Do Not Resuscitate

 In Community, Faith, Fred's Blog, Fred's Blog, Theology

For his Easter column, “President Carter, Am I a Christian?”, The New York Times journalist Nick Kristof interviewed former President Jimmy Carter. In the column Nick asked, “With Easter approaching, let me push you on the Resurrection. If you heard a report today from the Middle East of a man brought back to life after an execution, I doubt you’d believe it even if there were eyewitnesses. So why believe ancient accounts written years after the events?”

While Jimmy Carter’s response was he did, in fact, believe in the physical Resurrection as well as the virgin birth, it was the question that puzzled me. Not because Nick asked it or because it implied that he does not believe in the Resurrection. (Actually, if he did not believe in the Resurrection, he would be in a growing number of American Christians who would join him.  Only 64 percent of American Christians believe in Christ’s physical Resurrection and that number has decreased consistently year over year. Twenty percent of self-identified Christians now believe in reincarnation.) No, the reason I was interested in the question is how we have come to redefine resurrection and why that matters.

There is a difference between resuscitation and resurrection. Lazarus was resuscitated because he returned to life in exactly the same body as he left it. He was brought back to the old life and then died again. That is not resurrection. Christ’s Resurrection (and ours) means we have a totally different life that is far more than simply returning from the dead.

Look at the stories of Christ’s resurrected appearances and disappearances. Look at his “shape shifting” and hiddenness and ability to suddenly become familiar. That is not resuscitation. That is not a second chance or an extension of an old life. Asking if we believe someone can return from the dead is the wrong question. The question for us really is, “Do we believe in a resurrected life – not simply a resuscitated or extended life?”

Why does it matter? Why should a belief in the Resurrection be a non-negotiable for Christians? After all, the believers in Ephesus who had received only the baptism of John were still considered Christian. Why should belief in the bodily Resurrection be essential? Why not be content with the ethical teachings of Jesus as the basis of our religion? After all, it seems increasingly sensible to people – even Christians.

I would not say it is for doctrinal purity as much as for the way it shapes our lives. What does this life become if we no longer believe in the Resurrection? Paul says it best in 1 Corinthians 15: “For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile…If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.  Why live a pitiful life?  Why turn loose of the one thing that gives this life hope?”

I know we need to make room for many religious beliefs and variants in a pluralistic society – not just orthodoxy. I would not want to live in any other kind. However, I have to remember that faith without the Resurrection is futile. It does not mean it is bad – only a dead end. It does not mean it is evil – only a pitiful substitute for Christ. There is nothing in it that dazzles or surprises. Yes, it is the best we can do and, yes, sometimes it calls out of us the best we can be on our own, but that is not what it means to live a life of the Spirit.

As well, we have to be careful that we do not make our faith in Christ so practical and focused on being a way to make this life better that we lose the one thing that makes it real. Our faith in Christ is not simply a way to improve this life. The problem is we put off thinking about a resurrected life after death to improve our lives in the here and now. I know it is hard – almost more than we can do. Eric Hoffer said, “It is the around the corner brand of hope that prompts people to action, while the distant hope acts as an opiate.”

We want that around the corner kind of hope, and the resurrected life is so unknowable. We want the world to change for us now. In some ways, it is the “hope around the corner” detached from our greater hope that shapes much of our philanthropy today. Our frame has become almost exclusively the here and now.

I like the way Philip Yancey puts it: “In many respects I find an unresurrected Jesus easier to accept. Easter makes him dangerous. Because of Easter I have to listen to his extravagant claims and can no longer pick and choose from his sayings. Moreover, Easter means he must be loose out there somewhere. Like the disciples, I never know where Jesus might turn up, how he might speak to me, and what He might ask of me.”

He is not only risen but he is loose.

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Showing 17 comments
  • Christine Novak
    Reply

    What a very timely topic, not because we just celebrated Resurrection Sunday, but because of the confusion and misinformation about the difference between resurrection and resuscitation or reincarnation that comes with plurality. It’s worth delving deeper and laying out a road map. As our Bible study group touched on, other cultures had a hope of an afterlife, but that belief did not bring the change to their culture that came with the resurrected Christ. I think the discussion will lead us back to the First Cause, Love. Hallelujah!
    Good topic, Fred.

    • Fred
      Fred
      Reply

      Thank you, Christine. Yes, as Os Guinness says so well, a plurality of beliefs does not mean a plurality of truth. Thanks for reading.

    • Rebecca Harrison
      Reply

      Where does Matt. 27-29 fit?
      Resusitation or resurrection?

  • Gordon D. Loux
    Reply

    WOW
    Profound and really thought provoking
    A lot to think about today
    Thanks friend

    • Fred
      Fred
      Reply

      Thank you, Gordon. You must have been up early this morning!

  • Joe Wainer
    Reply

    This is a very well written and thoughtful piece. Thanks, Fred! I am sharing this one :-)!

    • Fred
      Fred
      Reply

      Thank you, Joe! I appreciate your passing it along to friends.

  • Ryan Skoog
    Reply

    Great thoughts!

    Lately I’ve found prayer to be the pathway that connects the ‘distant hope’ and makes it as tangible as the ’round the corner hope’
    I believe this is one of the great journeys of our spiritual life.

    When we fill ourselves so full of this distant heaven, it starts spilling out into earthly lives here and now, we find it is no longer distant after all.

    • Fred
      Fred
      Reply

      You probably remember this C.S. Lewis quote: “A continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth “thrown in:” aim at earth and you will get neither.
      (Mere Christianity, p.134)

  • Mark Neuenschwander
    Reply

    Amen. Thanks Fred.

    • Fred
      Fred
      Reply

      Thank you, Mark!

  • Jack Modesett Jr
    Reply

    Suggest Kristof take a look at N T Wright’s “Resurrection of the Son of God.” After 738 pages he will be too tired to ask questions.
    Jack

    • Fred
      Fred
      Reply

      I’ll pass that along to Nick. Maybe a good podcast for very long flights.

  • Mike Murray
    Reply

    Thanks Fred for the distinction and for the witness as to the importance and the meaning of Easter. Until a Christian can begin to verbalize the reason why resurrection is important to him / her life; the difference that it makes; the power in the presence of the living Christ in the community of faith, then belief (or, better said, “Trust”) in “resurrection” is not Good News or “Gospel”, in my understanding of that word.

    • Fred
      Fred
      Reply

      Thank you, Mike! It’s so good to hear from you. I appreciate your wisdom.

  • Troy Groves
    Reply

    When is Kristoff coming to the Gathering?:)

    • Fred
      Fred
      Reply

      Troy – We have talked about it with him and he is open to it. His schedule was the problem the last time we talked.

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