Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones
Dem bones gonna walk around.
You probably know the song, which didn't help you much on your anatomy and physiology exam. If it's not familiar, you can watch the Delta Rhythm Boys singing it here. Since I have already referenced the Prophet Ezekiel's "wheels within wheels" in another post, I figure his feast (Lutheran Calendar) is a good day to talk about dem bones.
Ezekiel was born in the Kingdom of Judah, but died and was buried in Mesopotamia - al-Kifl, Iraq, to be specific. Judah had only recently been freed from the domination of the Assyrians when it fell under the shadow of Babylon's imperialism. Rebelling against domination from the east, Judah was invaded and conquered. The Judeans were forced to migrate into Mesopotamia in three waves; Ezekiel was taken in the first wave.
His book describes a vision (or perhaps a series of visions) from The Lord. These were intended to bolster the faith of the Judeans who must have been under tremendous pressure to abandon their monolatrism in favor of the many gods of Mesopotamia. Indeed, it would be hard to stay loyal to a god that could not protect you from exile and enslavement. If another god offered advancement, why not sidle up to that one instead?
Ezekiel gives rich descriptions of the power and majesty of The Lord, but perhaps is most compelling when he describes his vision of the resurrection. In Chapter 37, The Lord shows Ezekiel a valley full of dry bones and asks him if the bones can live. Cagily, Ezekiel answers that God alone knows. God tells him to preach to the bones, ordering them to reanimate, in the parlance of Hollywood sci-fi. They do, of course, and the Kingdom of Israel is restored. Is the prophecy metaphoric or literal?
I don't have an answer to that question. A Bible scholar whose acquaintance I have been privileged to make has said that the resurrection was literal and the promise of a heavenly afterlife is non-Biblical invention. He has read more of this stuff, and more about this stuff, than I ever will. But faith in his scholarship is different from faith in The Lord. He plainly believes in a temporal, material world, one which not only has been created but which comes to an end. If the world ends (and empirically, we know it will), then we will end with it and the promise of life everlasting is not true. I come back to the problem of picking and choosing what's figurative and what's literal, and my knowledgeable friend has not clarified anything.
Perhaps we, like the Judeans, must focus our energy on fidelity and gratitude, irrespective of what the payoff is. We know that life can be all milk and honey, which is nice unless you're a lactose-intolerant diabetic. We know that bad things happen to good people. We don't know what comes after death. We feel (well, many of us feel) an impulse to believe in something. For my part, today, I will be glad of a Creator who has given me a world to enjoy. I will be grateful for the position I have in it, one of tremendous advantages. I will thank The Lord for all that I have and set aside the question of what I can earn if I continue to worship him.