I have a hard time believing in the resurrection.
I’ve lost count of how many times the only prayer I could summon the will to pray is the one in Mark 9. Or how many times I’ve asked — safely beyond earshot of anyone else, of course — “What if we made this up because we’re afraid of death?”
On days like yesterday, Easter Sunday, I find myself sitting in church celebrating an event I can’t be absolutely sure really happened.
The trouble is, I understand how important resurrection is to the faith I claim to profess. There are plenty of ideas which Christianity could arguably survive without. This is not one of them. “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith,” Paul wrote.
I suppose I could make Pascal’s wager — that it’s better to mistakenly believe in God than to live as if he doesn’t exist and end up being wrong about that. Or that it’s better to mistakenly believe in the resurrection than to wrongly assume that death is final.
The problem with Pascal’s wager is that it’s become an excuse for escapism. On the one hand, if this life really is all we’ve got, we might actually try making the most of it. But if, on the other hand, this life is just a way station — a portal to something else — then what’s the point of putting too much effort into it? Simply check the “resurrection” box on your belief scorecard and sit back and wait to be raptured.
Except that’s not where the resurrection story wants to take us. In John’s account especially, the resurrection of Jesus represents — and demands — so much more.
It’s the timing of events that gives it away: Jesus dies on a Friday, lies entombed on a Saturday, and rises on a Sunday.
The timing matters because John is not just telling a story about Jesus. He’s connecting it to a much older story. Notice the very first words of his gospel:
In the beginning.
The same words that introduce the story of creation in Genesis.
Holy Week, the final week of Jesus’ life (starting in John 12), roughly parallels the creation week in Genesis 1:1–2:3. On the sixth day of creation, the first humans drew their first breath. On the sixth day of Holy Week, the Son of Man drew his final breath.
By the seventh day of creation, God’s work was done; so he rested. By the seventh day of Holy Week, Jesus’ work was done, so he too rested. In a tomb.
John is telling the story of Jesus as a story of new creation.
But the first creation was not an end unto itself; it was the start of something bigger. The whole point of the first week was so there could be a second week. And a third. And so on.
The same is true of the new creation inaugurated by Jesus.
According to John, the resurrection takes place “early on the first day of the week.” It marks the very first day of the very first week of the new creation.
In creation 1.0, everything fell apart some time after the last day of the first week. In creation 2.0, everything finally starts being put back together.
But if resurrection day marks the beginning of a new creation, then “eternal life” or “heaven” or whatever you want to call it is not some far-off, disembodied hope. It’s not some distant event to be looked forward to. It’s not something this present life would seek to distract us from. It’s already begun.
If the new creation began the day Jesus walked out of the tomb, then it’s this world that matters to God. It’s this world he’s out to renew.
Which also means that we have work to do. Creation 2.0 is something that could never have been achieved without God — it took God dying and coming back to life in order to kick things off. But neither is it something that God intends to do entirely on his own. According to the gospel accounts, Jesus rose from the dead, then went back to heaven, entrusting his embryonic “new creation” project to his followers.
Resurrection wasn’t just meant to give us hope for life in the hereafter. It was meant to be the spark of new life here and now.
If we find it hard to believe in the resurrection, maybe it’s partly because we’re not busy activating it in the world around us. Resurrection is not something merely to be believed in. It’s something to be lived, enacted, embodied.
I’m sure I’ll still find myself doubting in the days ahead. I’ll probably still have to pray the sick boy’s father’s prayer in Mark 9. But maybe the way God wants us to “overcome our unbelief” is not by amassing a Josh McDowell-esque collection of factoids in defense of the resurrection, but by living as if the resurrection really happened — as if really did inaugurate a radical new reality right here, right now.
Because resurrection doesn’t just mean we get to live after we die. It means we get to live before we die, too.