However, this doesn’t make them liars or dissemblers, nor does it mean that in their false belief they didn’t intuit something that was true. It is not quite right simply to say that their faith was in vain, nor does it mean they deliberately misrepresented “God” (1 Corinthians 15:12–5a). In fact I think they did intuit something true about the world. During the intense final days of Jesus’s life, through the arrest, the trial, and the execution, through the emptiness of loss of Good Friday and Saturday, they clearly thought, prayed, and reflected very deeply on the matter of what on earth Jesus was teaching them.
I think what Jesus was teaching was always something to do with our ultimate identity with God-or-Nature—we were all “his” sons and daughters, God’s kingdom was amongst or within us, we were all one with the Father and Jesus (John 17:21–23). Can you imagine what a redeeming revelation of this nature would do to you in the depths of such despair and fear as his disciples must have felt after his death? Suddenly realizing this unity, this identity with everything, may we not conjecture that the disciples momentarily saw through the window—the icon—of Jesus to a vision that somehow nothing, no thing, is lost—no thought nor any atom—and they understood that everything that dies is always reshaped and made anew? To a vision in which everything is redeemed by the creative divine yet also wholly natural (God-or-Nature) power that enables all things to be and which endlessly and creatively reshapes itself according to its own necessary and immutable laws?
You may argue that this is as speculative—perhaps more so—than any traditional Christian understanding of things. But is it really? It is worth noting that the idea that some kind of radical underlying unity may be real is not simply being asserted by “head-in-the-clouds” mystics across all the world’s religious traditions but is also being considered in all kinds of scientific circles, including those concerned with ecological issues and quantum mechanics. Time, and on the scientific side good research, and on the religious side good living, will tell. As Jesus wisely taught: “By their fruits ye shall know them.”
Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein mused in 1930:
What inclines even me to believe in Christ’s resurrection? I play as it were with the thought.—If he did not rise from the dead, then he decomposed in the grave like every human being. He is dead & decomposed. In that case he is a teacher, like any other & can no longer help; & we are once more orphaned & alone. And have to make do with wisdom & speculation. It is as though we are in a hell, where we can only dream & are shut out from heaven, roofed in as it were. . . . Perhaps one may say: Only love can believe the Resurrection. Or: it is love that believes the Resurrection. One might say: redeeming love believes even in the Resurrection; holds fast even to the Resurrection. What fights doubt is as it were redemption.
I think Jesus did die and decompose in the grave like every other human being who has died before, and since. I also believe that he can be for us only a teacher, and, because we cannot meet with him face to face to discuss faith, belief, and praxis right here and now, despite the records of his often sublime teaching, it is true he can no longer help us.
For those of us who grew up within Christianity—like Wittgenstein who I am following here—and who were taught that Jesus was the second person of the Trinity and so also God—this realization can make us feel terribly orphaned and alone.
But whenever we intuit and experience directly the Divine Unity, we are doing, I think, what Wittgenstein is asking us to do when he memorably says to us to ‘suspend ourselves from heaven.’ From that eternal perspective—though to some degree it transcends all perspectives—then of course everything is different.
So, yes, Jesus died, but God-or-Nature itself is always being born anew. The Divine Unity is beyond all final death, and when we recognize that, we participate in this Divine Unity and then we, too, know something of this eternal life. Though we know we, like Jesus, will die one day, in another way we are truly resurrected to a new kind of life once we have glimpsed everything under the form of eternity. It is no wonder that with this view in our hearts we can begin to do what we couldn’t before, which is to live fully in this world as true sons and daughters of God (or Nature).
Originally published in CAUTE, March 24, 2008. Adapted with permission.
- Being the Resurrection. Prayer by the Rev. Victoria Weinstein. (UUA WorshipWeb)