Back on Ash Wednesday, I was wondering what I should do for Lent, to prepare myself for the celebration of Easter. It seems that my Lenten activity fell into my lap; these commentaries have served that purpose well. Noting the lack of any comments from readers, perhaps they have been all for my own benefit. If so, that's fine. They've served their purpose well.
I spent a lot of time in my last Ona-comment explaining why I believe the resurrection actually happened. Factually. Literally. But my greater concern is explaining why it is necessary that the account be factual. I have been reminded that there is truth in stories that are not factual, and I've been asked to consider what is the truth in this story, factual or not?
My struggle is that, deep in my heart, I believe that if this particular account is not factual, there really is no meaningful truth in it. It does matter if it really happened. It matters a lot.
When Hope did Godspell a couple years ago, I read with fascination the notes in the script from the show's creator, who wasn't a believer. In the original production, the show ends with the "disciples" carrying off the dead body of Jesus singing "Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord" joyfully -- because, the writer said, they realize that even with the death of their master and teacher, this new way of life that he has taught them can live on through them (or something to that effect).
I thought, what new way of life? If Jesus didn't rise from the dead ... if he didn't offer us salvation through faith, and a chance to be a new creation ... then what exactly did Jesus give us that should lead to such joy and hope?
He gave some insight into God and our relationship with him (although if Jesus was just a man, I'm not sure why we should believe what he had to say on this subject). He taught us that we should love in a radical way. To love and forgive the outcast and even your enemies, because God loves and forgives us. He taught us that we should live righteously to a radical extreme -- not just in our behaviors but in our thoughts and our attitudes.
All this is well and good. The problem is, I can't do any of it. I'm a sinner. Deep down and to the core. Maybe none of the rest of you are, but I know I am (and I think the rest of you are, too).
I know this from my personal experience--and from my reasoning applied to my experience. I've tried to do the right thing all my life--I have been "a Pharisee of Pharisees", just like Paul. And I've consistently failed. The longer I live, the more I see how everyone is screwed up somehow. The most "together" people I know--the most "good", the most righteous-living--are the ones who are most keenly aware of their own sinfulness.
I know it in my gut. I feel like a sinner. Ever wonder why "self-esteem" is so hard to achieve? Here's a theory: it's because God didn't create us to have "self-esteem", at least not in the way the world defines it. The reason we so often feel guilty, like we're not measuring up somehow, like we do the wrong thing all the time, is because IT'S TRUE. That's what sin means: missing the mark. And God desperately needs us to realize that we will always miss the mark so we give up and turn to him. He wants to fix what he knows we can't fix! Once again, the most "together" people I know -- genuinely joyful, not self-loathing or even self-absorbed -- are the ones who are most keenly aware of their own sinfulness.
But most importantly, I know it by revelation -- the Bible confirms my experience, reasoning and instincts on this. We all know the verses: "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us." The whole purpose of giving the law was to show Israel (and us) how far we all are from the standard of God's holiness. The law is a mirror; it's not there to clean us up, it's there to show us we're dirty.
More than that, the Bible tells us there are consequences for our sins, in this life and in eternity. And, again, this revelation just confirms what I know already. I see the effect of my sin in my life every day. It messes up my kids, messes up my husband, messes up my work, messes up everything. As much as I'd like to convince myself that God would look at my screw-ups and say, "Oh, you! Silly girl! There you go again!" and wave it all off, I know that's not the reaction of a loving God. A loving God doesn't want me to have to suffer from my sins. A loving God would want to take care of the problem.
As much as I would like to convince myself that God will just let the little things I do wrong slide, I know that if God is God at all, he is also just, and justice requires consequences for wrongdoing. Suffering in this life (not because he is punishing us, but because we're choosing to live life differently than he set it up for us) and eternal separation from God after this life (because we chose ourselves for gods, not him). (Like in the earlier post about Keller's book . . . we in our Western society think a great God should be merciful more than just, or he's not that great. Other societies would find such mercy to be unworthy of a great God -- God should show absolute justice more than mercy, or he's not that great. The truth is, he found a way to do both. He transcends our limited cultural perspectives.)
I don't need the Bible to convince me that all of us are screwed up and need to be saved from ourselves. No genuine student of humanity could believe otherwise. The Bible just gives us a name for the disease. SIN. We are sinners. The world is full of sinners. Lord knows, I am a sinner! If Jesus' death on the cross did nothing to save me from my sinful self, then all he accomplished in his ministry on earth is to picture a life for me that I can never have. Tell me how that's good news.
I don't need another teacher. I don't need another role model. I don't need another prophet. I need a SAVIOR. And if Jesus isn't that, he is of no more use or significance to my life than Aristotle or Martin Luther or Mother Theresa. Everything Jesus taught means nothing if he doesn't also give me the capability to live it out. The good news is ... that's exactly what he did, on the cross. The Old Testament sacrifices all point to the cross. The prophets' promises of a coming Messiah all point to the cross. The testimony of my heart points to a need for justification, for the cross. This Biblical picture of a suffering savior, dying for my sins and rising again, all fits with what my soul already tells me.
I'm sure I sound arrogant--ridiculously sure of myself. Please understand that I never rule out the possibility that I'm wrong about something. I know there are times when I'm so steeped in my own worldview, I can't step outside of it to see others. And I most certainly don't have the lock on all spiritual truth--there are many teachings in the Bible I still struggle with. But the Resurrection is not one of them.
Not only am I convinced that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, I praise God Almighty that he did. "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile." (1 Cor 15). Hallelujah! Christ is RISEN! And risen for me.
A glorious and blessed Easter to you all!