Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Someone Entirely Different

I guess heaven is on her mind ... that is, my 87-year-old mother-in-law's mind. During a recent visit, she asked me if we would be able to recognize people in heaven. Actually she prefaced the question with the words "I may have asked you this before..." The truth is she has asked me this question several times before.

I replied in my pastoral tone of voice, "Yes, you asked me that before - but that's okay - and I said, 'Yes, we will recognize people in heaven.'" I phrased my reply carefully. I did not say "yes." I said that I said "yes." The truth is I am starting to rethink the question. But I have no new answer to give, so I stuck with the old answer. No need to raise doubts at this stage of her life. But the truth is that I am not so sure I would even recognize myself in heaven.

When I see old photos of myself, I think, "Who is that?" I am not the same person I was. I have read that every cell in our bodies is replaced every seven years. Some cells rejuvenate quicker than others. Skin cells are replaced every thirty days. Nerve cells take much longer. But in any case our bodies are continually replacing aged and damaged cells. Every seven years we find ourselves with entirely different bodies. We are literally reincarnated (re-embodied) several times during our lifetime.

Sometimes bodies change so dramatically over time that we do not even recognize a person. A few years ago I was talking to a minister for several minutes before a worship service. I did not know him. It was not until I heard him sing during the service that I recognized him as an old friend.

We are not the same person physically that we used to be. Neither are we the same person psychologically. I am not the same person I was twenty or forty years ago. I think and feel differently. In fact I am so different that it seems fair to conclude that I am not the same person, any more than I am the same body.

If I am not the same person physically or psychologically, then who am I? Who is the permanent "I" that is not my temporary body and my changing personality? Is there a permanent I? Or am I as temporary as my body and mind? If there is an "I," which "I" will "I" be in heaven? Will I be an "I" that I would not recognize if I bumped into me on the streets of gold?

I am not my temporary changing I. Of that, I am sure. I am someone entirely different.  I know that I will survive the final dissolution of this body. I am not so sure I will recognize the immortal I. Maybe I will recognize me when I sing. But one thing I know: I am, whoever I am.

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