St. Paul sounds extreme sometimes, but not so extreme as some modern atheists. Here’s Paul: “If Christ has not risen, then our preaching is groundless and your faith is groundless.” He writes that to the Christians, some of whom seem to have been claiming that the dead don’t rise again.
This really upset him. He hammers the point home over and over again. Like this a couple verses later: “If Christ has not risen, all your faith is a delusion and you are back in your sins.” And, he adds, “those who have gone to their rest in Christ have been lost” (1 Cor 15:14-18).
For Paul, it’s the Resurrection or nothing. If Jesus rose from the dead after the Romans killed him, things are great. If He didn’t rise, it’s all a huge waste of time and we look like idiots.
He sounds extreme, at least to people like me who don’t like putting all our eggs in one basket and who will never go all in when playing poker. Besides, Christianity offers some nice things, like a community to join and a good way to put your life together. Why risk that on one historical claim?
The modern atheists, though, they’re even more extreme than he is. I googled atheists and resurrection and got an article in which an atheist claimed that Jesus didn’t exist at all. That’s a little silly. Even completely secular historians believe that back in the first century a man named Jesus made a splash and was probably crucified. The evidence shows that.
More interesting is the way the atheist writer dismissed any idea that Jesus might have been the man the four Gospels describe. He rejects the idea the way you’d ignore the short guy at the park who claims to have been an All Pro running back for the New York Jets. First, there’s no evidence, and second, the whole idea’s absurd.
To make his point, our atheist writer takes a term from theologians of 100 years ago. They separated the “historical Jesus” from “the Christ of faith.” We may know almost nothing about the first, they said, but who cares? The second’s the one that matters. We can have a life-changing experience with the second. The Christ of faith may not exist, but he can make us better, more “authentic” human beings.
Our atheist writes about the “easily-dismissed ‘Christ of Faith’ (the divine Jesus who walked on water).” The Gospels, he says, are “filled with mythical and non-historical information.” He means anything miraculous, the Resurrection especially.
He thinks all those “mythical” stories can be easily dismissed because men don’t walk on water and men don’t rise from the dead. They don’t, ever. If someone named, oh, Luke tells you that the government executed a man and three days later he walked out of his grave, he’s either lying or crazy. Because men don’t walk out of their graves, ever, period.
That’s what I meant by calling the atheists extreme. They’re absolutely sure of something they can’t possibly be sure about. How can they know that once in human history, a man didn’t walk on water and rise from the dead? Maybe they think the evidence doesn’t prove it. Fair enough. But they can’t say it didn’t happen because it can’t happen.
This brings us back to St. Paul. Why does he keep saying that our faith depends on the historical reality that the man Jesus died and rose again? (By the way, if you want a good basic argument for the historical truth of the Resurrection, read Peter Kreeft’s article and “Evidence for the Resurrection of Christ.”)
Paul gives the Corinthians a few reasons. One is simply that it happened. The most compelling for me is that as the man Adam brought us death, the man Jesus must bring us resurrection from death. We sinful people are like seeds, Paul says, that have to be put in the ground and die before they grow.
And then he tells us this: “What is sown corruptible, rises incorruptible; what is sown unhonored, rises in glory; what is sown in weakness, is raised in power.” In short: because Jesus died and rose again, when we die we will rise with Him. We will find ourselves the people our Father always wanted us to be, and the saints we want to be.