Bodies Revealed, Bodies Restored

Richard E. Cornell

Over Thanksgiving Break I had the opportunity to visit the “Bodies Revealed” exhibit at the local library in my home county (the Bossard Memorial Library in Gallipolis, OH). My family was so excited to go to the now-famous exhibit and we all wondered how a small library in southern Ohio was able to pull off getting such a premier exhibit. The library assistants beamed with pride as they introduced the exhibit, gave the ground rules for viewing it, and informed us of how many people had visited the exhibit.

The exhibit was, in fact, fascinating. As I entered the room, there were smaller exhibits, individual bones, a skull, a leg bone, and the like. Farther into the exhibit, I found what the exhibit is famous for, full bodies remarkably preserved using “polymer presentation.” This technique preserves human tissue by using liquid silicone rubber. Sometimes the muscles were flayed, so they could be displayed in greater detail. The bodies were often put into real life postures. Some looked like they were ready to run a race. One held a golf club and looked like he had just hit the drive of his life off of the 18th tee.

The plaques and signs throughout the exhibit described what the audience was seeing, explaining muscular systems, cardio vascular systems, nervous systems, and every other major system of the body. The exhibit also pointed out the advancement of medical science through the means of dissection and advanced postmortem techniques. The benefits were not just for the medical community. The average person was provided an unparalleled opportunity to appreciate the complexity of the human body. There were also cautionary tales to be told. The results of smoker’s lung were fully and grotesquely on display, along with a container to pitch your now-less-appealing cigarettes. I noticed that quite a few packs of cigarettes were in the bin. Visitors got to see firsthand the consequences of poor dietary choices in the form of diseased organs.

After being in the exhibit a few minutes, I started to get this weird feeling. It was a mixture of awe and wonder (the intended effect), but there was something else as well, which wasn’t as fitting for a plaque or advertisement. Something disconcerting. I wondered if I was just queasy at seeing these body parts. I think this was part of it. I thought to myself, “I chose to be the right kind of doctor,” since I don’t think I could handle being a M.D. But I think my unease had a deeper source than just being uncomfortable. I think my deeper discomfort was theological in nature.

My unease came to a head in the final room of the exhibit where there was a person completely cross-sectioned. The whole body was cut into thin slices from top to bottom. Once again, the sign pronounced the unique benefits of having this kind of “view” of the body. As I reflected more on the exhibit as a whole, I realized what it was that bothered me. The bodies weren’t alive. They were objects of observation. One of the bodies was in a position to run, but couldn’t run. Another held a golf club, but it was a façade; he couldn’t really swing it. One looked as if he was ready to talk but of course this body couldn’t talk.

In reflecting on my time in the exhibit, I think about Ezekiel in the valley of dry bones. Seeing all the dry bones, God asked Ezekiel, “Can these bones live?” (37:3). Reflecting on those bodies, I kept hearing God’s question. The exhibit showed the wonder of the human body by dissecting and preserving. But the real wonder is seeing it all work together as a whole. The tagline of the exhibit’s website is “fascinating and real.” My response was, “Yes … but not alive.” I found myself longing for that cross-sectioned man to be reassembled and reanimated. I’m duly impressed with science’s ability to preserve but our Lord is the only one who can restore life and raise our bodies “imperishable” (1 Cor 15:52).

I don’t mean to imply that this kind of procedure shouldn’t be done. I am grateful for the advances in medical science that have arisen from these procedures. I don’t dispute the value of such an exhibit. I think that some young people walked out of that exhibit and thought hard about their smoking or fast food habits.

“Bodies Revealed” was fascinating. I marveled at the intricacies of the human body. I was duly impressed with what scientists and doctors could do in preserving the human body. I don’t doubt that some Christians toured the exhibit and came out thinking, “What an amazing Creator!” I certainly do not begrudge them that response. But for me, the exhibit stirred up a longing for something more, something better, something truly miraculous. I longed for the disassembled to be reassembled. “Bodies Revealed” was interesting, but “Bodies Restored” is the show I am most excited about.

Posted Jan 16, 2017

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