Resurrection and our World

To those of you who are Christians working in the complex tangle that is International Development (the primary audience for whom I created this blog in the first place!), friends, I’m so proud of you. As we approach Easter, I wonder if the image of resurrection might be a powerful driver in your work.  N.T. Wright has written, perhaps more than anyone else in the last 30 years, regarding the robust meanings of resurrection. Below, is a short quote from him.

“…the Eastern Orthodox churches have always emphasized, when Jesus rose again God’s whole new creation emerged from the tomb, introducing a world full of new potential and possibility ….When Jesus emerged from the tomb, justice, spirituality, relationship, and beauty rose with him. Something has happened in and through Jesus…”

“Indeed, precisely because part of that new possibility is for human beings to be revived and renewed, the resurrection of Jesus doesn’t leave us as passive, helpless spectators. We find ourselves lifted up, set on our feet, given new breath in our lungs, and commissioned to go and make new creation happen in the world….  The music he wrote must now be performed.” (N.T. Wright, Simply Christian: 2006).

So I wonder if you might find resurrection to be a theme to characterize what you do. Resurrection/ new creation is a template for reconciliation, restoration, redemption, healing, things being put right and brought to their intended wholeness.

Saint Paul: “If anyone is in Christ – new creation!” (2 Corinthians 5: 17)

May new creation in us make His Way and Goal (Omega) credible to the world around.

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Left Brain/Right Brain, Life, and Spiritual Knowledge

Towards the end of the last blog’s quote of N.T. Wright, Wright says “We cannot use a supposedly objective historical epistemology as the ultimate ground for the truth of Easter…..  not because we don’t believe in evidence and argument, not because we don’t believe in history or science, but because they will have been overtaken by the larger reality from which they borrow, to which they point, and in which they will find a new and larger home.” It’s not hard to see why someone could say he is pulling a cheap end-run, trying to skirt the argument,  encapsulating science within a larger epistemology, like Hinduism encapsulating Christ within its pantheon, arguing for a both-and approach, when everyone with our Western Enlightenment mindset knows the question is really either-or.

However, I think Wright is actually expressing something thoroughly true to human existence. (Richard Rohr also does very good work in this area, among others, see his Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi). There are certainly more ways of “knowing” something than empirical science. I know that I love my wife, I know that I will be deeply content the next time I am surf-fishing, I know what musical transition will sound good, I know when I have done the right thing, I know my children, I know how much pressure to apply to jump the first step of our staircase, I know that that sunset will thrill my daughter. None of these types of knowing are based around empirical scientific evidence. Knowing that you love someone may be the most accessible example in everyday life. Humans know all kinds of things, all day, every day, which have nothing to do with empirical scientific proof. Western Enlightenment has acted like really only empirical evidence matters in the real world of grown-ups, but real life indicates conclusively that that is nonsense.

We have a left brain and a right brain, and I mean it literally, but more than literally as well, to say a person needs both sides of the brain to be alive. The left crunches numbers and facts, the right handles, music, art, beauty, intuition. The left handles science, the right handles spirituality. As the former Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, Jonathon Sacks, has said, science takes things apart to see how they work, religion puts things together to see what they mean. And I would argue that human experience shows, that when we opt for simply one dimension, we lack a balanced, healthy, whole life.

Even within Christian spirituality this is evident. We can’t go on simply reading. We need to sing – it’s literally a different part of our brains. We need to get up and do something as an expression of the imago dei, because sitting and being only cerebral will distort, and sometimes literally kill, us. (Sitting too much is linked in numerous medical studies to early death). We need to interact relationally with other people. We need our imaginations fired, which is not the empirical part of our brains, to receive the benefit of exemplary causation, a much more powerful reality than “role model” and one medieval Christianity understood thoroughly in its attention to the role of the saints. One evidence of this is the number of evangelical protestant – oriented people who struggle so much with a male authority-figure image of God because of bad experiences with their fathers or other male leaders. Well, with our down-grading of Mary’s role in Christian spirituality, we’ve taken away from them a feminine aspect in Christian devotion that earlier generations had access to, and we’ve stuck people with only a get-over-it option, which other generations weren’t trapped in.

All of that to begin to say, though of course we can’t unwind it all in a blog post, that science, though it contributes wonderful things to our life and understanding, is not the only dimension of human knowledge which we need for a full, flourishing human life and civilization. Nor can science prove or dis-prove something like the resurrection of Jesus.

N.T. Wright on the Epistemology of the Resurrection

Here’s some interesting musings from N.T. Wright on the kind of epistemology one brings towards an event like Jesus’ resurrection. It’s in his fun little book Surprised by Scripture, in the chapter “Can a Scientist believe in the Resurrection?” The whole chapter is an enjoyable read, but here are some tidbits that point in some intriguing directions (bold and italics are mine):

“What I am suggesting is that faith in Jesus risen from the dead transcends but includes what we call history and what we call science. Faith of this sort is not blind belief that rejects all history and science. Nor is it simply— which would be much safer!— a belief that inhabits a totally different sphere, discontinuous from either, in a separate watertight compartment. Rather, this kind of faith, which is like all modes of knowledge defined by the nature of its object, is faith in the creator God, the God who has promised to put all things to rights at the end, the God who (as the sharp point where those two come together) has raised Jesus from the dead within history, leaving as I said evidence that demands an explanation from the scientist as well as anybody else. Insofar as I understand scientific method, when something turns up that doesn’t fit the paradigm you’re working with, one option at least, perhaps when all others have failed, is to change the paradigm, not to exclude everything you’ve known to that point but to include it within a larger whole.  

…. As I said, the resurrection is not, as it were, a highly peculiar event within the present world, though it is also that; it is the defining, central, prototypical event of the new creation, the world that is being born with Jesus. If we are even to glimpse this new world, let alone enter it, we will need a different kind of knowing, a knowing that involves us in new ways, an epistemology that draws from us not just the cool appraisal of detached quasi-scientific research but the whole-person engagement and involvement for which the best shorthand is “love,” in the full Johannine sense of agápē.

My sense from talking to scientific colleagues is that, though it’s hard to describe, something like this is already at work when the scientist devotes him- or herself to the subject matter, so that the birth of new hypotheses seems to come about not so much through an abstract brain… crunching data from elsewhere, but more through a soft and mysterious symbiosis of knower and known, lover and beloved. The skeptic will quickly suggest that this is, after all, a way of collapsing the truth of Easter once more into mere subjectivism. Not so. Just because it takes agápē to believe the resurrection, that doesn’t mean all that happened was that Peter and the others felt their hearts strangely warmed. Precisely because it is love we are talking about, not lust, it must have a correlative reality in the world outside the lover. Love is the deepest mode of knowing, because it is love that, while completely engaging with reality other than itself, affirms and celebrates that other-than-self reality. This is the mode of knowing that is necessary if we are to live in the new public world, the world launched at Easter, the world in which Jesus is Lord and Caesar isn’t.

That is why, although the historical arguments for Jesus’s bodily resurrection are truly strong, we must never suppose that they will do more than bring people to the questions faced by Thomas and Peter, the questions of faith and love. We cannot use a supposedly objective historical epistemology as the ultimate ground for the truth of Easter. To do so would be like someone who lit a candle to see whether the sun had risen. What the candles of historical scholarship will do is show that the room has been disturbed, that it doesn’t look like it did last night, and that would-be normal explanations for this won’t do. Maybe, we think after the historical arguments have done their work, maybe morning has come and the world has woken up. But to find out whether this is so, we must take the risk and open the curtains to the rising sun. When we do so, we won’t rely on candles anymore, not because we don’t believe in evidence and argument, not because we don’t believe in history or science, but because they will have been overtaken by the larger reality from which they borrow, to which they point, and in which they will find a new and larger home. All knowing is a gift from God, historical and scientific knowing no less than that of faith, hope, and love; but the greatest of these is love.”

Wright, N. T. (2014-06-03). Surprised by Scripture: Engaging Contemporary Issues (p.60- 63). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.