Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Who Needs the Resurrection?

When I was a wee lad, I heard tell of these darkly magical beings out there in the world who were Christians, even pastors, but rejected the idea that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. They were always spoken of in sort of mournful tones - condemned for sure, but in a confusing sort of way. Rejecting the resurrection was rejecting God, of course, but the fact that they maintained faith claims or worshiped or anything else remotely Christian seemed entirely anachronistic.

My faith, at the time, was pretty securely encamped in the "fire insurance" department. I understood faith entirely in terms of afterlife. We are Christians because being Christians is how we get to heaven. If Jesus didn't rise from the dead, it seems very unlikely I will rise from the dead and that would make faith ultimately as pointless as all get out. Why would I give up sex and drinking and movie theaters and prom if I'm not getting anything out of it?

I look at faith quite differently these days. In fact, my faith no longer has anything to do with afterlife. Gospel, as I see it, is not "good news about heaven," but entirely good news about life here and now. The Kingdom of God has come, Jesus was its first citizen, and we don't have to wait to heaven to join in. My faith moved from something (at least intellectually) useless in the present, to something of utmost importance for the here and now.

I see the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as both teaching us and enabling us to live life as God always intended. Resurrection means that life will continue forever. Not in some disembodied heaven, but in a reconstituted here. I see death as merely a pit stop in the midst of life, not the end.

In fact, if I take stock of what are essential faith claims in my life, I have only two. First, God is at work in the world - active, not passive. The second, Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. If anything, the resurrection of Jesus is even MORE important to my faith now than it was as a formative youngster trying to make sense of those crazy liberal heretics way back when.

Now, though, my attitude towards them is a bit different.

I still disagree, although not with confusion and malice, perhaps with some grudging respect. I still scratch my head in wonder, but I wonder more if it's something I'm lacking as opposed to them.

You see I need resurrection. Not because it's essential to my explanation of God and faith, but because I'm a bit selfish. To me (and I imagine to most Christians out there), resurrection symbolizes confirmation that what Jesus was saying is really true, trustworthy. Jesus said and did some pretty crazy things: love your enemies, give to whomever asks without expecting anything in return, let the dead bury their own dead, don't worry about tomorrow (what you will eat or what you will wear). There's a really radical element of love and non-violence that works against everything our instincts and culture tell us about how to live. It's different.

What's more, it doesn't work out too well in the short term. Culture abhors distinctness. There's a lot of pressure to fall in line. People who refuse to fight often die, they're taken advantage of. Life isn't quite as easy if you go "the gospel way."

So I need resurrection, because then I can at least tell myself this is all for a reason. This world might seem to work one way, but Jesus is God and made this whole thing and it will all be different someday and for eternity; it's already different, we just don't always see it. That's what I believe. It's what I preach every time I step into a pulpit, it's what shapes my life (or what I hope shapes my life).

Now I don't think any of that would be less true without the resurrection. If Jesus is who he says he is and if what he offers as a lifestyle really does work best for life in the world (and I believe both of those to be true), then it doesn't matter if Jesus rose from the dead. It really doesn't. Truth is truth no matter what.

This is precisely the argument some of those magical liberals claim to believe - all the same stuff I do, but without any "proof." Resurrection is at least a hypothetical guarantee. Guarantees are comforting. But the guarantee is only as good as the product being sold. If the Jesus way isn't really the right way, the hope of resurrection is pretty worthless.

That's why I've come to admire those who believe without believing.

Peter Rollins tells a story (which, thanks to Google Books you can read here - starting on page 67 if it doesn't take you to the right place). It's about a group of disciples who leave Jerusalem immediately after the crucifixion, traveling to a far off place and establishing a society where they live in imitation of Christ, not because they believe anything will come of it after their deaths, but simply because they believe his way of life is beautiful.

Not everyone who claims Christ, but denies the resurrection are functioning on this sort of holy plane. Often a skepticism of the supernatural belies a real lack of commitment, rather than a deeper faith. At the same time, I see in myself a real deficiency when it comes to faith. I think I'm lazy enough and selfish enough to just skip the whole endeavor if it won't mean anything beyond this life. I'm sure I'd still be kind and considerate to people when the moment arose - we all want to believe ourselves "good" in that way - but I certainly wouldn't organize my life around a selfless pattern of living. I'd work to get mine. I'd want to do it in a way I could live with, but it sure wouldn't be gospel.

I believe in the resurrection. I'd have no faith without it. I believe the man, Jesus Christ, died and is now again living. I need the resurrection. I need it in so many ways. I just don't believe God needs the resurrection. I believe God used the resurrection for exactly the purpose of promise - showing us what the future entails. At the same time, I believe God could have done things differently and that the life of Christ would be worth the same, even if he'd never been raised from the dead.

I think we have to get there. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but someday. Because, in the end, if the life we're living only has meaning when it's over, there really is no meaning to life at all.

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