Bible Speaks by Rev. L. Althouse
March 29, 2015
Background Scripture: Matthew 27:62-66; 28:11-20; Luke 243-35-53; Mark 16:9-20; John 20:1-21:22
Devotional Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
In almost 51 years of writing this column, I have never previously continued a column from one week to another. But this week is an exception because I believe the subject of last week – the resurrection accounts in the New Testament – was too much to adequately cover in one column.
Last week I closed with this intentionally lighthearted question: With all the discrepancies in the New Testament accounts, is this any way to run a resurrection? And my answer is a thunderous “Yes!”
Why? Some years ago I came to the conclusion the diverse accounts of the resurrection of Jesus are more persuasive than if all of them were alike, word-for-word. In fact, if they were all in agreement, I would be suspicious because that is not the way of human beings and their experiences: they see, express, remember and interpret differently – because they, and we, are human.
The justice system has begun to realize that eyewitness accounts are often unreliable. This is not because we purposely or consciously intend to deceive, but because interpreting correctly what we experience is subject to factors often beyond our control. We often “see” what we expect we will see.
How many thousands of people saw President John Kennedy gunned down in Dallas, and how many different interpretations of that event are on record? Witnesses are often deceived by their own senses.
The ‘real world’
The Bible itself acknowledges this phenomenon. In Matthew 28:16,17 a resurrection event is recounted: “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted.”
“Some doubted?” Yes, although spending lots of time with him, some were not certain that this was their Jesus. John 12:29 tells us: “The crowd standing by heard it and said it had thundered. Others said, ‘An angel has spoken to him.’”
So, are these experiences “real” and “actual?” The answers depend upon how you define “real” and “actual,” for these are pejorative terms, suggesting that to be “real” and “actual” something must be scientifically verifiable.
Just consider how many aspects of life you would have to eliminate because they are not scientifically verifiable: love, trust, friendship, faith, the Beatitudes and the Golden Rule. I don’t remember poet Robert Frost’s exact words, but he said, in effect, “there’s a whole dimension of life that can’t be made a science of.”
Are my spiritual experiences any less important to me because I didn’t have a camera or iPhone handy to record them? All the religions of the world and many of its philosophies agree the “real” world extends considerably beyond what we can verify with the five senses, reason or scientific instrumentation.
I grew up in a three-dimensional world, but now with the addition of the dimension of time it is acknowledged as a four-dimensional world. Today we talk about a multi-dimensional universe, black holes, dark matter, gravitational waves, et cetera.
What is more important is not whether the disciples could grasp his physical feet, or touch his wounded side and hands, or whether the resurrected Christ could eat fish, walk through solid walls, whether he could walk for miles with his disciples without them recognizing him or whether his body was physical, spiritual or something in between – whatever the appearance was or was not, it was the experience that brought it about.
The details probably will remain non-specific, but the results are very, very specific.
God said ‘Yes’
The results? A band of unpromising, uncomprehending, uneducated and, on Good Friday, undependable disciples is transformed into a force that literally and figuratively changed the world. Would these men, none too courageous to begin with, have been willing to suffer persecution, torture and execution for a lie they made up among themselves? It is difficult enough to get someone to die for the truth, let alone die for a known lie, even a well-intentioned lie.
Scientist Arthur Eddington once remarked that a table “is mostly emptiness and sparsely-scattered in the emptiness are numerous electrical charges rushing about with great speed; but their combined bulk amounts to less than a billionth of the bulk of the table itself.” In a three-dimensional world the resurrection may seem absurd, but in a world of countless dimensions, it does not.
If it is not necessary to describe exactly what happened on that first Easter, then what is necessary? As forcefully and as loudly as possible, the powers of this world had said NO to Jesus. But, on Easter Sunday, God said YES to him.
Easter is our assurance that, like Jesus, our lives will not end at the grave, and I don’t much care if the afterlife will be in a physical body, a reconstituted body, a spiritual body or the form of an angelic being.
I like the way Crossan puts it. He says Jesus came to tell us not that the kingdom is imminent, but that the kingdom has already begun. And, when he sends people out into it, he’s telling them to live accordingly.
Jesus proclaims “God has begun the Great Clean-Up of the World, a time when we take back God’s world from the thugs.”
The point of Easter in the gospels is that new creation has begun, and so we’ve got a job to do. The Easter Gospel is not only our comfort, but also our marching orders to give up preaching whipped cream and living skim milk.
The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of Farm World. Readers with questions or comments for Rev. Althouse may write to him in care of this publication.