Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Powerlessness of the Resurrection

One of those church phrases we hear a lot - so much, likely, that we don't really register it - is the "power of the resurrection." Now that can be referring to a lot of things; the ability of God to raise Jesus from the dead, for sure, is a type of power. But I wonder how often we translate that notion into one of force and coersion - "A God who can do this can do anything." While we affirm a God who can do anything, we also speak of a God who does things a certain way for a specific reason. When we obsess over the power of God to do anything, we miss out on the context in which God actually works. When we talk about the "power of the resurrection," I wonder if we're not distracting ourselves from the gospel with a Christianized reflection of the world around us.

It's just too easy for us to view the gospel of Jesus Christ through the lens of power politics (a power politics which is the dominant cultural form in our world today). It's easy for us to think of the raising of Christ from the dead as the ultimate power move, a trump card. I'd like to argue the contrary, though. The crucifixion of Jesus Christ is really the ultimate act of powerlessness - God hanging helpless, lifeless on a Roman cross. The resurrection, while expressing the ability of God to overcome Rome and empire and force and might is also a direct counter to the very notion of power.

The gospel of Jesus Christ was and is a gospel of love. Jesus announces a kingdom for the powerless, lost, left out, and forgotten, a kingdom ruled by love and open to all, a place of acceptance and forgiveness - a place of sharing and selflessness, without force or coersion. This image is counter to the notion of human achievement, the ideal of self-sufficiency, of scarcity and competition. It's counter to the notion of power.

Which makes the response of those with power, those who embody and represent the power politics of our world, easy to understand. Someone comes at me (threatens me) with a Kingdom of love, peace, and understanding, it's easy to use my big guns and shut it down. "Jesus says blessed are the poor, but we'll just raise taxes. Jesus says turn the other cheek, but we'll hit you a second time." The dynamic of the world was and is a dynamic of power. Crucifixion is the ultimate counter to the Kingdom of God - it's a statement meant to illustrate the falsity of God's Kingdom, to prove that Jesus' gospel is a myth, a dream, a false hope - that he's out of touch with reality.

In resurrection, though, God changes reality - or perhaps more properly, God underlines a reality that has always existed despite the ways we organize ourselves in society. It's easy to see resurrection as a force response to the force response of power in crucifixion. "You kill my messiah, I'll bring him back to life - what are you going to do now?" It's real easy for us to see the resurrection as a power move in the same way those with authority in our world wield power. We tend to forget (or maybe we never really believe in the first place) that a life built of enemy love and turning the other cheek could actually win out against power, force, and violence.

We have to see it differently, though.

The resurrection is not a power move meant to trump Rome's power move of crucifixion. The resurrection is God removing the ultimate power move from the human arsenal. It's essentially putting the Kingdom of God and the empire of this world on equal footing. Jesus says, "Love your enemies." The world responds, "Kill your enemies." So in resurrection God says, "What if death is no longer a threat? How will you get along now?" Behind all force and coersion is the notion that death is final - I will bend you to my will or you will die in the attempt. Resurrection is like going behind the scenes at a magic show and seeing how the illusions are done. "You thought she was floating, but she was lying on a well disguised table the whole time." You thought death was final, but really it's just another bump in the road. There's no real threat there.

Yes, this is very much a theological statement. Death is still scary, especially a painful death as so many Christian martyrs endured. It's also painful for those left behind. It's not as though resurrection removes death from the equation, but it sure weakens the power of force. It makes the statement that power is not the way to win - certainly not when wielded for evil, but also not when wielded for good (if that's even possible). Power is not the way things work out well.

Only love can do that.

Resurrection is the ultimate statement of powerlessness, because it is the ultimate statement of love. Love gives all its power away. Love is putting all the power in the hands of another. In resurrection God does not force a new way onto the world, but simply dulls the weapons of the world Christ is replacing. Violence and coercion are still options, just options wildly weakened for those who see and live into this new reality. In resurrection, God has essentially put love and hate on equal footing - they become true rival options, equal choices for us in our action and interaction.

Sometimes I wonder if that's why we have eternity out ahead of us, if God didn't realize that some people might take a literal forever to come around to the notion of love over hate. Some people long for finality, for some grand gesture that proves which force is ultimately more powerful. But God doesn't work that way. There is no need to prove the value and power of love. The power of love proves itself.


Victoria Deschere said...

I always thought God's choice of free will was an act of powerlessness. To constantly pursue yet allow refusal. To give the created options. To have love. What a mighty God is this.

Anonymous said...

Joanne Christian--

Hey, I'm awake and read it! And it's so true as you eloquently write. Interesting too, how our everyday behaviors often yield a disarming power over what a typical, "natural man", response is when faced with adversarial or contentious moments. It's amazing how some exert power thru rudeness, yet others in a same situation are able to garner "power" (if that's the ultimate end game) thru forgiveness of others, kindness, patience, understanding, and empathy. Even when by a "show of hands" they had "every right" to be rude, demanding, unapologetic etc..Absolutely, plug your "power source" into the right outlet. Life goes so much better. Great piece, Ryan.