Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Resurrection: Surprised by Hope

This week are only a few brief reflections on one of the reasons the Resurrection matters, based largely on NT Wright's book Surprised by Hope.
The other day, while reading through NT Wright's book, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven and the Resurrection, a few pages he wrote stood out. The book itself is a marvelous reflection on what Christians ought to think about life after death and why, and why what we think about the next life matters so much in this one. After spending a couple early chapters discussing the historical basis of Christian beliefs on life after death (or as he says more appropriately, life after life after death), Wright turns to drawing out the meaning and importance of those beliefs in the rest of the book. Before he gets there, however, he offers a few brief reflections on why people do not want to believe in the Resurrection.

By way of example, he offers the following scene from Oscar Wilde's play, Salome, when King Herod hears reports about Jesus of Nazareth raising the dead. Herod is furious. "I do not wish him to do that... I forbid him to do that. I allow no man to raise the dead. This man must be found and told that I forbid him to raise the dead" (Wright 75).

This, Wright says, is the bluster of a tyrant who knows his power is threatened. Who, he continues, was it who do not want the dead to be raised? The tyrants and bullies, whether, social, political, or intellectual. "The Ceasars who would be threatened by a Lord of the world who had defeated the tyrants last weapon, death itself... And this is the point where believing in the resurrection... becomes of matter of rediscovering hope in the 21st century. Hope is what you get when you realize that a different worldview is possible, a worldview where the rich, the powerful, and the unscrupulous do not after all have the last word (Wright 75).

The tyrants who would insist that "dead men don't rise" are of various sorts, they take the form of people or places like Stalin or China who would ban religion. They might take the form of some intellectual bully (college professors are a common one) who insists that no "modern" person could possible believe Resurrection (though this belief is not modern at all, but very old and outdated, Homer and pagan Greece and Rome thought as much). All such and others would try to deny to the modern world the sort of hope the resurrection provides, because people without hope, are people who are easier to control. People with hope can transform the world.

But the hope of the Resurrection cannot be brushed aside. This hope is not optimism or a warm, fuzzy feeling of the sort that may be provided by a smooth talking politician or a sufficiently large alcoholic libation. Hope is the determination in a future world, with death defeated, a future world that begins here and that we are called to begin here. It is not "going to heaven when you die;" It is bringing the Resurrection and the new creation to the present world. To paraphrase Fulton Sheen, the Resurrection is not something that has happened, it is something that is happening, and something for us to participate in.

Happy Easter

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