That includes you and me. We never get back to what actually matters. Kate is not likely to your question about fostering unity and understanding; Palestinian bodies intentionally sacrificed for political points and the expansion of Mexican gangs in the US will be completely ignored.

            It’s really quite funny, aside from it being so pathetic.

            So yes, I’ll sign the petition to admonish our philosopher-king. And perhaps next we can pronounce on whether using the word sh**hole in private is appropriate.

          • Eric Van Dyken says:

            Hi Matt,

            I actually don’t “spend [my] days flogging [myself] over linguistic subtleties” and I don’t think you know me well enough to claim that I do. I’m also not convinced that someone has spoken in an evil manner (we can legitimately recognize this without being accused of majoring in the minors, can’t we?) is a question of “linguistic” subtlety. I suspect if I called your mother a pig, you would not find me to be so subtle. I get that you are frustrated with the inability of those in and out of the Christian community (including in this forum) to have a sense of balance in critiquing our current President. I share that frustration. But I don’t think that at all precludes commonality amongst Christians in recognizing and disavowing evil on the part of a President who is quite capable of such, as has been every other President (and as are we).

  • Grace Shearer says:

    Kate,
    Thanks for this view and the reminding us of our responsibilities as a result.i hadn’t thought about it in this way before.

  • Matt Huisman says:

    The primary political tactic of Hamas is martyrdom – which seems decidedly anti-body. Think about that for a second, the actual desired protest outcome was for their own protestors to be killed so that articles like this would be written.

  • Dean Koopman says:

    Kate,
    Here is the issue I’m struggling with this post.
    Does the consequence and pervasiveness of sin in our mortal bodies damage or diminish the holiness with which were created? That is, is there a point to which sin is so invidious in that there is a loss of the “Imago Dei”? Or is it strictly a corporeal reality of our creation?
    My initial response is to say like you that regardless of their depravity, no one’s sin is so great as to beyond the grace of God and therefore they have not lost that holiness.
    But when one loses the ability to see that holiness in others, have they in fact lost all humanity and consequently lost their inherent holiness? Not that such ability even relies upon knowing that holiness to recognize it.
    When other image bearers can be labeled “animals”, when societies speak of the obligation of people to die or be euthanized, when they speak of “Lebensunwertes Leben” (“life unworthy of life”), speak of their or support abortion up to the moment of birth because “it’s the law” or “It’s my body” – haven’t we lost at least some of the holiness God poured into us when we were knit together in our mothers’ wombs?
    And have we completely lost that part only to wait for the redemption of our bodies?
    Just wondering.

    • Kate Kooyman says:

      Hey Dean. Great question, and I don’t claim to know all the answers. I guess I’ll try.

      I’m probably simplifying the complexities of your question, but I’d lean heavily on the belief that grace, and human holiness, are gifts that rely on God, not on us. I think that we grieve God when we dehumanize people, and we cause pain and suffering in this life, which we will be held accountable for in the life to come. (And we miss out on the beautiful gift of life: to delight in experiencing God, and our God is just waiting to be found and experienced and enjoyed in the very lives of those who are being dehumanized.) And I also lean on the belief that our holiness is not earned, and is not maintained by behavior. Like grace, we can’t earn it, we can’t lose it — it’s not ours to control. It’s God’s. But we can fail to recognize, fail to honor it — in ourselves and in others, and this isn’t an experiment or an idea, it’s a lived reality for so many people for whom these aren’t interesting topics to disagree about (e.g. immigration policy), but actual decisions that impact their whole life. I’m really convinced that Christians need to take that seriously.

      I’m also reading Father Greg Boyle’s latest book, and so moved by the vision that he gives of God, who positively longs to delight in us — no matter how much we have messed up our life, or others’ lives. A God whose grace is so lavish, it defies all our categories. In the eyes of this God, we cannot lose grace, humanity, anything — it’s all already been won. Works for me. 🙂

      • Dean Koopman says:

        Thank you for the reply.
        I agree that it is impossible for us to generate or retain the image of God and holiness that God bestows upon us.
        My question arises from Romans 1:18-23. When Paul proclaims multiple times that God “gave them up” to sin, and to futile thinking is that a loss of holiness.
        In the end, however, as Christians, this question is ultimately TOO academic in nature. I say that because God calls us to seek the lost, to proclaim the good news to all people, at all times in all places.
        I was reminded this weekend, especially yesterday being Pentecost and from my good friend in his “farewell” sermon prior to taking up a teaching position in Philadelphia.

  • George E says:

    I have this item that’s created in the image of a hammer. But the item I have is made of brass and rather small to be used to drive nails. So someone might call it a hammer until they realized it was just shared that image.

    Some people might say that being in the image of God is enough to declare that being holy. Others would say holiness is not appearances; rather, holy means devoted to God and separated from whatever is at war with God.

    OK, I’m a deplorable, so most readers here would reject what I have to say. But here’s a link to a decidedly non-Trumper’s article in a decidedly anti-Trump Christian publication that goes into depth on holiness:

    https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2018/may-web-only/pentecost-how-spirit-sets-us-up-for-holiness.html?utm_source=ctdirect-html&utm_medium=Newsletter&utm_term=9461551&utm_content=583353271&utm_campaign=email

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