After Easter Sunday, a friend I met at PSR asked me what I thought about Jesus’ death and resurrection. Was it possible? Do we have to believe Jesus rose to be good Christians or to even call ourselves His followers?
The death and resurrection of Christ has been on my mind for a number of months, so I was very excited he asked me about it. The issue has been on my mind because it is something the Christian faith doesn’t seem to question. Questions aren’t bad! Those who seek shall find, right? Even still, questions about Christ’s death and resurrection are typically answered dogmatically, doing very little to encourage further questioning and searching. I can just hear most Christians answering my friend,
“Of course it was possible! It’s in the Bible. The Bible said it, it happened. Period.”
“You’re not a Christian if you don’t believe in His resurrection, and if you don’t believe in His resurrection, you aren’t saved. Plain and simple. Have a wonderfully searing eternity.”
People who respond this way aren’t bad. People just don’t like to have the bedrock of their faith tested. It’s uncomfortable, so they keep it comfortable.
Attentions at Easter often get rerouted to bunnies and eggs and candy and gifts and ham. Then, it’s time to get past “the fun stuff,” at least for an hour, get gussied up, go to church and say, “He is risen indeed” twenty or thirty times, remembering how Jesus’ death and resurrection mean salvation and are evidence of Jesus’ divinity. Great!
But all of this, at least initially, seems to leave out science, the redemptive nature of a relationship with Christ, and adheres to a skewed perception of God’s character.
Science and faith are not at odds.The Bible is filled with nuance, allegory, and apocalyptic literature, and with narrative. Some of it is history and other parts are meant to be illustrative of a greater truth. While specific details may or may not have literally happened, the message supersedes the details. The Bible says Christ’s death and resurrection happened, and there are personal accounts further emphasizing the event. But knowing for sure? We don’t know for sure. We are simply told and shown how the event somehow becomes life-changing and redemptive for those who believe and engage in relationship, just as being in relationship with Jesus prior to His death was redemptive and life-changing for all those who encountered Him. From creation, to the resurrection of Christ, to what comes beyond death, I have come to this: whatever did or didn’t happen and whatever does happen, God was, and is, in it and God is always good.
You cannot separate Jesus from relationship and faith, of course some people do, but I cannot. Someone dying and living again is truly remarkable. It is even more remarkable if it were done for me, for you, and everyone everywhere. But so what? Belief alone does not suddenly create a desire to do good, and be good, and live for others. The message of Christ goes beyond that.
In my pastor’s sermon on Sunday he talked about how God goes before us, how Jesus goes before us, in life and in death. Jesus came to establish a New Covenant. Jesus wasn’t the first person to die or to die so gruesomely. However, for His followers (the founding members of Christianity) it was different. In revealing His risen self to them, triumph over the world is realized. Triumph over life and triumph over death. Jesus’ resurrection being mere proof of divinity or salvation is not enough. It is the demonstration of someone who loved so much that He stepped into the space beyond death, and showed there is nothing there to fear.
In study, in prayer, in contemplation, in doubt, in listening, in struggling, we come to know the character of the One who stepped beyond death. When we view people, circumstances, the Bible and what Jesus’ character tells us about God, through what has been revealed in our search for God, what I think we’re shown is the beautiful interplay of love: how it spills into, over and around all those who come in contact with it. Love creates a desire to know the God who loves.
The idea of a vengeful, wrathful, God — one who would intentionally bring disasters, purposefully sink boats or strike people with lightening — has always been tension-filled for me. I have also struggled with, if God is God, couldn’t He have devised any other method for salvation? A God so petty as to zap a blasphemer does not seem like a God who would die for a blasphemer. He doesn’t seem like the kind of God who would send His Son/self to die. Yes, I think God could have done whatever He wanted. This makes me wonder if God intended Jesus to die. I know, John 3:16 and other such verses right? Part of moving beyond belief and possibility entails removing belief and possibility to create space for greater truth. What if we’ve been thinking of God as this wrathful, linearly thinking dude who took sin upon Him and died, but only went to all the trouble for a handful of His beloved? What if God sent Jesus to establish the New Covenant, one dispelling the wrathful God image, but free will meant God/Jesus would die?
In the face of the Divine humanity does not respond in a healthy way (such is the nature of humans) and humanity also has a choice. In response to Jesus, humanity could do whatever it wished, much like we now have the choice to believe and do whatever we want. The consequences of those choices in Jesus’ time meant the death of Jesus. Maybe it was God’s hope humanity would choose a different course, but we didn’t. Regardless, the beautiful thing about it is, God spoke into those choices, just as He speaks into our choices, and instead of death, we get an empty tomb.
I believe Christ died and rose, but I don’t know how. I believe His death and resurrection mean I get to be in relationship with Him, even though I don’t know what I’m doing or what it looks like. I also believe it doesn’t matter what I believe, or don’t believe, about doctrine or creed because nobody knows who’s right and all of us are probably getting some things wrong. The only thing I know for certain is I don’t know anything for certain. However, what I do feel more and more affirmed of, and have seen demonstrated time and again, is God is good all the time. No matter how atrocious the deed or how broken the relationship or how insurmountable the odds. God reaches into the tombs of our circumstances, reaches into the lifeless facts, and brings new life. That’s the story behind the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and it means more to me than whether or not He actually rose from the dead.
(If you made it all the way through this post, and are reading this now, thank you! If you didn’t finish reading, and have written me off as a heretic, that’s okay. Either way…let’s still be friends. J Feel free to comment, but if it’s mean and nasty I will delete it.)