Was Paul Wrong about Easter?

With Easter fast approaching and my interview with John Dominic Crossan about his new book, Resurrecting Easter, ready to be included on the next episode of Misfit Faith, I thought a post on the theme of resurrection would be in order.

I would suggest that there are two distinct (but related) postures we can strike with regard to resurrection:

The first is to see resurrection as a literal event that is both past and future. According to this perspective, three days after his crucifixion under Pontius Pilate, Jesus miraculously emerged from his tomb in the same (albeit now glorified) body he had before. Moreover, this event is the “firstfruits” of a great future harvest — on the last Day all of God’s people will likewise be raised up in a general resurrection and will live forever.

The second approach to the topic of resurrection is more metaphorical than literal (although there’s nothing here that proponents of the literal approach would disagree with; they just affirm the literal stuff in addition to this). “Resurrection,” in this view, denotes new life and new beginnings. In the same way that spring always follows winter and barren trees bud again, so with us. Despite how bleak our lives may have been, there is always the hope that we can begin anew.

And with both of these perspectives, the practical take-away from the notion of resurrection is that we are called to walk in newness of life and to “do humanity” in a higher and more excellent way, the way of love.

All good, right? Not so fast. . . .

While it is true that advocates of the literal/historical approach to resurrection agree that it also has spiritual and metaphorical ramifications, they would insist that you can’t have the latter without also affirming the former. To quote Paul the apostle:

And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is worthless (I Cor. 15:14).

In other words, unless there is some future escape from this world into a blissful afterlife, then there is no point to Christianity and we’re all just wasting our time.

Far be it from your humble servant to demur to the teaching of the apostle, but I would want to suggest a possible nuance to his position.

I do not know whether a literal resurrection happened. This changes the issue to whether I believe it did. But again (sorry to be so damn agnostic), what happens if I don’t know whether I believe it did or not? What if our beliefs function in such a subconscious way that they are largely hidden from us?

(After all, most evangelicals would say they believe in hell, but they don’t, and don’t know they don’t [which is obvious, given the fact that few if any of them spend their time doing nothing but constantly warning people of the danger of getting sent there]. Most people who stop believing in hell are just finally saying with words what their hearts have believed for years without telling them.)

For my part, I would rather focus my attention on living a resurrection life — operating on a higher plane and register, one of love and mercy — and set aside the issue of empty tombs since, if I’m being honest, whether I believe it or not is a mystery even to me.

And call me crazy or over-confident, but if I die and immediately discover that my desire to live the resurrected life was actually based on more than a metaphor but on a literal and historical resurrection, I’m pretty sure that neither God nor I will consider that life to have been in vain.