Yes, yes, I know it’s Advent and all of our questions should focus on the coming of Jesus. Oh well. While in seminary, I had a conversation with one of my favorite professors. We were discussing the resurrection, and in response to one of my questions he asked, “If a video camera had been in Jesus’ tomb, what would you have seen?” Of course, I had no answer and neither did he. It simply raised the point that saying, “Christ is Risen” isn’t nearly so neat and packaged as many conservative/evangelical/fundamentalists (take your pick) often assume. For instance, one of my philosophy professors liked to ask the question, “If you had indisputable proof that someone had found the bones of Jesus, what would you do?” My understanding of the ‘right’ answer, according to this professor, was to give up belief in the resurrection. However, if resurrection is life after “life after death” as N.T. Wright likes to say, is this necessarily true?
Fast forward to yesterday. I found while reading Robert Jensons’ Systematic Theology, that he was asking and wrestling with the same questions. “No canonical writing suggests that anyone saw or could have seen the Resurrection itself happen.” He then quotes Thomas Aquinas from the Summa theologiae, “Christ in rising does not return to the life commonly known to all but to an immortal life conformed to God…Therefore Christ’s resurrection itself could not directly be seen by humans.” Jenson continues:
The assertion that the tomb was empty could be true while Jesus nevertheless remained dead. But if the claim was true that some saw Jesus alive after his death, then Jesus had indeed been raised. Therefore, whether or not the tomb was found empty, only the appearances could be the actual occasion of the Easter-faith (p. 195).”
Jenson then launches into a discussion of what it meant to see Jesus and makes a careful clarification based on Jesus’ appearance to Paul, “This does not, of course, mean that the Risen One was visible only to the ‘eye of faith’ or something of the sort; Paul was decidedly an unbeliever when the Lord appeared (p. 197).”
This is a tricky question, but I think that we have to wrestle with these kinds of issues or our faith remains remedial. Let’s keep pressing on.