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The Resurrection – More Subtle than We Might Think?

May 24, 2014

I periodically return to discussions of the resurrection of Jesus.  To me, it is more than your typical “article of faith”, although I see it generally in that category.  It cannot be affirmed on historical grounds in our modern way of conceiving “historical evidence”.  Nor can it be denied on such grounds.

“The Resurrection”, as it has come to be called, is a fascinating concept and/or event, to say the least! One which, whatever actually happened, is of major significance to Christians and non-Christians alike, and those who are unsure which label they prefer to take on.  So I often can’t resist interacting with others about it, including on blogs when it shows up on some I tend to follow.

That was the case yesterday and today, on the blog of Joshua Paul Smith, here, where I posted basically what I’m including below, as it turned out to be of article length.  I put things in ways I don’t think I’ve stated before, and with the kind of general plug for a Process way of looking at the Resurrection and more, as I do whenever I get a good chance.   My comments:

Joshua, thanks for the clarification re. the resurrection and resurrection-belief as core to early Christianity. I’m at a similar place, with ongoing puzzlement as to what may have actually happened… concluding that Jesus made SOME kind of appearance to a number of his followers after death, but not believing one needs to affirm an empty tomb and resuscitated body as part of that.  Possible, yes, but it doesn’t have any strong evidence in my analysis of all reports taken together.

The trouble is, as you know, the strange genre of the Gospels/Acts (to us, and I think a bit so even at the time of writing), mixes story and theology in pretty loose ways with history.  So it isn’t just with the resurrection that we have a strong “fill in the holes, enliven the story and bolster belief” dynamic. But here it becomes particularly significant.  I can actually imagine that the “faith booster” for the original disciples, in terms of encountering “the risen Lord”, needed only be some indicator that Jesus continued on and wanted his “kingdom of God” vision carried forward.  THEY didn’t need him cooking and eating with them (as in “John”), coming and going literally through closed doors, able to be touched, etc.  However, perhaps the gospel writers and their audience DID… they had the massive set-back of the destruction of Jerusalem to account for and other factors, just 40 to 60 years later.

And I think Paul, also, as having perhaps “last of all” among meta-normal appearances, as he claimed, didn’t need an actual bodily encounter….  His was clearly some kind of “altered state” experience (which doesn’t discount it as genuine and potentially directly from God and/or Jesus).  It seems clear his upbringing and naturally exploring/synthesizing mind was prepared uniquely for the “Jews and gentiles together” expansion of the Kingdom concept. This he received via vision and as one of those not-entirely-rare kinds of belief-reversal conversions, probably reinforced by additional visionary experiences to which he alludes.

 Lest anyone be confused, I DON’T mean that any of the disciples’ or Paul’s experiences were of a “hallucination” type, individual or group.  And they need not be taken as unique in human experience in their type… only in specifics: my supposition that the spirit of Jesus actively approached and somehow “appeared” to them as he did only to Paul (as far as we know) among those not part of his original followers.

Such an interpretation of the few and indirect (except for Paul) indicators of “resurrection appearances” that we have makes good sense to me within the way Process theology understands the persuasive love and luring (non-coercive) actions of God.  (Note: it does not use “classic” supernaturalist categories but close approximations, with the differences being crucial.)  Thus, God provided a “special revelation”, in a sense, of God’s nature and intentions in Jesus.

Yet it was not “miraculous” in the common definition of breaking the laws of nature, a “supernatural” breaking-in and manipulation within an otherwise naturally-operating world.  No doubt Jesus did some very remarkable things, but not necessarily any beyond what others with developed “gifts” have done or potentially could do, as in harmony with the intentions of God… working powerfully but “naturally” in the world.  And I take the resurrection appearances in the same vein, Jesus having developed the foresight to know that at the pivotal point of propelling God’s loving intentions in the world, his personal affirmation of his ongoing life and validity of his mission was needed by his disheartened followers.

 To me, only an understanding that is “not supernaturalism” and “not naturalism” (as in materialist, five-senses-bound) can do justice to both what the Scriptures (and ancillary literature) record for us and the kinds of spiritual experiences had by millions of people since then, to this day.  I know this is hard to for many to conceive given our binary (either-or) language and way of thinking, but I don’t believe we have another good option.  Thus Process makes slow progress.  But, as the most developed systematic thinking along these lines, honoring both scientific approaches (naturalism minus materialism and atheism) and spiritual ways of knowing/experiencing, it is out in front seeking to lead the way…. And very gradually doing so, from what I can see.

What sense do you make of resurrection claims in the New Testament? Do you even give them much thought? In what ways, if any, do you see the Resurrection as crucial to Christian faith or to a mission of love in the world? 

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