In spite of the view that is commonly held within more conservative branches of the Church, it is not impossible or unheard of that liberal Christians “read their Bibles” and “believe the Bible.” I made that error in my head myself before I started working at Now Church. Seriously–there was this one day where I came up with this entire self-righteous little speech in my mind (because I often have conversations in my head and then don’t remember if I actually had them in real life or not) where I was going to tell my new employers that, yes, I would be happy to work for them, but they would need to understand that I was going to be teaching the kids the Bible, and that that’s where I get my theology from.
I know I never gave that monologue in real life (thank goodness), because I remember the conversation that happened instead which forestalled it, and that conversation essentially revealed that “Bible-believing” is not necessarily a term to which Bible-thumpers have the copyright. (“Born again” shouldn’t be, either, but plenty of other churches are willing to let the Bible-thumpers have that term. But . . . that’s another rant for another time.) That’s not to say, however, that how we believe the Bible might not be different, or that our interpretations might not be divergent. Obviously, they can be. For example, the passage above. Although I’ve never heard a liberal Christian dissect this one, I suspect it could be (and probably sometimes is) interpreted to mean that of course Jesus is alive again in some way, but that a physical life is not necessitated by the above statements.
I just think that in context, it is. In context of the rest of the New Testament as a whole, and in context of what was going on in the Roman Empire and the fledgling church at that time, and in context especially of what the four canonical Gospels say. It seems to me that those Gospel writers went to a whole lot of trouble to assert that Jesus’ resurrection was nothing if not physical. Here are four different guys, telling the highlights of Jesus’ story in four different ways from four different perspectives, and yet all four of them (even John, whose writing is arguably the most esoteric) give various anecdotes to highlight that Jesus’ body was alive along with His Spirit. So that by the time we get to the Apostle Paul, feverishly scribbling (or dictating) his letters to churches all around Asia Minor, he’s somewhat put out that some of these churches (of mostly Hellenised–Greekified–converts to Christianity, incidentally, not Christ-following Jews except in the case of the letter to the Romans–which is significant, because the Greek philosophies were more dualistic than orthodox Judaism) are asserting that resurrection doesn’t happen. The resurrection they’re asserting doesn’t happen, is the whole-person kind that the Jewish Gospel-writers have gone to such pains to highlight. They’re telling the people in their congregations that after you die, you’re just dead.
So Apostle Paul jumps in and says, “Dudes. If that’s the case, then Jesus didn’t come back to life either.” (I don’t think he’d make this argument if Jesus really didn’t come back to life–if somehow it wasonly His Spirit that “came back”–because then there wouldn’t really be much to argue. I know some people think he was kind of an argumentative jerk, and maybe he was, but I don’t think he usually picked a fight for no reason.) Then he says, “And if Jesus didn’t come back to life? Well then what the heck are we doing here, guys?”
Good question. Especially back then (and in plenty of bits of the world right now), the Jesus-road was a tough one to walk (like, it could get you killed), so if all you had was this life, without hope of coming back and being restored, and in this (short little) life you had to turn the other cheek and stuff in order to adhere to the teachings of some dude named Yeshua? Well, there are more instantly-gratifying lifestyles and philosophies. If they’re all equal-and-then-you-die, pick another one! BUT . . . if this Yeshua guy was actually somehow also God (both fully God and fully human), and He actually came back to life–well He–the entire He–both the God-He and the human-He would have had to come to life at the same time, and then there’s a reason to adhere to His teachings–because it is a road, a process, and you have a goal far beyond this little blip of existence.
Meanwhile, the only way resurrection could have happened to Jesus was if it happened to all of Him–because He’s a unity, not a duality. If you think about it, it wouldn’t be a miracle if just the God-bit of Him somehow came back to life. Then you could just say maybe that God-part didn’t even really die. And then . . . I don’t know. I guess then it just sort of seems like a cop-out. If just some human part (no matter how sinless) died, while the God-part held out, well–how is God even affected, then, and how is that forgiveness, and how is our sin being paid for? It’s just some dude. How does his solely-human goodness have any effect on my sin. I have plenty of sin of my own that needs to be wiped out. I’m pretty sure a mere mortal’s not-sinning isn’t going to cover it. Never mind all the sin in the whole world. Maybe there’s a way to interpret “atonement” (which is a pretty tough word to interpret on its own anyway) without a holistic death, but I can’t comprehend it.
But if Jesus really did come back to life–all of Him, divine and human–well then that resurrection must have somehow irreversibly traumatised the laws of nature in that area, so that other humans (body, soul and spirit) can be resurrected, too.
I believe it did. I believe the Bible says that and, you know, like I said, I seem to believe the Bible. So do a lot of other people. See you on the flip-side!
Note to people who totally don’t come to this blog for this kind of writing and are wondering if they should get out now: Do not fear. Three whole brainy-theological posts plus a borrowed one are a little much for me. I’m much more comfortable talking about the mundane (although let me just say that I believe the mundane matters because of the resurrection!). Stay tuned for new posts about things like blog stats, skin care, and Chia–all right here! In the Jenn stories!