The liberation of the resurrection

A quick thought for this Monday morning.

I have been wondering whether it is possible to divorce Jesus’ ministry from the supernatural claims that surround it. I have little problem in doing this for Guatama Buddha, for example, whose philosophy has value for me quite apart from the fantastical stories of his life. So, while mowing the lawn the other day (on the spiritual possibilities of mundane things, see here), I thought about the resurrection of Christ and whether my Christian faith needs it to be literal event. Certainly there are Christians who are moved by the metaphorical rather than literal truth of such things. However, I have come to realise that my faith requires there to have been an empty tomb and a fleshy theophany.

Death frightens me a great deal. I suppose I am not alone. It is our curse as thinking apes that we know we are going to die and it is this knowledge, I believe, that is at the heart of our evil. Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die. Establish a fame that endures. Accumulate and accumulate in the vain hope that we can escape our inevitable doom. Find every comfort, beat every foe, look after number one.

Reading George Handley’s account of Lowell Bennion makes clear that true goodness is found in wearing out your life in the service of others, but for the selfish among us that is so very hard to do when you believe that this life is the only life. Kant sensed this and so postulated the summum bonum. Rather than a crux, I see it is a liberation. I can sacrifice — forget myself — because this is not the end. This is Jesus’ gift to the world through his physical resurrection. Take no thought for tomorrow, for tomorrow is secure. Instead, serve God today.

The thing is, do we really believe it?

Comments

  1. Death is never an end it is a beginning to another one

  2. Loved this post. I’ve thought a lot about this over the last few years as well. In fact, I explored some very similar thoughts in a sacrament meeting talk a few years ago focused on existential fear — both our fear of death and our fear of life.

  3. I really appreciate posts like this that openly acknowledge the principle that differing interpretations are OK, even about such central doctrines as this.

    I choose to believe in a physical resurrection and an empty tomb – but it wouldn’t shatter my faith or eternal paradigm if we found out somehow that Jesus was the great figurative scapegoat and the empty tomb was mythological and nothing more than a sincere belief of those who weren’t there. I love grand mythologies (and I don’t mean “falsehoods” in using that word), but I choose to see it literally.

    Ironically, part of that is because I love the idea of pure faith – and the resurrection certainly is the apex of things hoped for but not seen for me.

  4. The physical Resurrection is necessary for me. As it happens, I was lucky enough to catch Evensong at Westminster Abbey yesterday. That kind of service provides an excellent occasion to reflect on the significant contribution Christianity has made to the world in its 2,000 year history. It’s safe to say that Christianity has directly and indirectly shaped all aspects of the world in which we live today — philosophically, ethically, morally, politically, intellectually, spiritually etc. In fact, Westminster Abbey itself is a good example: Evensong has been held at Westminster Abbey every single day for more than 1,000 years (as have other worship services and rituals). And belief in the physical Resurrection is in the air in these services, permeating every aspect of the liturgy.

    This post is timely for me because as I contemplated the exquisite beauty of the sacred space and the venerable tradition that it houses, I pondered the importance of the belief in the physical Resurrection for the development of the intellectual framework that prevails underneath most of Western thought. As Latter-day Saints, our beliefs tie into this tradition as well, both because it is a central tenet of the Restored Gospel (just as it is central to The Apostles’ Creed recited during Evensong) and because it pervades the knowledge transmitted to us even in our secular educations (because thanks to Christianity’s fundamental, shaping influence on Western thought and society, as one of the pillars of Christianity it also becomes an invisible fundamental influence in the ethos of Western society). Obviously still thinking about this and my experiences at Evensong yesterday. . . .

  5. I suppose if it is true that every knew shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is the Christ then it will be ovious whether the resurrection is figurative or literal. Maybe the Book of Mormon and First Vision are not additional evidences (beyond the Bible) that the resurrection is ‘literal’. ;)

  6. ok,ok, every ‘knee’ not every knew … though what we ‘knew’ will bow too!

  7. My husband and I both believe in an after life, and we both believe in resurrection that will only happen through Jesus Christ. I have been thinking a lot about this small portion of eternity that is bookended by a birth and death. (I will add the link to a poem on my blog at the end of the comment.) The most interesting thing to me is that while we have an important shared belief in the eternal nature of loving relationships, the way we interpret that in our daily lives, and how we think about death, is very different.

    My husband, like many or even most people, is very protective of those he loves. He would kill someone else in a heartbeat if they threatened me, our kids or himself. He wouldn’t ever stop defending his family until he was unable to do it anymore. He would kill anyone who threatened us, and he would consider it justified. He would take the sacrament the next Sunday as he recommitted to the covenants he made.

    I on the other hand do not see self defense, or defense of our family, as an absolute. I would try to protect my children, I wouldn’t do anything that would allow anyone else to hurt them. I might be able to shoot or kill someone if I thought it was the only way to protect my kids, but I would always look for other options to try first, to save as many people as possible, including the other person who is trying to hurt us.

    I might end up with the same end, shooting someone, as my husband, but how we would get to that point is different. It isn’t different because our core beliefs are different, but because we inherently think about the next life in fundamentally different ways.

    I had a near death experience when I was fairly young. I am grateful I survived, but when I woke up, I honestly was shocked and a little confused. I had been sure I would die, and while I didn’t want to die, my faith was reconciled to it. I don’t want to die now, or have any of my family die, but I believe that no matter what happens in this life, the atonement works, whatever happens in this life.

    I don’t think that either of us is right or wrong. It is just a difference in how we see the world, how we see our life after this one, and how we see the time we have here on earth. It isn’t that I recklessly disregard life, but I don’t have a great fear of death, whenever or wherever it may actually come.

    If you want to see the poem addressing some of these issues can be found here: http://poetrysansonions.blogspot.com/2012/06/bookends.html?m=0

  8. I also believe in a literal resurrection/empty tomb, and I too feel that my faith *needs* it to be so. However, for different reasons. I am not afraid to die, and in fact I find myself often wishing for it. The only things that currently keep me tethered to this life are the fact that I am responsible for my cat, and the ever dwindling hope that tomorrow may be better. I need there to be a resurrection, and an afterlife because I need something to hold on to. Some reason why multiple near death experiences have always had me coming out alive. I need to know that I shouldn’t have just cut my losses a long time ago instead of suffering through. Most of all though, I need to hope that it is not my need to hope that makes eternal life so.

  9. Denying the resurrection places Jesus among those who were ‘good teachers’ but nothing more. You can’t be a true Christian and not believe in the Atonement. You can be a good person but not a Christian.

  10. MikeInWeHo says:

    Personally, I have observed no difference between believers and non-believers when it comes to wearing out ones life in the service of others. In fact, the most Christ-like people I know tend to be spiritual individuals who reject religious literalism. It’s all a matter of perspective, I suppose.

  11. Well said, Mike.

    If we complain when others place ideological constraints on the defintion ot “Christian” that exclude us, we ought not do the same to them.

  12. Although I think Mike makes a good point I am not sure that Ronan was trying to say anything that would be contrary to that perspective. I think Ronan was trying to articulate something of his own personal faith.

  13. I strongly disagree with mantras such as “forget yourself.” It is a very dehumanizing way of looking at things. When I sacrifice, it is because I value something else more than what I am giving up.

    For example, if I were to find myself again, would I change my mind? Sacrifice changes who you are inside, it does not imply spiritual Novocaine.

  14. Just to be clear, the last part of my #11 was addressed to #9.

  15. Have had interesting conversations with a brother-in-law on this topic. He told me that he believed that Noah was a made-up story to teach a point and I realized I would be okay with that. Then when we were discussing recent comments on a post about whether Adam & Eve really existed or whether they were metaphorical to teach a point, I started to think about my beliefs again and what did my testimony really hinge on and what didn’t really matter.

    For me, personally, the empty tomb and the resurrected Christ is too large to overlook. It really is at the core of my testimony. Thanks for making me boil it down to its essence. Pretty profound actually.

  16. Surprisingly, I’ve found that I actually feel and express MORE compassion toward others after having lost my belief in God and an afterlife than I ever did as a fully believing Church member. I think this is because, whereas I used to expect that God would take care of those in need, now I realize that if I don’t do it perhaps no one will.

  17. #16 – “Fully believing” is such a subjective term.

    Personally, given the totality of our scriptures and the words of our top leadership, I find it hard to apply that term to someone who doesn’t profess the belief that we need to take care of those in need – especially since it now has been made one of the core missions of the Church.

    I know others who have said the same thing as you, Silhan – but I also know lots of members who credit their Mormon beliefs with changing their hearts to be able to say what you said at the end of your comment.

    We really don’t believe what we see but rather see what we believe in many ways.

  18. #17 Ray – Good point about what it means to be a fully believing member. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that, for some, a belief in God and an afterlife helps them to become more compassionate, but for others, like myself, it seems to get in the way. (In my case, I now find it easier to love and accept people for who they are because I no longer feel obligated to judge them by some absolute standard of how they ought to be).

  19. I understand and respect that, Silhan.

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