Did Jesus bodily rise from the dead? This is the core question of Christianity. Many Christians believe that the entire crux of Christianity depends on the truth or falsity of this claim.
Such Christians believe that if we could someone travel back in time and discover that Jesus’ physical body was still in the tomb then the entire edifice of Christianity would therefore be falsified.
I do not share this opinion. I agree with Marcus Borg, who said that,
The truth of Easter really has nothing to do with whether the tomb was empty on a particular morning 2,000 years ago or whether anything happened to the corpse of Jesus. I see the truth of Easter as grounded in the Christian experience of Jesus as a living spiritual reality of the present.
In other words, the truth of Christ’s Resurrection is made true by the experience his followers had of Christ’s living presence after his physical death. While I do not rule out the metaphysical possibility of a bodily Resurrection, I do not think the Wisdom and Truth and Power of Christianity rises or falls on the basis of Jesus’ bodily Resurrection being a literal, historical fact that could in theory be recorded with scientific instruments if we traveled back in time.
While I agree with scholars such as N.T. Wright that there is compelling historical evidence for the bodily Resurrection, I do not think this amounts to any kind of smoking gun that a cold, rational assessment of the facts compels us to believe.
Moreover, I believe that emphasis on the historicity of the Resurrection potentially detracts from the importance of faith insofar as it reduces the spiritual possibilities through which God/Christ might operate in order to communicate His living presence.
If Christians assent to the might and power of God to bodily rise Christ from the dead, then surely God is capable of manipulating physical-spiritual reality in such a way so as to deliver unto the early Christians an experience of the living Christ to the early Apostles that was so utterly real that reducing it to a truth explicable only in terms of physical facts about his physical body is a constraint on the metaphysical powers of God.
Indeed, we are given hints that in whatever way Christ appeared to the early apostles, his appearances had a decidedly spiritual dimension insofar as the Gospel of John says Christ was not limited by physical walls or locked doors:
19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19)
While N.T. Wright makes a compelling case that these early Jewish apostles were not Platonists insofar as resurrection was always conceived as a bodily resurrection and not merely the continuance post-death of an immortal soul, I do not think the historical conceptual frameworks of the time thereby limit the spiritual operations of how Christ must have enacted the truth of his Resurrection.
Furthermore, N.T. Wright also argues that the early apostles did not clearly perceive the living reality of a living Christ merely as a ghostly apparition or hallucination because those concepts were available to them but not utilized in their descriptions of encountering the risen Christ.
Nevertheless, we must stay humble in our appreciation of the complete and absolute Mystery that is the Risen Christ, resisting any urge to reduce the “spiritual mechanics” of his Resurrection to categories of experience that make sense in terms of a historical, factual, or objective analysis.
As I describe my post on a Jungian analysis of Christ’s Resurrection, we must be cognizant of the limitations of human consciousness to grasp the extent to which “spiritual reality” completely escapes any hard-and-fast distinction between the subjective and the objective, the historical and the mythological, the factual and the metaphorical, the real and the unreal, the psychic and the material.
When we are contemplating the nature of Christ’s Resurrection, the only datum which seems secure is Marcus Borg’s accurate statement that the early Christians experienced the post-Easter Christ as a living reality. Why not leave it at that? Why try to reduce that to historical facts or rationally assented evidence?
Allowing a metaphysical-historical-mythological-spiritual-psychic dimension to the Easter story in no way takes away from its spiritual significance for the rise of Christianity, especially insofar as such an experience is fully compatible with not just the early Christians experience of the living reality of Christ but our own experience of the living reality of Christ in the present day, where miracles such as raising the dead seem far removed from the possibility models internalized since the advent of modern post-enlightenment science.
While I by not means think we need to given science metaphysical veto power, I nevertheless contain that we are modern people living in a modern world and we thereby have little choice but to view spiritual matters in a modern way. This is not necessarily a bad thing.
I have faith in the Resurrection of Christ not because I think such a proposition can be proved as fact in the way that historians understand the nature of “facts,” which must be grounded in a shared consensus of methodological naturalism given the present realities of religious pluralism.
Rather, I have faith in Christ’s Resurrection because its Truth resonates with some inner part of myself that stands in communion with a historical tradition of shared experience of Christ as a living reality.
I believe that the earliest apostles believed in Christ’s Resurrection. I believe they had an experience of Christ’s living presence.
That is enough for me. The actual historical fact of an empty tomb does not concern me. If it was discovered by historians that the Romans always let victims of crucifixion be eaten by dogs it would not change the nature of my faith. And for the record, some scholars actually contend that Romans might have never allowed a victim of crucifixion to have a proper burial in a tomb since part and parcel of the crucifixion was the humiliation of not having a proper burial.
My faith is grounded in the facts of the collective unconscious, which itself is constituted by the reality of archetypal fact. Archetypal facts are not hallucinations, nor are they “false.” They are not fool’s gold. They are not delusions or lies.
They are experiential realities grounded in a dimension of reality that is neither wholly physical nor wholly psychic. They are both.
It is not that I discount or preclude the possibility of supernatural phenomena. Indeed, I believe there are good reasons to think that the natural world is “super” in a way far beyond the conceptual limitations of materialistic science.
However, my faith in Christ is not built upon this supernatural foundation in the way a lawyer builds a case around the hard evidence of DNA or a fingerprint.
My faith in Christ is not “grounded in evidence” in the way a scientific theory is grounded in evidence. Christ’s Resurrection is not a “hypothesis” I seek to confirm through methods of historical inquiry.
My faith in Christ is not evidential. It is experiential. It is a kind of “living option” that I voluntarily assent to.
The logic of this faith is similar to the logic of speech acts. When I apologize to someone by saying “I’m sorry” the act of saying “I’m sorry” constitutes the truth of having apologized. Similarly, the speech act of inviting someone into your home constitutes the truth of the invitation.
The same logic applies to my faith as a kind of “faith act.” My faith in the reality of Christ’s continued, living presence after his physical death is a kind of invitation or welcoming.
The sheer act of welcoming Christ into the depths of my Soul itself constitutes the truth of my participation in His spiritual reality.
My faith in the Resurrection is a longing to experience its Truth for myself. As a faith act, the yearning itself constitutes the realization of my desire, for I have found Christ’s presence in the yearning itself.
A skeptic who is used to trying to attune all their mental states in accordance with the methods of empirical science will scoff at such an attitude, chalking it up to a juvenile epistemology of wishful thinking, basically believing something is true merely because I want it to be true.
I have no words for the skeptic. I have no desire to appease their incredulity or defend myself as a paragon of empirical objectivity.
I believe because it is irrational. If it was a rational belief in the same vein as my beliefs about geology or evolution, then it would be far less interesting as a spiritual exercise and far less significant to my religious faith.
For it is indeed a kind of exercise, a process, a doing. It is the experiential performance of living within the parameters of a certain kind of wager, a wager that my basic worldview will be infinitely enriched by taking on this irrational faith.
It is not irrational in the sense of being based on logical fallacies or fallacious reasoning. For I am not trying to be logical. I am not trying to reason my way towards the verification of a propositional statement that Christ’s tomb was empty.
Paul speaks of Christ’s Resurrection having happened in terms of His spiritual body.
Persoanlly, I do not believe this spiritual body is not the type of body that one could, in theory, subject to a litany of scientific experiments if one had the opportunity to travel back in time 2000 years ago with a host of laboratory equipment.
While I do not rule out the possibility of a supernatural phenomenon breaking into the physical world, I do not think the truth of His Resurrection stands or falls on such a basis. I allow that such miracles are possible and that one must be open to the possibility that reality is far stranger than the worldview of scientific materialism currently admits, but that is not an epistemic foundation upon which I build the castle of my spiritual life in Christ.
My faith is not based on supposing such possibilities are literally true. I do not doubt that early Christians believed in the reality of such miracles. And I do not think them foolish or deluded for believing in such things. I do not think we can chalk Paul’s vision of the Risen Christ up to just a pure hallucination with no basis in objective reality.
Rather, I think Paul’s experience of Christ was a genuine encounter with what Jung called the Psychoid, which is the Objective Psyche, or Objective Soul. It is an encounter with a psychic reality that is independent of one’s personal subjectivity. It is not a mere subjective feeling-state or a psychic projection. It is an encounter with a True and Real psychic reality that is collective.
Jung called this the collective unconscious.
Consider the speech act of surrendering. The act of putting up your hands makes the surrendering true.
My experience of Christ as a living symbol, conscious metaphor, and present reality is made true through a process of surrendering that unfolds over time.
It is like suddenly noticing all the muscles in your face are clinched and spontaneously deciding to surrender your face muscles to the full extent of the field of gravity, putting up as little resistance as one is consciously able.
Unless we are in an unusually relaxed state, this process of surrendering our muscle tension to the full embrace of gravity is very similar to how my faith in Christ’s living presence works.
Except instead of letting go of tension in my face, with Christ it is a letting go of tension within my Soul.
Ordinarily, there is a kind of Gordian Knot inside my psychic center that prevents a full surrender to the imminent presence of Christ.
But through meditation and contemplation, I can successively relax and thus untangle the outer layers of this knot to achieve a progressive process of surrender into the mysteries of Christ.
And as in the speech act of surrender, the surrender of my ego-consciousness in the expansive embrace of my total Psyche, my Soul, makes true the reality of a bridge connecting my Soul to that of the Collective Soul of Christ, who IS all and IN all, as Paul says.
It is like a cresting wave letting go of its efforts to ascend higher into the sky and surrendering back into the oceanic depths from which it was born, and from which it will be born again.
When I experience the beauty of candlelight in the dimness of my nighttime baths, I am participating in the process of the Archetype of Beauty unfolding itself into the depths of particularity through the vehicle of my own consciousness.
So it is with Christ, who is the Archetype of All Archetypes, the Blueprint of All Blueprints. That is what the Gospel of John means by Christ as Logos, clumsily translated in English as “The Word.”
The idea of words hardly does justice to the mystical and spiritual depths of Logos, which is like an archetypal filter through which all of God’s creation must flow before reality can assume any kind of intelligible particularity or multiplicity.