Monday 25 July 2005

Proving the resurrection?

I suggested in my previous post that “resurrection” is the miraculous act of God by which the impossible becomes actual. If this is the case, then I think it also follows that it is intrinsically impossible to “prove” the resurrection of Jesus. For resurrection is not a natural possibility, but it is the very contradiction of the whole realm of the possible. And you cannot use an impossible entity to explain any set of phenomena.

My argument here doesn’t rest on a Newtonian notion that the world is a closed causal system (so that “divine intervention” is impossible from the outset); rather it rests on a theological conception of resurrection as the eschatological act of God in which the existing structures of the world are overturned and something wholly new is brought into being.

As an act of God which contradicts the very nature of “death,” the resurrection of Jesus does not lie within the realm of the possible—it is impossible in the strict sense of the word, for it is the contradiction of the structures of reality. As such, it is both the end of the world and the decisive beginning of a new age—it is the fulfilment of all apocalyptic expectation.

All this means that the concept of “resurrection” can never be introduced as the most likely explanation for any series of events. To introduce the resurrection in this way would be to deny the very meaning of “resurrection”—it would be to reduce it to some kind of natural possibility which takes place within the structures of the world, and thus to strip it of its true character as the eschatological act of God. It would be like a scientist explaining a puzzling set of phenomena that occurred last Tuesday with the hypothesis that the “end of the world” must have arrived that day—such a hypothesis would be absurd because it would contradict the very meaning of “end of the world”!

We may well seek to prove historically that the tomb of Jesus was found empty, or that the disciples had certain experiences after Jesus’ death. Such proofs have their own value and significance—but they are in no sense proofs of the resurrection of Jesus (just as the early Christian communities narrated stories of the empty tomb and the appearances without ever attempting to narrate the event of resurrection itself). In the nature of the case there can be no proof of such an event.

For in the resurrection of Jesus the impossible becomes actual, as the crucified Jesus negates the finality of death and moves forward into new life, into the new future of the reign of God.

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