This Easter, in the dialogue sermon I participated in with Dennis Perry, I mentioned how I believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ because I know Jesus Christ is alive and so God must have raised him from the dead. That is, when I was 17 years old or so I had an encounter with the Risen Christ.
Like so many other Christians I know.
Like the 514 witnesses whose names Paul can tick off in 1 Corinthians 15.
Quite obviously this was a subjective assertion, rooted in my own experience of being encountered and was decidedly not- as one vociferous worshipper grumbled- an “empirical or objective explanation” for the resurrection.
While the Barthian in me bristles at the unexamined assumption that that which is ‘objective’ and true must be empirically verifiable, it’s nonetheless true that the same Barthian in me is allergic to rational apologetics. I simply do not believe that the claims of Christianity can or should be rendered demonstrably true or, even worse, reasonable.
Any Christianity that ‘makes sense’ flies in the face of the first truth of the faith:
Dead people stay dead.
And what God does in Christ is completely unexpected and counterintuitive.
Having said that, however, maybe the grumbling worshipper (a Deist in Christian clothes) was on to something. I do not believe in apologetics or making the common-sense case for Christ, yet neither do I believe that the ineffable and ineluctable nature of the resurrection makes it UNreasonable.
To say the resurrection of Christ is beyond historical verification is true, for we believe God intervenes from beyond history to raise Jesus from beyond the grave.
But to say the resurrection of Christ is beyond historical verification is not also to suggest that the resurrection of Christ is beyond historical plausibility, for we believe God intervenes to raise Jesus from the grave within history.
In fact, though it wasn’t the intent of the Easter sermon, to argue the plausibility of the resurrection, I do think the resurrection is the best- or at least a compelling- historical explanation for the resurrection of Jesus.
I believe it.
Like Paul, and for that matter like every story there is, I believe the ending of the story determines the truth and worthwhileness of everything which precedes it. If Jesus is not raised, I’m with Nietszche because if Jesus is not raised all the facts of history are on Friedrich’s side not Yeshua.
I do believe in the resurrection. I believe it based on my subjective experience, and I believe it as history. Some of you, I know, do not. Actually, my experience as a pastor in Mainline Christianity has taught me that a good many Christians, if not the majority, do not believe anything actually happened on Easter morning.
In my experience, most quietly confess the creeds but inwardly believe that Jesus was only raised in the hearts of his followers. Others are more open about their doubts, armed with just enough popular press ‘facts’ to miss just how impoverished is their logic- never seriously considering how, to take one example, someone’s existential experience of feeling Jesus in their heart was not likely to persuade another and even less so to lead them to a cross of their own.
Even still, I know some of you doubt the resurrection.
And I want to know why. Or what.
So if you doubt the resurrection, I’ve got some questions for you to consider. And, if you’re so bold, to answer:
If it’s true that God raised Jesus from the dead, triumphing over Death and Sin would you then be willing to trust that he is ‘Lord?’
Or, would you at least believe that, having been vindicated by God, Christ’s obedience is what God desires from all of us?
If you say, No, then do you think Easter is irrelevant regardless of whether it’s true or not? Why?
If you say, Yes, then, other than the manner in which we’ve received the gospel, how would you expect the news of Jesus’ resurrection to reach us today? What else would you require to accept it as a trustworthy witness?
And if you would require some other ‘evidence’ of the resurrection, are you actually saying that you need another miracle to verify the prior miracle of the resurrection?
Or are you saying that that even if God raised Jesus from the dead you would not believe? Because you don’t believe in miracles at all? Period.
And if you don’t believe in miracles at all, if you believe then that creation is a closed system from which God is transcendentally apart and in to which God does not act, then aren’t you really saying (even if you go to Church, pray etc) that you’re an atheist?
Or a clockmaker Deist like TJ?
But then that leads to one last question, the money question:
If creation is a closed system in which something could not have happened because we do not now observe it happening, then isn’t your ‘reason’ itself a product of that closed system?
And if so, then hasn’t your mind and reason evolved purely through natural selection alone? To give you a better chance only at survival?
And if so, then on what grounds could your mind and reason possibly be in a position to know what is true about reality (that closed system) as a whole?
There’s a big, big difference between saying ‘I do not believe the resurrection of Jesus happened’ and ‘I do not believe resurrections can happen.’
I suspect most claim the former while in fact confessing the latter, not realizing they leave this trail of logic behind them…
Resurrections (as events from beyond history in history) cannot happen.
Therefore God (as Being and Actor beyond history) does not exist.
Therefore Reason (my ability to speculate about the bounds of history and reality) does not exist, or at least not in the manner in which I assume.
“…it makes sense to believe in both reason and God, and it may make a kind of nonsensical sense to believe in neither, but it is ultimately contradictory to believe in one but not the other.
An honest and self-aware atheism, therefore, should proudly recognize itself as the quintessential expression of heroic irrationalism: a purely and ecstatically absurd venture of faith…”
In other words, while belief in the resurrection yields fools for Christ, non-belief in its possibility yields fools.