“It doesn’t matter if Jesus was actually raised from the dead; what matters is that we believe he was raised from the dead.” Discuss.
This is a prompt from a recent seminary writing assignment. My thinking style is such that I tend to respond to questions with more questions. This helps me clarify the ideas and concepts before thinking through how I might respond. In thinking about how I might respond to this question, my response questions include:
What does “matter” mean in this instance? Is the actual, historical Resurrection necessary for an actual, literal Resurrection of all of us at some point in the future? Is that how it matters? Does it *matter* because it is what enables the Forgiveness of Sins, or is that possible even without a historical, literal Resurrection? Does it *matter* because of what it means for our day-to-day lived experience as Christians? If so, why?
If the veracity of Christianity resurrection relies on a literal, historical Resurrection event, is that the *only* thing that is required to be a literal, historical event? It evidence were shown, for example, that Jesus didn’t *actually in history* turn water into wine, walk on water, feed the 5,000 miraculously, the Transfiguration, the Ascension, etc. is the Christian faith just as invalid as if the Resurrection did not occur in actual history? What about the miracles by the Apostles or the Day of Pentecost? Or take it a step further like Hope’s question: to what extent does this apply to the literal historicity of Noah’s Ark, the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve, Moses parting the sea, etc. etc.? Which events/aspects must be actual history vs. not and why?
Flip the prompt around the other way: “It doesn’t matter if we believe that Jesus was actually raised from the dead; what matters is that he *was* raised from the dead.” Does that work the same way as the reverse?
If a literal, historical Resurrection is central to the Christian faith and its efficacy, is there room in the Church and the Body of Christ for people who don’t believe in its literal historicity? Or perhaps are not 100% sure but would say “I’m 80%-ish sure that I believe in that, but I still waver sometimes.” Or “I don’t know if I can say I believe it’s true, but I hope that it’s true!” What is their place in our communities? Should literal belief required for baptism? For receiving the Eucharist? For exercising lay or ordained ministry?
If we had sure knowledge of the literal historicity of the Resurrection, would there be any room for us to need to exercise faith or hope in the Resurrection? Would our lives, and the Church, be poorer if opportunities for faith and hope in these doctrines were rendered moot due to incontrovertible evidence?
Generally speaking, can faith in something produce an intended effect even if it turns out that, unbeknownst to us, the thing in which we put faith turns out not to be literal/factual? This can happen in medicine with the placebo effect. It happens with kids and Santa Claus and other stories. In this point, can a person’s life be transformed/born again, can they experience “resurrection” in their lives through metaphorical death and rebirth, because of their belief in a literal/historical Resurrection, even if such an event didn’t actually occur in history?
Is there a parallel with the Eucharist, I wonder? There are centuries of historic debate about whether the Eucharist is the literal body and blood of Christ or symbolic or somewhere in between, but all agree perspectives seem to agree that the effect is the same. To what extent might this be true for the Resurrection as well?
Please no one misunderstand; I’m not presenting these questions in an adversarial way. Rather: these are questions that help me try to better understand the doctrine, theology, and implications of things like the Resurrection and my relationship with them, in humility and grace, realizing that I’m a limited, imperfect Creature who is trying the best he can to understand the universe as best he can.
At any rate, these questions are a starting point for me. How about you?