All have seen

All the ends of the earth
have seen the salvation of our God:
sing joyfully to God, all the earth. – Psalm 98:3

Monday, May 2, 2011

Late Night Meditations on the Resurrection

I have responded to some comments regarding the resurrection which I thought to share here.  They more or less flowed from the initial question, and further reflection on the matter.  Reflection extended as far as considering possible relevance of Jesus in signification and cognition in the relation between phenomenon and noumenon, and then an application of Kant's response to the ontological argument, concluding with some thoughts about the possible relationship between life and being.  That is to say, thoughts which flew all over the map from epistemology to ontology in one virtually unedited flow of thought.  Things get incredibly speculative, at times na├»vely speculative; but the whole exercise might help some in imagining what Paul in Ephesians 1 describes as "the power of the resurrection."  I would be curious to hear anyone's comments.  I'm grateful to our Bible study with whom we studied the book of Ephesians for helping inspire these thoughts.


Marcus Borg is known for his view that the bodily resurrection did not occur; he's published an article on the topic here - link - and has had a response from Tony Jones here: link

I'd like to first of all point out to all readers that I don't think that the position that the bodily resurrection did not occur is compatible with Trinitarian Christianity, in case there is any doubt whether this is a viable option for persons that we generally classify as "Christians" (though some also wish to speak of Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormons as Christians, or of Muslim Christians, agnostic Christians, atheist Christians, etc., etc. - i.e., people who have been influenced by some of the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth and wish to self-identify as Christians).  It is essential, I believe, for those teaching in Trinitarian Churches, to teach the bodily resurrection; and when we fail to do so, or teach the contrary, we are bringing down judgment upon ourselves.  It may not even ultimately be "the fault" of the person teaching such in our church, if we are the ones who assigned a person who is not a Trinitarian Christian to teach our flocks; it is then most certainly our own fault.  I, as are all Anglicans in the Communion, am corporately responsible and to blame for this situation; and I don't wish to consider whether Dr. Borg should be considered culpable here or not.

Though Borg does not believe in the bodily resurrection of Christ, he nonetheless finds a meaning in the resurrection: that Jesus lives, and Jesus is Lord.  What these two sentences could, or do mean for Borg, given the absence of the bodily resurrection, is another matter.  But what he is basically saying is that there is a distinction between the bodily resurrection itself, and this meaning which he associates with it; and that the former is not necessary for the latter.

Tony Jones's article generated considerable comments; my responses are more or less to Borg's position, specifically in response to John Mc, who begins with a very important point, but then begins essentially re-iterating Borg's position, in his own eloquent way.  I respond; then John Mc answers, more or less emphasizing his original point; and I respond in a few more comments.

Here we begin, with John Mc's first comment, link:

John Mc April 25, 2011 at 9:29 am

    I know I am late to this, but I have to comment.

    It is a mistake to interpret a symbol as the truth for which it stands. As God is transcendent, we have to acknowledge that anything done by God on earth and in our realm of being is a mere representation of the transcendent truth of God and is not the truth in itself.  When his world is long gone, God will continue to exist.

    Not that the earth is unimportant, it is a creation of God and it is a gift to us. The fact that God became incarnate is likewise a sacred gift.  But the conclusions humans reach about what such representations say about God is not the essential and core truth of the matter.  Not only are we limited in what we can imagine about God and the message God intends, but the actuality of the incarnation is itself limited in its capacity to reveal the transcendent truths of God.

    The resurrection did not transform our human reality, instead it transformed our relationship with our creator.  The transformation was not effected by the occurrence of the resurrection, bodily or otherwise, but by the irresistible will of God.  The resurrection, bodily or otherwise, was merely the manner in which God communicated that act of divine will to humanity in the First Century.     And likewise, the will of God does not hinge on how humans choose to understand the factuality of the resurrection.

    My faith does not hinge on the veracity of specific facts that another person claims to have witnessed; it depends on my relationship with God – what the other person witnessed or how accurately it was seen or relayed to future generations, cannot be the basis of my faith, ultimately my faith is based on my experiences. Faith contingent on the truth of asserted facts is not genuine faith but more like reason – waiting to be disproved.

James April 30, 2011 at 5:26 am (that's me)

    John Mc’s view here is certainly worth responding to.

    “It is a mistake to interpret a symbol as the truth for which it stands.” – very, very true.

    “As God is transcendent, we have to acknowledge that anything done by God on earth and in our realm of being is a mere representation of the transcendent truth of God and is not the truth in itself.” – no. The categories of transcendent and immanent are important for us westerners in understanding God, but also shouldn’t themselves be used as “absolute” keys of understanding. If I mow the lawn, it is then true that I mowed the lawn; whether or not it grows back again, or the earth is destroyed.

    The event of the resurrection is also not merely a symbol. Christ’s body is not merely a symbol that points us to some higher, transcendent truth.

    We sometimes have a tendency to “idealize” truth, value, and issues pertaining to our faith in ways which do not reflect God Himself. God clearly invested Himself in this very concrete, created order when His son took on flesh. “And the WORD became flesh, and dwelt amongst us …”

    Denying the event of the bodily resurrection is not merely having a different “understanding” of the same thing – it is to deny one thing, and to posit another. The two should not be referred to with the same term, “resurrection.” Those wishing to refer to an event, a metaphor, or a truth which is not intimately bound up with the bodily resurrection of Christ should find another word – such as “the transcendent sublation” or “the metaphor of continuing and persistent life.” We only get into terrible confusions and arguments when we refer to essentially different things with the same words. Any philosopher or sociologist can explain why. An event involving a raised body is an event; a metaphor for life is in no way an event, it is what Husserl would have called an “ideal object” and has an entirely different sort of being and reality from that of an event; and an ecstatic experience of something powerfully imagined, in absence of perception of something in the shared, concrete world is utterly different from the event of a body being raised, the raising itself which is seen by no one.

John Mc April 30, 2011 at 6:25 am


    Thanks for responding.

    I am not necessarily denying the factuality of the event of the resurrection.

    I am drawing a distinction between the event of the resurrection and the meaning we (and by inference, God) attach to it.
    (a few examples are given in order to illuminate this distinction; the distinction remains the same, I think he didn't think I understood the distinction ... you can see the whole of this comment at link if interested in reading the examples and other explanation of the distinction)

James May 1, 2011 at 6:23 pm

    John Mc,

    “Regardless of whether all humans comprehend the intended purpose and message of the unexplainable events, the message intended by God (i.e., ‘new rules apply’) is separate from the events by which God attempted to communicate it.”

    Here I would disagree, in that: the resurrection is not, in the first place, a “message.” There are many “messages” which we might attach to it … or which should “tell” us things about Christ, God, and who Christ is for us.

    But we must not reduce the resurrection to being “a message,” a group of many messages or possible messages, or a symbol.

    Next … it is impossible for us to determine what this “meaning” is in its completeness, of the various things that we come to understand as we live out our days in cognizance of Christ’s resurrection. It always “means” more than we are aware of.

    And finally … this would take some philosophical explanation that I won’t get into … there are speech acts whose actual meaning changes, depending if they are actually said, or not said. A speech act is always dependent on its context, and sometimes that context may include whether or not it was actually uttered. Speech acts, and acts of signification, are not merely static; they don’t only simply “mean” something in a way that would be identical, no matter what the time, place, or context. They are always dynamic and do something, they have an effect, and that effect is always contextual. Some speech acts have more dramatic changes of total meaning dependent on context; with others, the change is more subtle. But meaning is always contextual.

    With the resurrection, the actual occurrence of this event is a part of the context in which this message is found … and the context of the message always conditions the “meaning” of the message. So even if this were purely a message, the “meaning” of the message – when considered in its entirety and its contextuality – in the case that the event did not occur, differs from the “meaning” in the case that the event did occur.

    And all that … being the case if the event is able to be reduced to being simply a message, which it is not.

    This makes me think of Derrida’s deconstruction of Husserl’s distinction between Sinn and Bedeutung. We sometimes try to isolate meanings from larger contexts. We do succeed to some degree, but only in a preliminary way, and never finally and absolutely.
100 James May 1, 2011 at 6:45 pm

    The resurrection itself can perhaps help us to think about the nature of signification. We often tend to think of signification as something like this … “I,” the subject … am somehow struck by a sign … it enters my ear or my eye … this stimulates ole braino to go a thinkey think think, hmmm, what’s the meaning of this sign? How shall I interpret it? Oh, we have this and this as context, put them together … blammo, it means “some meaning.”

    The resurrection is quite different from this. It is a part of the very fabric of the reality in which we live … moreso to the degree that we are able to acknowledge the incredible glory of who Christ is … I do not wish to reduce it here, but simply point out a few of the things which are bound up in the resurrection … Christ’s kenosis (emptying) in becoming a servant of man, prior to the resurrection … His atonement of our sins in His death … His rising in glory after doing whatever it was He did in the abyss of hell. And so much more, much more than I know to tell, and much more than I will ever know in this mortal coil. It is a thing that we can not look at straight-on without its picking us up by some body part and shaking us around. If we are not so shaken, we have not even been looking upon it askance. As a signifier (which is only a fraction of its being), it breaks our paridigms of signification by transforming the subject in the act of the reception of the signification.

    There are other ways that Christ Himself breaks the logic of signification. With most things, there is a res essendi and a res cognoscendi – a thing as we perceive it, as it is “for us” – but then also that thing itself, not considering its relation to us or how we perceive it. A noumenon, and a thing as it is phenomenalized. And as we know, though we can imagine the noumenon, we never “really” get to it, it remains uncognizable and unknowable by us.

    Not so with Christ. In a certain sense, with Christ, we “have” both noumenon and phenomenon. It is Christ Himself who acts upon us … He is our way to the Father (as the phenomenon is our way to the noumenon); and He is of one being with the Father. It is entirely possible that it is only by virtue of Christ’s natural grace that we are able to perceive anything at all, or have any consciousness. Christ Himself and His grace may be the key to this terrible gap in consciousness … that we observe and know, but know not how … as well as other gaps … such as that between will and consciousness, and will and the concrete body. There are so many things which philosophically make very little sense, including signification and consciousness. Perhaps the only adequate reason is: “by the grace of Christ alone, He who Himself unites in Himself phenomenon and noumenon, in His natural grace … whether we acknowledge Him or not.”

    In the beginning was the WORD, and the WORD was with God, and the WORD was God …

James May 1, 2011 at 8:42 pm

    This also gets me to thinking about being. We’ve had signification, epistemology. But how about being?

    One of the best responses to the ontological argument has been Kant's, which goes like this: “You can’t imagine God, and then simply ‘add’ being to that imagining as another quality to make it more perfect. Being is not a simple predicate or quality.”

    Now think about that for a while.

    The same is true of the resurrection. Being itself is not a simple quality; being is something wholly other than the mass of abstractions, concepts, characteristics etc. we employ in our attempts at understanding being.

    For something as momentous as the resurrection … think about what it means to try to say “ok, we have it here on this one side where it is real … has being … exists … (whatever term is most appropriate – these are all linguistically impoverished in some way or another, reflecting our own petty abstractions in search for meaning – e.g., we can not really ask the question, ‘does being exist?’) – and on the other side, we’ve got exactly the same thing – only, without being.”

    I grant you: in some way we can imagine it … or at least imagine ourselves imagining it (like our imagining ourselves imagining a noumenon). But I would suggest that our imagination is rather impoverished or unjust if we are truly convinced that what we have here is really like the one thing on the one side, in any understandable equivalence to that on the other side.

    As I mentioned above about linguistic problems in properly referring to being … being itself being not only too “big” to be conceptualized this way, its rather being something like a precondition of our very imagination of the concept. One can read Heidegger on the “forgetting of being” on this topic.  Philosophers have wrestled with the problem of being and God. Jean-Luc Marion, for example, experimenting with thinking of “God without being” – not that God is not real, but that being itself is predicated upon God … thus in referring to God, we might do best not speaking of being as we usually do.
    God reveals Himself as “I AM that I AM” … this sort of throws a big monkey wrench into our ordinary sense of being, or truth as correspondence with being or reality. God is perhaps telling us to be careful here in simply trying to use predicates and correspondence, and that He is other than any of the ways that we have of conceiving or measuring … that He reveals Himself to us, and that we do not climb up to Him with inductions, nor derive Him with deductions. That God is real as beyond our very ability to cognize or relate to the real. The word “cosmic” might be a beginning for one who is only beginning to imagine. But after a few thoughts, we realize also how utterly impoverished the word “cosmic” is for describing God. Have a look at for further reflection on the utter inappropriateness of using the word “cosmic” to describe God (I’ve made this mistake myself before, I am afraid, so I don’t blame anyone here who uses “cosmic” to describe God).

    Jesus is God for us. And Jesus is God. And we are somehow related to that which is so completely beyond our imagination it defies our very means of articulating and experiencing truth (as correspondence) through Jesus.

    With the resurrection, there is an amazing interconnectedness – of life and death (in life’s triumph over it), and that which we falteringly call being … Christ’s body itself being a part of that being, and not the whole of it. Scripture refers to life, in a manner different from how it refers to being and existence. It is as if life is its own category – perhaps being only makes sense with life – there certainly would be no observer or sense of being without life. Life may in some sense be a mystery which itself grounds being in a profound way – with being as we know it, created only with life as its intention and final cause or telos. At the very least, it would be dishonest for us to pretend that we can imagine being without life; because our life is so thoroughly imbued in our consciousness and our imagination. Yes, we can imagine an earth ball without flora and fauna; but this is merely the visual representation which a living being has of such a thing. It reflects ourselves more than it reflects being without life. We are right there in it, even though we aren’t imagining ourselves there smiling at the camera of our imagination.

    With sin, our notion of life was conditioned also by death – meaning that we may likely live with a very improper idea of life. That death is a flaw of life, just as sin is a flaw of life. That we tend to think of life atop being and conditioned by being may be a part of this skewed notion of life – the actual relation of the two may be quite different, with the crazy, unfathomable order in life imbuing being in a way that we don’t understand – giving meaning to the pathetic fallacy and our sense of the sublime.

    So to try to pull reality out of the resurrection is primarily a task for those unable to imagine the resurrection. I do not accuse those speculating here about the resurrection as symbol of the inability to imagine the resurrection; I simply mean to say that if you are honest, you will probably see that your imaginings here, contributing to this speculation, have failed to grasp much of what the resurrection is. And that it may actually make more sense to imagine the resurrection sans being, than being sans resurrection.

    Now all of this sounds very, very speculative and is not where our minds belong. Shouting, “He is risen!” is much, much more meaningful than all the mental perambulations going on above. But as our conceptual thinking and philosophizing (like that above) tends to dull our imaginations and means of cognizing that which is truly momentous, it is possible that the above is yet positive in unleashing our imaginations from prior, stifling paradigms of thought. This is largely the task of philosophy: to move aside artificial impediments of thought and imagination in making straight the path for God’s grace.

1 comment:

Matt Huggins said...

Interesting that Borg makes no mention of the Paraclete, nor the notion of a glorified body.