Our monthly feature seeks to offer open-minded, clarifying, and meaningful responses to readers’ questions about spirituality. Send your questions to The Resident.
Q: What do Christians mean by the term “Resurrection”?
“Resurrection” can be broadly defined as a return to life from death. The concept of a return to life from the dead, of gods and of human beings, appears in many mythologies and religions. The Nicene Creed, formulated in the early fourth century, contains affirmations concerning resurrection that can be said to be common among Christians: that “on the third day” after his death by crucifixion, Christ “rose again in accordance with the Scriptures”, that “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead”, and that, as Christians, “we look for the resurrection of the dead” – a general resurrection in connection with the Last Judgment.
Most Christians would be prepared to recite the Nicene Creed as a central statement of belief; yet simple and declarative as these affirmations seem, a wide diversity of views about resurrection are held among Christian denominations and individual believers. On the theologically most liberal side of the spectrum can be found those who consider the Resurrection of Christ altogether mythical, and the general resurrection and Last Judgment as allegorical at best.
A more fundamentalist view would assert that the Resurrection of Jesus is a fact of history, that the general resurrection is a rising from the dead “in the flesh” – that is to say, in our own corporeal bodies, and that the judgment of Christ should be considered an imminent reality. Between these conceptual opposites lie questions of whether resurrection is of souls or of bodies (however transformed), whether we are re-joined with Christ immediately upon death or whether we sleep in death until a future judgment, and all manner of issues about heaven, hell, and purgatory. Regrettably, perhaps, but not surprisingly, Christians have divided themselves over every facet of these controversies.
Developing into maturity as a Christian involves wrestling at length with these concepts and coming to one’s own insights into their meaning. Christians affirm the value of prayer, study, and community in forming our conclusions. Belief in resurrection is for Christians an expression of faith that God is invested in our present reality, of hope that human beings will find both justice and mercy, and (ideally) that love and charity for all humanity will prevail.
The Rev. Reid Hamilton
St Vincent’s Church