Reconciling the Head with the Heart ~ The Resurrection Story

I sat there on the floor thinking about all that my grandma had told me. I thought of many more questions to ask, but I decided that it would be best just to think about them. I could tell that my grandma wasn’t comfortable answering my questions.

resurrection-1Our Sunday School class chose Reverend Mike Slaughter’s book, “Renegade Gospel, The Rebel Jesus” for our Lenten Season study guide this year. Wow! It offered plenty of fodder for discussion and some in the class even took exception with some of the things he wrote about. My biggest issue and greatest revelation came, not during the last chapter, titled Resurrection, but afterwards.

Beginning to speak at the end of the lesson that Sunday morning, I felt my wife’s elbow in my ribs, so I kept quiet. But I’ve been contemplating the topic ever since for this, the final post in my Lenten Season series. Cutting to the chase – I struggle with the whole idea of a physical resurrection.

A little background here for those of you who do not know me well or personally: I grew up in the shadow of the Mormon Temple. That’s a metaphor, folks; I wasn’t literally in the temple’s shadow the whole time I grew up. I was just raised in an extended family culture of Mormonism. And so, Mormon theology had a profound impact on me. By the time I was twelve or thirteen years old, I rejected it totally, and with it the whole idea of Christianity. Reason crowded out what little faith there was. Owing to the influence and example of many loving people in my life since then, however, I have come to embrace the teachings of Christ Jesus and to accept Him as my Lord and Savior, but in the Methodist faith tradition, not the Mormon. I am comfortable as a Methodist because our discipline does not require me to accept the whole of Scripture as inerrant.

I remember asking my dear little old great grandmother, a third generation descendant of the original Mormon pioneers moving into the Great Salt Lake Valley in Utah, this question: “What happens to us after we die?”

I was playing on her kitchen floor at the time with the family’s cat, teasing it with an empty sewing thread spool tied to a string. My memory of this is quite vivid. She said, “One day, long after we have been buried, we will all be made young, healthy and whole again – those of us who keep the commandments.”

“Will everybody be made whole,” grandma?”

“No, not everybody,” she said, “only those who accept the gospel (meaning the gospel according to the Book of Mormon).”

“Will the Gentiles (understood by Mormons to be unbelievers, including those who believe differently about God – Catholics, Jews, Jehovah Witnesses and all those Protestant people) be made whole?” I asked.

“No, dear,” she said. “All those people who die without accepting the gospel will be given a second chance when in Purgatory after somebody is baptized for them. That’s why we Mormons do genealogy and ‘Temple Work’ so that we can be forever with all of our ancestors.”

“So… how does God make everybody whole again, people like Uncle Seth (Uncle Seth had lost an arm in a farming accident)?”

“I don’t know, honey.”

I sat there on the floor thinking about all that my grandma had told me. I thought of many more questions to ask, but I decided that it would be best just to think about them. I could tell that my grandma wasn’t comfortable answering my questions.

To this day, I recite the Apostles Creed with tongue-in-cheek when saying the last sentence, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.”  It’s that part about the resurrection of the body that my mind quibbles with – It’s not a trivial matter to me.

According to Reverend Slaughter, and much of the New Testament, we must believe in resurrection, not just Christ’s resurrection on that first Easter Morning, but the eventual resurrection of all believers. Just goggle “what does the bible say about resurrection.” See what you get.

1 Corinthians 15:12-32 reads: “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you can say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised…”

The Reverend Slaughter, in his book, claims that we have historical proof of Christ’s resurrection because the Apostle Paul (not one of the twelve) wrote his epistles during and about the year 56 AD, according to Biblical scholars. So many among these more than 500 who witnessed the resurrected Christ were still alive. But who says that more than 500 witnessed the resurrected Christ? Why, the Apostle Paul did, in 1 Corinthians 15:6. “Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.”

This is a logical do-loop and, at best, only second or third-hand evidence. But Paul, you say, himself encountered the risen Christ according to the book of Acts, chapter 9, verses 3 through 9: “Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ And he said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.’  The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one.  Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.”

Okay, you say, there you go; Paul’s personal experience is corroborated in Scripture. But who wrote Acts? Tradition from the earliest days of Christianity holds that Luke, a companion of the Apostle Paul, wrote both Acts and the Gospel according to Luke (see Colossians 4:14; 2 Timothy 4:11).

Collusion? Sure sounds like it to me – It’s certainly not corroborated historical proof as the Reverend Slaughter purports.

I recently shared these and other thoughts about Biblical conflicts with scientific evidence and with recorded secular history with a good Christian friend of mine. When I did, he said, “It sounds like you want the Bible to be wrong.”

“Not at all,” I said. “But I don’t consider the Bible to be a True book. I consider it to be a Truth book.

According to Biblical scholars, Gospel writers like Luke didn’t know Jesus personally. None of them were eye witnesses. They did not follow Him around with pens and papyrus recording everything he said and did. Instead, they came to believe in Jesus by listening to others talk about Him. So, when they wrote down what they had come to believe, they used the oral stories that they had heard.

Looking at the Gospels it’s easy to see that Luke heard stories that Mark, Matthew and John did not, stories like The Good Samaritan for example. Similarly, Matthew and Luke heard stories that Mark did not. The Sermon on the Mount for example, in Matthew, becomes The Sermon on the Plain in Luke. We also see that even when they tell the same story, the details are sometimes different. So, it’s the message that matters rather than the details.

According to The Bible Doctor, “The Gospels were not intended to be biographies or historical reports. Each of the Gospels was written to do just one thing: to help people come to believe that Jesus was the Messiah as prophesied in the Old Testament, God in human form.

When we read the Gospels we should look for truths, but not the kind of truths scientists or lawyers look for. We should look for truths about life, about Jesus, about being human, about life in God’s time. This kind of truth is held in the message of the story, not in the details. When we read the Gospels we should not ask what is true. We should ask, ‘What does it mean?’”

The Bible is full of metaphors. The parables themselves are allegories — stories told to convey truths about the Kingdom of God and the nature of mankind – stories filled with metaphors. Biblical scholars agree that the whole book of Job is a masterfully written allegory, it too filled with metaphors. So, could the concept and Biblical stories of Christ’s physical resurrection also be allegories? I think, yes, they could be.

To convince Jews and later, Gentiles, in the early years after the crucifixion that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the living Son of God, The First Council of Nicaea had to choose Gospels that included the resurrection story along with the virgin birth story and other aspects of prophesy written long before. Otherwise, those who were familiar with the prophesies would never accept Him. Then too, promises of physical resurrection and eternal life for believers had, and continue to have, great appeal. Gospels which did not include these stories and testify to the divinity of Christ were rejected by the council. But I don’t need miracles to believe in Christ’s teachings as other, more fundamental Christians do. Neither do I need them to believe in the purpose of His sacrifice and the hope for salvation. To me, it’s all intrinsically true.

I’ve come a long way since that day on my great grandmother’s kitchen floor. For more on my profession of faith, see A Discipleship Testimonial ~ My Conversion by Profession of Faith.

I rather like this quote by Reverend William A. Kolb posted to the website, explorefaith.org: “Nowadays (forty years later) I would say that I am of two minds. One, which is my ‘worldly, common-sense’ way of thinking, tells me that the resurrection might be metaphorical, but if it is, that does not make me believe in Jesus any less, nor in him as the divine model for living and dying, any less.

But there is another part of me that continues to believe in the resurrection literally. And I would say that that is the part of me to which Jesus referred when he said, ‘The Kingdom of God is within you.’ God has put it into my heart to believe in things that neither I nor the world can prove with our mind, but which we believe with our heart, and usually with all our heart.

Do you have to believe this to ‘be a Christian?’ I would say not. I would say that what it takes to ‘be a Christian’ is to want to be a Christian. The more you believe and the more you practice the things that Jesus taught, the stronger a Christian you will be.”

After a discussion about these things over lunch, that good Christian friend I mentioned earlier, the one who said it sounded like I want the Bible to be wrong, said, “Well, at least God has something to work with in you.” That pleased me a great deal.

Whether there truly was an empty tomb and a physical resurrection – whether or not a physical resurrection awaits those of us who believe, I do believe… more in my heart than in my head. But I do believe, and I will be celebrating Easter again this year.

Please feel free to comment on this post, whether you can understand and accept what I choose to believe about resurrection. Even if you vehemently disagree, I would love to dialogue on the subject.

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