May 21, 2008

The World's Dead

2008 1515 page13 capow much (if ever) have you thought about the outrageousness of what we have to believe? I mean have to, as in without option. Our whole faith hinges on something so antirational, so antiscientific, and so antiempirical that we have to leap across the accumulated knowledge of millennia in order to believe it; no, not merely leap across that knowledge, but defy it.
I’m talking about the resurrection of the world’s dead. Billions and billions of people, many whose bodies have long been eaten and digested again and again by generations of worms, bugs, beasts, and bacteria, will live again? Bodies whose every molecule has been recycled, reprocessed, and revamped into a thousand different formulations—these people will be put back together into a living, conscious whole? Against all reason, against all experience, against all that we have ever seen or felt or imagined, we have to believe this.
Why? Because without it our faith, our religion, everything we believe in and hope for is, as Paul said, mataia—“useless” or “vain” (1 Cor. 15:17). Loving our enemies, turning the other cheek, obeying the golden rule—these all mean nothing if we ultimately vanish into oblivion.
2008 1515 page13Yes, life has its good moments, but just how “good” are they when contrasted to the bad? “The pleasure in this world, it has been said, outweighs the pain; or, at any rate, there is an even balance between the two,” wrote Arthur Schopenhauer. “If the reader wishes to see shortly whether this statement is true, let him compare the respective feelings of two animals, one of which is engaged in eating the other.”
Our religion, if not a hoax, requires a leap of faith far beyond anything we have any experiential reasons to believe in.
But what about the resurrection of Jesus? Of course, His resurrection points to ours, and the historical evidence for His return from the grave is compelling. Christ’s resurrection is the most logical explanation for all events in the New Testament following the cross. It’s the only logical explanation, really.
Yet the resurrection of one Man three days dead isn’t the resurrection of billions who, in many cases, have been decomposed for centuries or millennia. There is a vast, if not necessarily qualitative, difference between the two, and certainly a quantitative one. And none of us saw the resurrection of Jesus, so we have to take it on faith anyway.
Thus, even with the evidence of Christ’s resurrection, our hope rests on an event that seems so utterly outrageous and outrageously preposterous that it causes our faith to stretch out and reach way beyond what we ever need for our daily struggles.
Which leads to my point: Who among us doesn’t wrestle with daunting personal issues? We all, to some degree, face a host of troubles: family, finances, personal struggles, health, emotions, work, relationships, sin. If you can name it, or you can think of it, someone at some point is crushed by it.
But however our daunting and painful challenges, what are they in contrast to the resurrection of the world’s dead? If our faith can reach far enough to believe that (and again, we have to believe that or else we have nothing), then why can’t we trust God in our present trials? Whatever we’re facing, no matter how apparently insurmountable, what are they compared to the reconstruction to life (and for many to immortality) of dead billions? If we trust that God can do the latter, then why not trust Him with whatever is raging in our lives just now?
Something so fundamental to our belief system—the resurrection of the world’s dead—requires a leap of faith far beyond anything else we are called to believe. Thus the Lord has created a mechanism that should help us learn to trust Him in everything we face, because nothing we face comes close to the grand event upon which all else hinges: “Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead” (Isa. 26:19).*
If we believe Him on that, why not something as simple as “Trust in the Lord with 
all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths” (Prov. 3:5, 6)?
*Bible texts in this column are taken from the King James Version.
Clifford Goldstein is editor of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide. He is also featured on the Hope TV program CLIFF!