Sunday, April 24, 2011

He Is Risen

Jesus Christ is risen indeed

Today, as my Facebook page is rife with joyous exclamations of resurrection and hope, it seems appropriate to contemplate the meaning of Christ Resurrected.  I have no issues with Jesus crucified. I’ve studied enough to be satisfied that, as best we can know, a man named Jesus existed in first century Palestine and quite likely was crucified by the Romans (though no actual first-, or even second-, hand evidence exists). But to accept a literal resurrection with as much confidence as I’ve accepted a literal crucifixion requires a whole different order of questions and criticism.  I’m not one of those scientism-thinkers who relegates any story of the miraculous to the fairy tale pile.  Just because miracles aren’t likely and aren’t explicable when they do, doesn’t mean they are impossible—that’s kinda the definition of miracle, after all. So I leave open the possibility that this guy Jesus did not only literally die but also bodily resurrect.  I think, however, that it is highly improbable and take the line of least resistance—I will only accept a literal miracle when more likely explanations don’t exist.

Many people take the CS Lewis approach to Jesus and say he must be exactly who we’ve decided he said he was (a substitutionally atoning deity, sacrificed on our behalf) because otherwise he was either a liar or insane—as if those are the only options.  Since we can’t believe that Jesus would either lie or be insane (just think what that would do to our doctrines!), we must therefore accept that he is the dead and resurrected God-Man.  Um, yeah, the dead and resurrected God-Man.  Just like the dead and resurrected God-Man of the Greeks, the Egyptians, the Celts, the Hindu, the…. Yeah, dead and resurrected god-men were quite popular in the thousand years before and after Jesus.  Even non-deities like Roman emperors and Greek heroes were talked about as resurrected and coming back in glory. So, thinking of Jesus’s death and resurrection as somehow different, more literal, than all those is pretty crazy to me.

Which all leaves me with the question—who was this Jesus, then?  What was his purpose?  My working hypothesis has been that he was a singularly human teacher who preached a wholly loving God that didn’t need sacrifice or legalism for atonement.  A teacher whose primary and perhaps only message was an overwhelming and transformative experience of this God found through and resulting in the love and service to one’s fellowman.

What a comedown from a resurrected deity!  So commonplace!  Why, Jesus would be no different than Buddha or Lao-tse or even Mohammed.   And not significantly different than the later Jewish prophets of his own tradition. The shock of the idea pointedly illustrates the elitism and entitlement tendencies of Christianity as surely as the fervor with which Christians insist that Jesus is a dead and resurrected God-Man wholly different than all the others.

And all of the clamor of “my god is better than yours” distracts completely from the radical, transformative, salvific Truth taught by every single one of those prophets and resurrected god-men:  recognizing one’s divine worth as wholly loved cannot help but lead one to love others with that same radical grace.  When you know you are loved, you cannot do anything else but love.  In our denominational tribalism, we fight tooth and nail for the doctrinal correctness of our particular formulation of that Truth to the extent that we ignore the Truth itself. 

We are loved.  We are wholly, completely, totally, unequivocally, inalterably LOVED by the Very Being who creates the universe.  We need do, in fact, cannot do anything to be lovable, to be loving, to be loved.  We are loved, we are lovable, and to the extent that we understand our loved-ness, we are loving.  And that really is amazing, radical, transformative, and capable of bringing peace to all mankind.  No matter who teaches a message of Love, under what name, the result is the same.  Recognizing the love brings more love to the world. 

When the love of God enters the world, Christ is risen indeed.  Alleluia.


  1. Wonderful. Substitutionary atonement and a literal bodily resurrection are big... stumbling blocks? on my faith journey too. I've been inspired to study these issues more deeply this Easter season.

  2. Hmmm. I will note that CS Lewis is the wrong place to go if you're looking for substitutionary atonement themes (at least the penal substitutionary themes that developed about a thousand or so years ago). From Aslan in the first Narnia book to his non-fiction writing, his perspective is rooted in the more ancient Christus Victor perspective. It's little wonder one of his favorite books was Athanasius' "On the Incarnation".

    On the matter of the Resurrection, if Christ did not defeat death on our behalf, then it's pointless and even ridiculous to be Christian. It's not a "miracle" in the sense that seems to be meant within the context of the modern secular divisions of reality. Rather it is God accepting the worst our ultimate enemy could do and defeating that enemy once and for all -- as one of us.

    I am quite familiar with Lao-Tzu, Prince Siddhartha (Gautama Buddha), and some of the threads within Hinduism. The Tao probably comes as close (or closer) to the Christian revelation in Christ as the logos does in Plato. But other than that, they don't really compare to Christianity. Christianity rises and falls on the Resurrection. Period. If that is not true, then Christianity is a cruel joke and almost every religion would be preferable. If it is true, then it is, as ancient Christians sometimes termed it, the end of religion.

  3. Scott,

    I agree that Lewis is not the strongest voice in the penal substitution camp and that he is a lot more open-minded about much of Christian doctrine than most of the people who quote him. I chose his Son of God/liar/madman bit because it is one that has been quoted to me by countless apologists trying to convince me of the rightness of their position (almost uniformly without crediting Lewis, I might add).

    Parenthetically, I really like the themes that Lewis develops in his fiction--so much more worthy IMO than the straight up apologetics in Mere Christianity or even The Screwtape Letters.

    Back to the point, I don't know why Christ defeating death for any reason must be central to Jesus message (central to Christianity as it has become, I suppose, but not to what he taught his disciples. And the questioning of it figures largely in why I doubt I'll take up the name Christian again. Whatever kind of Christian I may be, I'm definitely heretical.

    To say that the resurrection is "God accepting the worst our ultimate enemy could do and defeating that enemy once and for all -- as one of us" implies first that our ultimate enemy is death (or perhaps Satan in the form of death), with which I disagree, and second that if Jesus defeats death as a man then so can we, again I disagree.

    Humans don't get to defeat death; we still die. We just get to think that death is not the final act in the play. And there are several religions that I think have just as hopeful and redemptive afterlife doctrines. I don't think that Christianity offers a necessarily better or worse afterlife.

    And I don't think death is our worst enemy--although a good argument could be made for it--I think we are our own worst enemy. We fear death (I do agree that death is every one's ultimate fear) not because it is death itself or because it is evil or whatever we choose to name it. I think we fear death because it acknowledges our individual existential powerlessness while having to confront our collective power.

    The Enlightenment with its new awareness of the individual as separate from the universe allowed a huge evolutionary step forward in consciousness but it came at the price of making the next step that much more difficult. We came to recognize the free agency of the individual with the limitations we wanted to ignore of the individual's existential powerlessness. But that very recognition makes it all but impossible to grasp the concept of individual free agency in cooperation with everyone else's individual free agency as a collective force.

    If you mean something else by defeating death, please explain it to me because I'd like to understand.

    Please also explain why Christianity is beyond compare to Taoism, Buddhism, or the various Hinduisms. I've heard that before--that they "can't compare" and that Christianity is a "cruel joke" if the resurrection isn't literally true. But I don't see the outstanding merits of Christianity. When I've asked previous "cruel joke" commenters (not on this blog, IRL) for explanations I get some variation of "the Bible says so" or "just because it is" and the conversation ends.

  4. I read your Chronicle for today, the day after Easter, right after I read an e-mail from a much more conservative Christian.  She was responding to my doubts about the physical resurrection of Jesus.  My “old tapes” kicked in as I read hers, thinking that maybe I had fallen off the Christian spectrum altogether since the bodily resurrection is so basic to her, to so many Christians, to my enculturation.
                Then, reading your Chronicle, I found again my center—at least my center where it is today along this circuitous journey of life.  As Marcus Borg states, the metaphorical reading of scripture is more than literal, not less.  The literal can be limiting.  But, the risen Christ is can be limitless unless he is bodily restricted somewhere.
                Thanks for your well-thought-through Chronicle.
                                                                                        Terry Gray

  5. Amen. I believe we all have a little of God within us, that we can use the good to channel help for others, and peace for ourselves. I don't believe in the criticism of yoga, or other's prayers to God not being answered. For all the billions of souls on this earth, I have to believe there is a unique connection to a God who accepts all. I don't know if it's allowed for me to talk of a book I've read, so if it's not, just reply to me and put me in my silly place! Ashley Judd's book about the bitter and the sweet, her autobiography, touches in areas that connect her humanitarian work with women worldwide. In her Aids and sexual reproduction work, she feels the common connection with those economically forced into lives of prostitution in India, in Guatemala, in a plethora of places where running water is a privilege. I'm now looking at my connection to Christ, and what he would have me do, and questioning what in the heck I've been doing all my life? Where can I be of most use? Why is my daily life more important than yours? It's been an enlightening read, very sad at times, but most worthwhile. Thanks for your continued postings. What you write resonates with my soul.


  6. Protestantism is correct that we don't "merit" God's Love by our "good works."

    Now if they would just realize and admit that we don't "merit" it by our correct beliefs either, they just may be able to accept the biblical witness to God's Unconditional/Kenotic Love.


  7. Hi! I found your link on Elizabeth Esther's blog, and I'm glad I did. This is a great Easter reflection.

    It's not clear to me that New Testament even speaks with one voice on this. Jesus can eat fish, post-crucifixion, but can also walk through doors. He can talk to his disciples, but they don't necessarily recognize him. To Paul on the road to Damascus, he's a bright light and a disembodied voice. Whatever that is, it's not an assertion that Jesus' physical body was simply healed and reanimated on Easter.

    I'm intrigued by the idea that the resurrection was initially preached as the end of religion. What would that mean?

  8. @ Carol: (((hugs of gratitude)))

    I believe that Jesus truly rose again, and the point of that was to show his disciples that life truly goes on, and that not even death can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

    I don't find much validity to the penal substitution theory. I'm not even sure I believe Jesus needed to die on our behalf in the mystical Christus Victor (the oldest Christian doctrine) but it at least fits with the character of a merciful God who does not hold grudges, who loves and forgives freely and desires that his creation join in that Love with one another and God himself.

    I have read other ideas too that really intrigue me. What if the death of the son of God was more of a giant Intervention by God on our behalf? One thought: human sacrifice was practiced on every continent. God is recorded as saying in the Old Testament that such conduct never even entered his mind. ( for those who want a reference.) Apparently, God hates violence and cruelty to one another, the main point behind the flood story. ("now the earth was full of violence and all the thoughts of men's hearts were always evil, all the time...). But simply forbidding such practices in Mosaic law didn't change anything.

    But in the cross and resurrection, we see God providing the perfect sacrifice, which no one could top. He sacrificed himself. Human sacrifice was trumped. As far as I know, everywhere Christianity spread the practice of human sacrifice stopped. So that's one possible point for me.

    Also, some of us have done some really despicable things in this life that we may feel are unforgiveable. I am not sure Christ had to die so that we could BE forgiven but more so maybe so that we could BELIEVE we can be forgiven. Maybe it is humanity that demands the crucifixion and resurrection, not the heart of God? Ditto forgiving ourselves and others. I think being able to mentally accept that this crime committed by/against us has been punished and put away for all time by God himself is a huge gift to those who need to forgive themselves/others.

    Anyway, in those scenarios, the resurrection very much counts as it is the final stage of healing/forgiveness. Love wins. Hate, punishment, shame are all poured out on Christ on the cross, and yet He comes back, unscathed and glorified. That's the power of the love of God. It makes all things new.

    My thoughts anyway. :)

    Love ya CH!, SS (fellow heretic ;-)

  9. oddsandotters,

    If the message of the good news (I'm quoting Paul from memory, you can verify at Biblegateway if you'd like)truly is "that God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself and not counting men's trespasses against them" then the whole business of do this,don't do that in order to be 'right with God' is over.

    Like Jesus said on the cross, it is finished.

    You don't sacrifice or ritual or attendance at an institution. God accepts you. Rest in His love.

    And then, as Sandra wrote, When you know you are loved, you cannot do anything else but love.

    The early believers met together to encourage one another, not to sing hymns and listen to a lecture. They were excited to be with others whose lives were also being transformed by love, and they practiced that love "toward one another and toward all men".

    The writer of Hebrews (I think it was) wrote that Christ was the end of the law for all who believed. To that author, the law of Moses was organized religion. I think for those whose lives are transformed and being transformed by love, Christ is the end of all organized religion. There is nothing we can to do to add to his glorious work.

    So why continue to meet? It's human nature to share our love and excitement about the things we love with others who value the same thing. Also for those who really get the totality of God's acceptance of us, we understand that the good news is for all, not just the individual. It honors the inclusive heart of God when we include others in our circle of life. The only sacraments Jesus endorsed (baptism and communion) are for participation by all. Every time you partake of the broken bread, you should be remembering that we are all a part of the body of Christ, and loving the other beloved is as much a part of being in Christ as accepting his forgiveness and love for us as an individual.

    Again, only my thoughts. But I do so like them. :) SS