Rachel Sensenig, another Circle of Hope pastor, recently posted one of those billboard type posts on facebook: “Do I have to believe in the resurrection in order to be a Christian?”
It generated some facebook dialogue which might challenge the truth of our Circle of Hope proverb: “Dialogue keeps us connected and protects our gravity.” Maybe facebook “dialogue” can function as antigravity (???); but I digress. I was struck by how quickly some of her and my pastor friends jumped to answer the question definitively. “YES, of course you have to believe in the resurrection!” they said. One friend wrote a several paragraph facebook comment, which I would never recommend. I think I might sound like the problem is trying to talk sincerely on facebook, but what I really want to try to express is the major difference in vibe between Rachel’s response in her blog post which was linked in this post and the answers our pastor friends were giving.
Rachel had so much generosity and empathy. The facebook answer-ers were dead on arrival if they were going for generosity and empathy. That would be like trying to do brain surgery with a shovel. But here’s some generosity and empathy for them, too: the AI that runs facebook fed this question to everyone whom it believed it would scandalized. That is what facebook is for and the robots are really good at collision courses. How could our friends resist? Also, I truly believe they were just trying to answer Rachel’s question for anyone who saw her post and might be wondering. It was an opportunity for them to share their conviction They might have even thought that Rachel’s question was a little too open ended. They could have been reacting to a trend in some sections of academia that mostly only seminarians are aware of in which claims about the bodily resurrection of Jesus are regularly called into question, and in which elaborate alternatives are regularly presented.
FWIW I believe that Jesus rose from the dead and so does Rachel. But, “No, you do not HAVE to believe anything.” – Rachel Sensenig. She actually said that!
We’ve been agreeing with questions in our Sunday meetings at Circle of Hope all summer and I am so glad we did. Our “sermon series” has been “Questions (Not Answers) We Agree With.” It has been very refreshing to think and talk on this other wavelength. Each week I say something like “Answers are good for some things but not all things. We want to see if lingering in the questions gives us another kind of revelation.” This little facebook interaction was a parable that helped me understand this difference in vibe that means so much to me. The fact is, many and probably most people really, really want answers. And I don’t. That can be incredibly dissatisfying if you come to me looking for answers, and I’m sorry if I’ve frustrated you. Also, I’m a hypocrite, and just as addicted to answers as the next person, so I betcha I’ve given a few of you some pretty obnoxious answers as well. Sorry for that too.
I am a pretty cerebral person. I have studied a lot. I like talking about answers, and many of my conclusions about God, the Universe and Everything Else are pretty rad. I like them. But, more and more, I am aware of how little love and discipleship of Jesus they produce — and love and discipleship of Jesus is what I REALLY care about.
Rachel agreed with the question for a long time. She demonstrated the validity of the question. She wondered how to help people struggling with cognitive belief. For Rachel, there was no danger in having that thought because her truest self is hidden in Christ with God. I have a hunch (and a dearest held hope) that my deepest self in Christ will surprise me in many ways, and correct me on several of my rad conclusions. Come, Lord Jesus!
Rachel focused on the person of Jesus and the gift that he offers us who would believe without seeing. Jesus blesses us with a blessing for the struggle of believing. For all who would trust Jesus alive without seeing his wounded body with their own eyes like Thomas did at the end of John’s gospel Jesus utters a prayer: “blessed are they!”
In her blog post, Rachel was doing what my spiritual grandfather, George MacDonald, would hope all Christian teachers would do in this quote (BTW I love how she breaks his antiquated “universal” male pronouns).
“I believe that to him who obeys, and thus opens the doors of his heart to receive the eternal gift, God gives the spirit of his son, the spirit of himself, to be in him, and lead him to the understanding of all truth; that the true disciple shall thus always know what he ought to do, though not necessarily what another ought to do; that the spirit of the father and the son enlightens by teaching righteousness. I believe that no teacher should strive to make men think as he thinks, but to lead them to the living Truth, to the Master himself, of whom alone they can learn anything, who will make them in themselves know what is true by the very seeing of it. I believe that the inspiration of the Almighty alone gives understanding. I believe that to be the disciple of Christ is the end of being; that to persuade men to be his disciples is the end of teaching.”
— George MacDonald, Unspoken Sermons “Justice”
Obedience is what matters. Thoughts come and go, but the heart is shaped by what we do and who we aspire to be. Jesus instructs us to do ridiculous, dangerous, difficult things. To do any of them consistently requires lots of faith, failure, repentance and courage; and it will inevitably stir up not a small amount of doubt in you. Persisting in community, sharing in the struggle, talking about your fear, and walking in spite of your uncertainty, insincerity, hypocrisy and even occasional hopelessness IS faith. And faith in Jesus is trusting a person who was once dead for a while way back in the day. I trust he is alive to us now in a new way. The resurrection is something that we can much better vibe with and obey than we can even adequately describe, let alone always believe. The resurrection is the thing that is too good to be true, and yet is true. That makes Jesus the truest, and trusting him makes us truer.