I Am the Resurrection and the Life

“Awake you that sleep, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light” (Ephesians 5:14).

NTWrightFrom time to time over the last couple of years, I have enjoyed reading and listening to N.T. Wright–a New Testament theologian who is admittedly brilliant and from whom I have learned a great deal.  But I wonder sometimes whether he and some of his most loyal readers are being a bit too easy on themselves when they seem to insist that the only plausible explanation for the historical events that followed Jesus’ purported resurrection is that– following his crucifixion –he must in fact have walked out of an empty tomb (more or less as reported) and physically appeared to his disciples before finally ascending to the Father.

For my part, I cannot demonstrate that this didn’t happen–that, rather, Jesus’ body did go back to dust like every other body that we have any experience of –nor, for that matter, do I really wish to.  Indeed, I do not deny for a moment that he lives–quite the opposite!  But there is something not quite right about an understanding that brooks no opposition — often insisting, as they do, “that if Christ be not raised, [our] faith is in vain” (as if this requires an empty tomb) — especially when we consider Paul’s remarks concerning resurrection, in general, that we “do not sow the body that shall be” but that “it is raised a spiritual body” (I Corinthians 15:17, 37, 44).  Just what, after all, is the point of continuity between the new life and the old that requires the physical transformation of these earthen vessels once the life has been snuffed out of them?  And while one can certainly argue that something of the sort is implied in Paul’s writings, is it not strange that he seems to have no knowledge of the women at the tomb and other rather important details found in the Easter narratives?  Indeed, one can only laugh at the outrageous suggestion that he would intentionally “air-brush” the women out of the story (as has been suggested by Wright and/or some of his followers).

But regarding these purported events of 2000 years ago, many of Wright’s readers– diligently following their leader –often dismiss alternative theories out of hand, depending a priori on the presumed cogency of Wright’s energetic assertions that only a literal, bodily resurrection (complete with an empty tomb and postmortem, physical appearances) can adequately account for the transformation of the disciples and the growth of the early church (as if the belief in his resurrection, whatever the details, would not have had a similarly profound effect– with or without the historicity of the Easter narratives –provided that this belief was also accompanied by the REALITY that is the mind of Christ and the power of the Spirit).  Indeed, it seems to me that, together, these latter factors are more than sufficient to account for both the transformation of the disciples, the growth of the early church, and the evolution of the Easter narratives themselves–and that (apart from any dogmatic professions of faith) some such scenario is much more plausible than the rather narrow range of options that N.T. Wright would have us consider.  One need not imagine that all of the early disciples experienced the presence of their risen Lord in precisely the same way for the legends of the empty tomb and the physical, postmortem appearances to arise therefrom.  And once the ball got rolling, it would have been difficult for any of the faithful to discourage the process even if they were so inclined.

In addition, it is worth noting (for future reference, perhaps, as we continue to study N.T. Wright’s admittedly brilliant and valuable body of work) that the real growth in the early church took place among gentiles–not among Jews.  As such, however much Jewish culture and categories may have influenced the initial Christian message and the way in which it was initially understood by the first Jewish believers, we must keep in mind that the Jews by and large rejected that message and that Greek and Roman categories most certainly (and rather significantly) influenced its reception among the gentiles–and very quickly began to influence its further theological development, as well (all of which is just to say that the emphasis on the essentially Jewish roots of the Christian gospel is not the only thing to consider as we attempt to understand its reception and rapid promulgation throughout the Roman world).

he-livesSo what’s my point?  If I am not trying to disabuse people of their belief in a literal, historical (“bodily”) resurrection (complete with “empty tomb” and subsequent “ascension”) — and I’m not, assuming it is an honestly held belief — why am I writing this?  My intention, I assure you, is merely to illustrate that, from the beginning, the resurrection was often spoken of in metaphorical, symbolic, and Spiritual terms– as well as literal, historical, and bodily terms –and that to be honestly skeptical of the latter, does not prevent one from experiencing the Spiritual REALITY that is also expressed in terms of the former.   As the old song says, you ask me how I know he lives . . . he lives within my heart . . .

So in the final analysis, it seems to me that we should teach the historical narrative without apology, while at the same time taking care not to discount the possibility that those who are skeptical of its historicity may nonetheless come to a saving knowledge of the truth–i.e., that they may come, indeed, to know the living Christ; the One who IS before Abraham was; the One who IS the resurrection and the life; the One who, as such, must be sought among the living and not among the dead:

Your ancestor Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day; he saw it and was glad.” Then the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I Am.” (John 8:56-58).

Have you not read what was said to you by God, “I Am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is God not of the dead, but of the living” (Matthew 22:31-32).

“I Am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26).

Indeed, let us acknowledge that while the historical narrative preserves the gospel in symbolic form, it is the living Christ who is the Way, the Truth, and the Lifethe alpha and the omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end — whether or not the body of Jesus of Nazareth went back to dust sooner or later (like the body of John the Baptist, say–or that of Lazarus); or whether in fact it did not go back to dust at all (as traditionally imagined).  For if we can allow for just a bit of ambiguity in this regard, we will not only find ourselves speaking to larger and larger audiences of potential disciples of Christ (including many who currently think of themselves as atheists or agnostics), we will simultaneously gain a great deal of sympathy and support for the teaching of the historical narrative, as well–even among those who remain honestly skeptical.  Christ is Risen! Glory be to God for all things!  Sounds like a win, win proposition to me!

–> Christian Vision

pascal

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The Light upon the Candlestick

Over the years, I have found myself returning again and again to Spinoza.  And, over the years, I have also felt considerable resonance with various strains of Quaker thought.  While  I have long been aware that there is a connection between the two, I recently learned more about that connection when I discovered this document at the Quaker Universalist Fellowship:

THE LIGHT UPON THE CANDLESTICK

You can scroll through the entire pamphlet on this page, or you can jump to the various sections, or view a facsimile of the original title page, by clicking the links below.

A google search will turn up lots of additional information about Spinoza and the Quakers, including a very interesting chapter in this book:

The Third Force in Seventeenth Century Thought, by Richard Henry Popkin:

third force foreshortenedIn the process of exploring The Light upon the Candlestick and other pages at UniversalistFriends.Org, I noticed a request for submissions pertaining the paradoxes of Christian universalism and decided to alert them to some of the material at Yeshua21.Com.   After exploring several Yeshua.21 articles, they offered to feature extensive excerpts from The Universality of Christ and I cheerfully gave them permission to do so.  Many thanks to Mike Shell and our Quaker Universalist Friends for the good work that they are doing at UniversalistFriends.Org.

–> The Universality of Christ

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“The Cross” (Frithjof Schuon)

Quoting Frithjof Schuon:

gnosis“If the Incarnation has the significance of a “descent” of God, Christ is thus equivalent to the whole of creation, containing it in a way; he is a second creation, which purifies and “redeems” the first. He assumes with the cross the evil of Existence; to be able to assume this evil, it was necessary that God should become Existence. The cross is everywhere because creation is necessarily separated from God; Existence affirms itself and blossoms out through enjoyment, but enjoyment becomes sin to the extent that God is not its object, although all enjoyment contains a metaphysical excuse in the fact that it is directed to God by its existential nature; every sin is broken at the foot of the cross.  But man is not made solely of blind desire; he has received intelligence that he may know God; he must become conscious of the divine end in everything, and at the same time he must “take up the cross” and “offer the other cheek”, which means he must rise even above the internal logic of the existential prison; his logic, which is “foolishness” in the eyes of the world, must transcend the plane of this prison:  it must be “vertical” or celestial, not “horizontal” or earthly.

“Existence or “manifestation” has two aspects: the tree and the cross; the joyful tree, which bears the serpent, and the sorrowful cross, which bears the Word made flesh.  For the impious, Existence is a world of passion that man justifies by a philosophy “after the flesh”; for the elect, it is a world of trial transpierced by grace, faith, gnosis.  Jesus is not only the new Adam, but also the new Creation. The old is totality and circumference; the new, unicity and center.

* * *

“We can no more escape the cross than we can escape Existence. At the root of all that exists, there is the cross. The ego is a downward path that leads away from God; the cross is a halting of this path. If Existence is “something of God”, it is also something “which is not God”, and it is this that the ego embodies.  The cross brings the latter back to the former and in so doing permits us to vanquish Existence.

“What makes the problem of Existence so complex is that God shows through everywhere since nothing could exist outside Him; the whole object is never to be separated from this distant perception of the Divine.  And this is why enjoyment in the shadow of the cross is conceivable and even inevitable; to exist is to enjoy, even though at the foot of the cross.  This is where man must keep himself since such is the profound nature of things; man can violate this nature only in appearance.  Suffering and death are none other than the cross reappearing in the cosmic flesh; Existence is a rose signed with a cross.”

http://www.frithjof-schuon.com/ofthecross.htm

http://www.scribd.com/doc/61076828/Frithjof-Schuon-Gnosis-Divine-Wisdom-A-New-Translation-With-Selected-Letters

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Understanding ISIS

Apropos of Understanding Islam, this article on ISIS is also rather illuminating:

What ISIS Really Wants
“The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.” ~ Graeme Wood (The Atlantic, March 2015).

–> Understanding Islam

isis

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Understanding Islam

Note:  More about this video, below…

I consider myself a friend of all the worlds’ major religions, including Islam.  In addition to the evening news, my understanding of Islam has been mediated by the following:

  • My reading of the Quran, from cover to cover, in these two translations:
    • The Qur’an: A New Translation by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem
    • The Koran Interpreted: A Translation by A.J. Arberry

So while I am by no stretch of the imagination an expert on Islam, neither am I simply a beginner (though there is a sense in which I am, in all things, a perpetual beginner, but that’s another story).  Be that as it may, this week, my understanding of Islam was unexpectedly raised a notch or two by these videos of Sheikh Imran Nazar Hosein of Trinidad–the one posted above on Basirah (Islamic Spirituality) and the one posted below on Islam and Russia’s Tryst with Destiny.  These videos probably won’t change your general attitude toward Islam, but they will almost certainly increase your understanding thereof.  I highly recommend them.

Postscripts:

[2/16/15]  This article on ISIS is also rather illuminating:

What ISIS Really Wants
“The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.” ~ Graeme Wood (The Atlantic, March 2015).

[1/30/15]  In the event the imbedded videos, above, don’t work for any reason, here are the direct links:

Islam and Russia’s Tryst with Destiny by Sheikh Imran N. Hosein
http://vineyardsaker.blogspot.com/2014/12/islam-and-russias-tryst-with-destiny-by.html

[Sheikh Imran Nazar Hosein] Basirah : An introduction to Islamic Spirituality
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M9yRbdMMmec&t=24m23s

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What is the “Good News” of the Gospel?

These thoughts came to mind this morning in the context of a discussion about what the gospeli.e. what the good news really is.  My two cents:

good newsMake no mistake–I love the old, old story and if I had children, I would be raising them in church and grounding their lives in the liturgical year (probably in an Anglican, Catholic, or Eastern Orthodox community).  But if and when the question arises, I would also acknowledge that if the good news is really dependent on our knowledge of (and faith in) the alleged historical events that are associated with the life of Jesus, as reported in the scriptures– i.e. his virgin birth, his ministry and miracles, his physical crucifixion, and his bodily resurrection/empty tomb —then the vast majority of human beings seem to be living and dying without the grace of God and without any point of access to the light of life.  As such, IMO, we must look deeper– deeper than Our Sunday School Theology –if we are to recognize the light of the world that Jesus says he is/we are/I Am!

In contrast to Our Sunday School Theology, however, if we understand the metaphorical and symbolic (or archetypical) significance of the story (apart from any overarching concern with its historicity), then we can also acknowledge that there is a light which lights everyone who comes into the world and that the grace of God has appeared to all men.   Indeed, it is from this point of view that we may truthfully say that whosoever will may come and drink of the water of life freely–and it is in this light that we can truly understand the tradition as an authentic revelation of God whether or not it is true in every (imagined) historical, prophetic, and/or metaphysical detail.

Gospel of Thomas 113  His disciples said to him, “When will the kingdom come?” “It will not come by watching for it. It will not be said, ‘Look, here!’ or ‘Look, there!’ Rather, the Father’s kingdom is spread out upon the earth, and people don’t see it.”

Good news!     Let us take up our cross–the kingdom of heaven is at hand; within us; among  us (cf. Luke 9:23; Matthew 16:24-25; Matthew 3:2; Luke 17:20-21).

–>  What Do We Have To Lose?

death and resurrection

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John S. Uebersax’ Home Page

uebersaxAs I said last summer with regard to Jeff Benner’s Ancient Hebrew Resource Center, every now and then I stumble onto a website that presents what seems to me– rightly or wrongly — a vast quantity of extremely valuable information in a relatively easily intuitable form.  I then become extraordinarily enthused with the material and want to share my enthusiasm with as many people as possible.  This happened again yesterday when I discovered John Uebersax’s Home Page.  Here’s how it all unfolded:

Plotinus-214x300As I was discussing Plotinus with a friend, via email, I was trying to remember the word procession, but could not, at first come up with it.  So I decided to google the phrase: “another word for emanation in Plotinus”.  I don’t think that’s how I finally came up with the word procession— I think I finally just remembered it –but in the process of looking for it, I happened to open up this article on Plotinus and noticed this sentence:

” Plotinus’ doctrine that the soul is composed of a higher and a lower part — the higher part being unchangeable and divine (and aloof from the lower part, yet providing the lower part with life), while the lower part is the seat of the personality (and hence the passions and vices) — led him to neglect an ethics of the individual human being in favor of a mystical or soteric doctrine of the soul’s ascent to union with its higher part. Plotinus’ doctrine that the soul is composed of a higher and a lower part — the higher part being unchangeable and divine (and aloof from the lower part, yet providing the lower part with life), while the lower part is the seat of the personality (and hence the passions and vices) — led him to neglect an ethics of the individual human being in favor of a mystical or soteric doctrine of the soul’s ascent to union with its higher part.”
http://www.iep.utm.edu/plotinus/

The word soteric then caught my attention (as in soteriology).  I wondered if there might be a relationship to the word esoteric, as well–might it be that the esoteric offers us the safety of the inner circle?  In any event, I then decided to do a search for soteric and found this:

soteriaSoteria is what we would today call the self-actualizing principle, a beneficent force that guides our development, helping us to reach the desired end of psychological salvation, integration and happiness.”

[omitting some discussion of the middle Platonists and Philo]

“In Christianity, the figure of Christ personifies soteria.  As Christ is understood as teacher, healer, redeemer, Good Shepherd, helmsman etc. of the soul, so all these attributes apply to the soteric principle.”

http://www.john-uebersax.com/plato/words/soteria.htm

My years of working for an Internet access provider (1994-1999)– and years of futzing around with my own web pages –has made me curious to explore websites beyond the first page that I happen to land on, but not merely by following the links that are obvious.  Rather, what I often do is simply work my way up the “directory tree” toward the root directory–amazing what you find sometimes:

http://www.john-uebersax.com/plato/words/

That brought me to this page:

Index of /plato/words

Since both nous and anamnesis had been on my mind recently, I looked at each of them and was pleased and intrigued, to say the least.  So I then clicked on the last entry– words.htm –and found a discussion of The Prisca Theologia  [which is “the conjecture that there was in ancient times a pure or ‘pristine’ religion (prisca theologia), uncontaminated by modernism”].  This is also related to the idea of traditionalism (e.g. Guenon and Schuon, et al) and, more broadly, the perennial philosophy.   I was also pleased to find Peter Kingsley  mentioned on that page.

Moving on up the “tree” of this directory brings us to:

http://www.john-uebersax.com/plato/

WORKS on PSYCHOLOGY, RELIGION and SOCIETY

Religion  |  Platonism  |  Wisdom  |  Cicero  |  Transcendentalism | Education  |  Society  |  Peace  |  Patristics  |  Depth Psychology
See also blogs on: Cultural psychology and Western spirituality

Wow–it looks as if one could get quite an education exploring this one little nook and cranny of the web by itself, eh?  I clicked on the Platonism section and noticed (among many other interesting items) the following:

Islamic Platonists and NeoplatonistsThis page lists some important Islamic philosophers, theologians, and writers influenced by Platonism and Neoplatonism (and, in some cases, Neopythagoreanism). The purpose is to help demonstrate the extent of continuity between Christian and Islamic philosophy, which are both very strongly influenced by the Greek philosophical tradition.
http://www.john-uebersax.com/plato/ip.htm

And there is also a page on The Divided LineHe writes:

After the Bible, it’s hard to find anything in Western literature that contains so much in so short a passage as Plato’s Divided Line Analogy, which appears at the end of Book 6 of the Republic (Rep 6.509d – 6.511e).

The full text, from public domain translation of Benjamin Jowett (1892), is supplied below.
http://www.john-uebersax.com/plato/plato1.htm

Elsewhere, I found links to pages on Christian Gnosis and Cultural Psychologyboth of these are must see links, IMO.

christian gnosis

Finally, I decided to read through the aforementioned page on The Divided Line and that led me to this wonderful piece:

The Pathology of American Thinking: How Plato Might Have Helped Us Avoid an Iraq Debacle
“This short article will explain how Plato’s division of human knowledge into four kinds relates to the disordered thinking–public and governmental–that led to America’s Iraq problem.”
http://www.john-uebersax.com/plato/eikasia.htm

Many thanks to John Uebersax for sharing the fruits of his labors over all these years!  Keep up the good work, John! :)

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