Sunday, April 08, 2007

He is Risen!

Seven Stanzas at Easter

By John Updike

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells' dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His Flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that — pierced — died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck's quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

Telephone Poles and Other Poems © 1961 by John Updike.


Blogger oxi_b said...

Thank you for posting this poem. It is beautiful. I find it easier to mourn for Christ crucified than to believe in His Resurrection. Can you (I many whoever belongs to this blog) share how exactly you see, or sense, or feel the Resurrection? I am familiar with all, or most, of the teachings. But year after year, I find myself helpless and incapable to believe that Christ indeed rose from the dead (no matter how much I want it). I've seen so much suffering and death in my life. I can see consolation, and parabolical resurrection, like revival of life sources within our souls etc. But I have to confess that I still have a hard time admitting Christ's Resurrection literally. Formal and abstract argument's may not help, I've heard them. If anybody could share their struggle, that would really help me.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007 12:23:00 PM  
Blogger Trent_Dougherty said...

Oxi, you raise a good question. As I understand you, you aren't denying that that the balance of evidence supports the resurrection, but rather you are looking for a theological context in which the physicality of the resurrection makes sense. Is that roughly correct? This is a very good question because as my friend from Oxford Richard Swinburne has tirelessly pointed out, what we expect God to do is, for theists, crucial to rational beliefs about what God has done. In formal terms it raises the prior probability of such an event as the bodily resurrection. [Not much HTML works in comments, so for some details on books on the Resurrection, see my Resurrection Resources page at]

So what should cause us to think that God had it in mind to raise Jesus physically from the dead? (Again, apart from "mere" historical evidence like the Apostles seeing and touching him.) Well, let's first think about what kind of salvation God wants for us. I think our salvation can be usefully divided into two parts for the purposes of this question: the part before death, and the part after death. Before death, he clearly wants to do the things you mention like "revival of life sources within our souls". However, he also wants us to continue our spiritual development after death and so he wants us to be alive again. Thus our salvation includes our own resurrection as the necessary precondition for our continued salvation (we have ruled out gnostic versions of afterlife which deny the essential embodiment of the human being).

But Paul tells us that in Jesus resurrection we see the template of our salvation, both in the way he "grew in favor with God and man" (Luke 2:52) during his life, and his resurrection to glory afterward. Thus Paul says so eloquently to the church at Corinth:

 20But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.
 21For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead.
 22For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.
 23But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ's at His coming,
 24then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power.
 25For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet.
 26The last enemy that will be abolished is death.

Since Jesus resurrection is the "first fruits" (ap-arche in Greek) of ours and ours are physical, his should be physical. Jesus resurrection is the Father's assurance to us that we will outlast the grave.

And then in regards to the last part of the passage compare Paul's opening lines to the church in Rome where he says that Jesus was "declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead"

Apart from the fact that "mere" inspiration wouldn't necessarily declare Jesus the Christ with much power, since Gandhi et al. can do that. So to the extend that we should expect the Father to give a clear endorsement of His Son, to that extent we should expect some kind of super-miracle (again, Swinburne has argued this persuasively).

So I think there are purposes of the Father which lead us to expect a physical resurrection and imbue it with significance on top of the historical evidence. In short, he did it for us, to be a sign of the true Messiah and a model of what we can expect if we follow the path he calls us to.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007 5:28:00 PM  
Blogger oxi_b said...

Trent, thank you for your explanation. This is partially what I was looking for. I guess what I was asking was, why do you personally believe in the Resurrection? How did you come about this belief, when? Have you ever had any difficulties believeing in the Resurrection? Can you recall any event in your life that, in some way, convinced you, or deepened your conviction that Resurrection has happened? (It could be some simple insignificant event, or a thought: this just does not make sense unless I see my deceased friend again. Or even a strong feeling, the Holy Spirit sometimes instills hole feelings into our souls).

I am looking for proofs of Resurrection within my own life, I want to attach the formal teaching of faith to my own experiences. I believe strongly in the meaning of suffering, because I've seen it evidently in my life, and I've seen how suffering purifies and redeems. As to Resurrection, I suspect that I am just not noticing something that is in front of my nose. Similarly to Mary Magdalene, who did not recognise Jesus when he was talking to her, right in front of her. There must be some events or moods in my life that point towards Resurrection and are capable of convincing me in it in much stronger way than the teachings, which I have not yet interiorized. That is why I asked about your own experiences of interiorization of this truth.

What you wrote is the teaching of the Church, and we must believe in it. I accept the teaching of the Church about Resurrection, but I am also like that father from the Gospel, who asked for the healing of his son, saying "I believe, help my not believing". I have never seen anything annutural happening. There are things that I consider miracles because it they were very unlikely to happen, but they were still probable. With the resurrection, if we take it literally, with body, I am having a hard time.

I guess I don't know as much as I say I know, because I don't know why accounts of the Resurrection in different Gospels are so different. Could you address that, too?

Well, I think I said enough and asked a lot. I will be thankful for your comments.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007 10:13:00 AM  
Blogger Trent_Dougherty said...

Oxi, your family of questions "why do you personally believe in the Resurrection? How did you come about this belief, when? Have you ever had any difficulties believeing in the Resurrection?" don't seem to be essentially connected to your stated desires "I am looking for proofs of Resurrection within my own life, I want to attach the formal teaching of faith to my own experiences" apart from, of courses, experiencing the Risen Christ in bodily form which, though it could happen, seems unlikely.

I think the key to the issue might be this comment: "I have never seen anything annutural happening. There are things that I consider miracles because it they were very unlikely to happen, but they were still probable." Now I'm a bit confused by the juxtaposition of "they were very unlikely" and "probable". In ordinary speech these seem to contradict one another. Perhaps by "probable" here you mean "not impossible". But that's also true of the Resurrection. God is conceived as the Creator and Sustainer of the Cosmos, including life and the complex physical system which supports it. Thus, giving Jesus life again does not seem to require much effort on God's part. If he can create Life, he can create New Life.

I was taking this for granted in what I wrote above when I was trying to emphasize that since it is easy for God to do, how probable it is depends on whether we would expect God to do it. I tried to gesture at some reasons to think God would do that (for more detail, see the book by Swinburne at the Resources page listed above). Here's an analogy. We are normal folk in a village of other normal folk, but Big Bob the Gentle Giant has the strength of 100 men as has been demonstrated many times. Big Bob goes off on a journey and later we hear a report that Big Bob fought off 50 men to save a traveler. Now, we've never seen any such thing happen, but it's clearly in Big Bob's power and it fits his character so it's really not that surprising after all. This is just an off-the-cuff analogy, but I think it maps on to the most important point: raising Jesus from the dead is easy for God to do and fits his character and purposes (as I tried to indicate above).

Again, the point is that if we can see a *reason* for a being to do something well within their abilities, then reports of its occurring are not to be treated with skepticism. This is a general of rationality applicable across the board. I'm just applying it in the case of the Father raising the Son from the dead. As a result, the historical evidence needn't carry some huge burden (if we were atheists matters would be much different).

With the above framework in place, the reason I personally came to believe that the Resurrection occurred is that the historical evidence supports it. That evidence is detailed in the books above, most briefly by Habermas. I've got some great notes from his class and I'll try to post some of them on that Resurrection Resources page. One thing he usually points out in discussions of the resurrection are the "three E's": Empty tomb, eye witnesses, early creeds. In short, Jesus body was in fact gone. Where did it go? If the disciples took it, then they were frauds. But if his enemies took it, they would have brought it out in Jerusalem to disprove the claims of Peter and the other Apostles there (see Acts 2 and 3) that Jesus had risen from the dead. The Apostles all claimed straightforwardly to have seen Jesus die and to then see him alive again, walking, talking, eating, even touching him. They speak not of visions or inspiration but of a physical, bodily risen Jesus. I do not find it plausible that they were all frauds. Finally, according to source-criticism of the New Testament, some of the earliest material therein makes reference to the bodily resurrection so it is not as if it were a story which grew up much later. This is just the briefest treatment, so for details consult any of the books on that list.

Regarding the differences in the accounts of the Resurrection in the different Gospels, there are pretty simple harmonizations in any "Gospel Parallel" book. These are really neat books we used in New Testament class in seminary which have four columns and have the same narrative from the various Gospels occurring side by side. I'm sure I can find one on the web, and if not I'll scan a copy out of my book. I'll get back to you on that. I hope this is helping.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007 10:42:00 AM  

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