I have always recognised that all the Resurrection stories in the Bible are not presenting a blow by blow account of historical events. I do not think an angel rolled the stone away or that Jesus’ corpse was magicked from his tomb. The bones of Jesus are in Palestine. Whatever skills are used to persuade me that these stories are evidence of a physical or metaphysical miracle, I remain stubbornly unconvinced, and not only out of respect for historical probability. I also think that if God had to suspend the usual laws of the universe in order to raise Jesus, then the game’s a bogey, as we say in Scots. If salvation only comes through a suspension of historical reality, then either salvation or historical reality is irrelevant. Why should I labour for personal holiness or divine justice, if in the end of the day God will sort it all out by miracle? And why would God bother putting his son into the restraints and pains of worldly life, if he is prepared to intervene by force majeure to reverse the outcome of worldly events?
So do I think that the resurrection stories are a lie? That’s a serious question, for if, from whatever motive, they are saying “the thing that is not” then we can rightly accuse their authors of perverting the faith of millions, and of dishonouring the historical Jesus. The usual defense of the stories, that they were written and treasured by people who were prepared to die for them, is not convincing, once we have seen the readiness of Daesh warriors to die (and kill) for a story about virgins in the sky.
I do not think the stories are lies, nor do I think that, as many liberal Christians do, that they are symbolic narratives, which represent the continuing influence of Jesus on the lives of his disciples. We have to ask such believers if they are talking about the influence of a dead Jesus, and if they answer “yes” we have to commend their honesty, while wondering why they don’t say more simply, that the stories are lies.
I think the stories are, like much of the Bible, narrative doctrine. Of course that means they are theology also, but I use the word doctrine, because I think they insist on specific truths about what happened to Jesus:
1. Jesus was really dead and now he is really alive. He has not been absorbed into divinity or the Holy Spirit, but is distinctively Jesus.
2. He is not disembodied. God has given him a new body, which, as St. Paul insists, is not subject to decay, nor is it exclusive, as human bodies seem to be: it includes all who want to continue his ministry. ( Paul’s “body of messiah”) He shares, that is, in the divine love which includes all who respond to it.
3. His suffering and death are not left behind, as if they were now irrelevant, but are incorporated (as visible wounds) into his new life.
4. He reveals nothing about a supernatural world, but rather new facts about this world: that earthly powers are only apparently in charge, whereas God’s rule, exercised in his ministry continued through his disciples, is in fact victorious. As the book of the Revelation puts it; the Lamb is on the throne.
5. In his resurrection as in his ministry Jesus shows the “intelligence of the victim” the tough love of one who has suffered, yet forgives all sinners for the sake of what they will become.
6. All this is possible through the goodness of the One Jesus calls his Abba, his dear father, whose persuasive love is active in the world, for those who trust in it.
None of this compels faith or disrupts the laws of nature, although is may be relevant to the believer’s understanding of them. Those who trust the import of the stories will have no visible proof of their truth, because they are “evidence of things unseen.” They are left to live and act according to their trust, but God is not “ashamed to be called their God since he/she has prepared a city for them.”
If we do not articulate some such interpretation of the resurrection stories we leave people with magic ….. or lies.