This post is part of April’s Synchroblog.
What if Christ did not rise?
The stock answer, of course, is straight out of 1 Corinthians 15: in that case, our faith is futile and we are of all men most to be pitied. Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.
I have no difficulty with Paul’s answer there. It is born of Paul’s long reflection on Jesus and what He means, and there is deep wisdom in it. However, for many conservative evangelicals, quoting Paul’s answer is not an indication of deep wisdom and reflection. It has become a stock answer, a thing we can say that prevents us from thinking about the topic any further. It’s like looking up the answer to an equation in the back of a math book: you can know x=3.5 without being any good at algebra. However accurate the answer may be, though, just parroting it without thought is not the path to wisdom.
The path to wisdom is working through the problem yourself.
If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then He is not alive now. The last people to see Him before He died were the last people to see Him, ever; the thing He said before He died was the last thing He said, ever. He did not appear to the eleven. Not only did He not appear to various people in Judea and Galilee in the weeks following the crucifixion, He also did not appear to Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus road. Saul remained, to the end of his days, a devotee of Gamaliel in the school of Hillel. As he grew older, Saul wrote, of course, as brilliant rabbis are wont to do, and some of his works are preserved in the Jewish community to this day.
If Jesus is not presently alive, then He did not make His presence known to, for example, Anthony Bloom. Bloom recounts his conversion experience:
I asked my mother whether she had a book of the Gospel, because I wanted to know whether the Gospel would support the monstrous impression I had derived from this talk. I expected nothing good from my reading, so I counted the chapters of the four Gospels to be sure that I read the shortest, not to waste time unnecessarily. And thus it was the Gospel according to St Mark which I began to read.
I do not know how to tell you of what happened. I will put it quite simply and those of you who have gone through a similar experience will know what came to pass. While I was reading the beginning of St Mark’s gospel, before I reached the third chapter, I became aware of a presence. I saw nothing. I heard nothing. It was no hallucination. It was a simple certainty that the Lord was standing there and that I was in the presence of him whose life I had begun to read with such revulsion and such ill-will.
This was my basic and essential meeting with the Lord. From then I knew that Christ did exist. I knew that he was thou, in other words that he was the Risen Christ. I met with the core of the Christian message, that message which St Paul formulated so sharply and clearly when he said, ‘If Christ is not risen we are the most miserable of all men’. Christ was the Risen Christ for me, because if the One Who had died nearly 2000 years before was there alive, he was the Risen Christ. I discovered then something absolutely essential to the Christian message — that the Resurrection is the only event of the Gospel which belongs to history not only past but also present. Christ rose again, twenty centuries ago, but he is the Risen Christ as long as history continues. Only in the light of the Resurrection did everything else make sense to me. Because Christ was alive and I had been in his presence I could say with certainty that what the Gospel said about the Crucifixion of the prophet of Galilee was true, and the centurion was right when he said, ‘Truly he is the Son of God’. It was in the light of the Resurrection that I could read with certainty the story of the Gospel, knowing that everything was true in it because the impossible event of the Resurrection was to me more certain than any event of history.
But if Jesus is not alive, that didn’t happen. Bloom remained an angry young Marxist, and as angry young Marxists tend to, he found some problem or another in the Gospel of Mark and discarded it.
Of course, if Jesus is not alive, the last Mark ever saw of Jesus, soldiers were surrounding Him, and Mark was fleeing naked for his life. He never wrote the Gospel of Mark — what could he use for an ending?
If Jesus did not rise, He did not ascend to the Father, and if He did not ascend to the Father, He did not send the Holy Spirit. Pentecost never happened, and the signs Mark promised would follow those who believe did not happen, and we, today, do not hear God’s voice through the Holy Spirit or look to Him for intervention either.
If Jesus did not rise, biblical prophecy and proclamation is dead. Micah predicted the place, Daniel predicted the time, Isaiah predicted the manner of His coming. Jesus fulfilled every expectation…and then died prematurely, never to rise. The God Jesus called Father set the whole thing up, but then He couldn’t, or wouldn’t, get it done. Of course the gospels and epistles were never written. Why would God let the whole thing collapse like that? Maybe He ran out of power. Maybe He just lost interest in us — who knows?
Of course, this would not necessarily stop us from choosing to live by the principles of the Scriptures, such as they would be. We could still live our lives by a biblical moral code — or try to. We might have to gloss over some of the tougher bits, but that’s easy enough to do, isn’t it? We could still have church services with music and teaching about the content of the Bible, just like we do now. We would not be the Body of Christ, of course, because He is not alive. But we could still operate organizations and churches; there would just be no underlying unity that holds us all together. We could still give money to support pastors and missionaries. We could still have seminaries and Bible colleges. What would we study? What would we talk about? Plenty.
We could still talk about the great miracles of the past: creation, the Red Sea, the raising of Lazarus. We could still talk about how God spoke to great men in the past like Moses, giving him powerful principles for living well, or Samuel, helping him to lead Israel to victory over the Philistines. Once upon a time, God was really something; He really did act in the affairs of men. When He spoke, the fates of nations hung in the balance. Once upon a time.
But that was before He hung Jesus out to dry. That one failure changes everything. After that, how do you trust God to intervene in your life today? Why would you even want Him to speak to you today? After He set us up to expect the Messiah, and sent Jesus, in every way fulfilling our expectations, and then allowed Him to die prematurely and descend into the grave forever — well, if He could betray His own prophets, His own people, His own Messiah in that way, then we certainly couldn’t trust Him with our lives.
So we wouldn’t. With no Pentecost and no Holy Spirit, we wouldn’t even expect Him to show up, much less to do or say anything to us. We could not expect God to speak to us. We would not expect to feel His presence — or value it if we did. He wrote a book, once upon a time, and that’s as good as it’s going to get. We’d just go on living by the principles. Disagreements about the principles, of course, would balloon into huge fights — without the Body of Christ and the Holy Spirit, what have we got, besides agreement on some common principles? So we’d huddle up with some folks we agree with on the principles, and hope that as we grow in wisdom over time, we’ll get better at living them out, and that would be it.
But it would take God betraying us to make us live like that…right?
And the Synchroblog link list:
- Marta – On Faith Seeking Understanding, Truth, and Theology
- Carol Kuniholm – Risen Indeed? The Hermeneutic Community
- Tim Nichols – How Would Life be Different if Jesus did not Rise?
- Glenn – Kingdom Come or Kingdom Now?
- Sonja Andrews – The Resurrection and the Life
- Josh Morgan – The Role of the Resurrection
- Abbie Watters – What if the Resurrection were a lie?
- Minnow – Resurrection Impact
- Leah – Resurrection – Or Not!
- Hey Sonnie – The Resurrection Hoax
- Liz Dyer – The Resurrection I Firmly Believe In
- Ellen Haroutunian – Is There a Christianity Without the Resurrection?
- Jeannette Altes – What if…
- Christine Sine – If the Resurrection did not happen, how would the world be different?
- KW Leslie – Supposing Jesus is Dead
- Travis Mamone – If the Resurrection was a Hoax
- Kathy Escobar – Jenga Faith
- Jeremy Myers – What if Jesus Did not Rise?