Understanding death and resurrection

It’s Good Friday of Holy Week here in the disease quarantine that is spring 2020. I’m reading the Lenten meditations of James Kennedy in his book on Lindisfarne, the Holy Island. I’m going to quote from the passage today at length and add a few things.

Popular science guru Neil deGrasse Tyson appears in a new Master Class advertisement that’s playing a lot these days saying:

One of the great challenges in life is knowing enough to think you’re right but not enough to know you’re wrong.

He’s said the same in various tweets and interviews over the years. And he’s right! But this quote is pretty rich coming deGreass Tyson, a guy who’s made his entire career on doing just that – talking with faux-authority about crap he knows nothing about. He understands contemporary astrophysics really well. That’s great. But that knowledge often doesn’t translate well into other branches of science, and especially into psychology, philosophy, politics, economics, and theology, but that’s never stopped him from running his mouth non-stop to become one of the contemporary prophets of scientism. He’s easy to ignore though. I don’t need to pay $180 for his online video course.

Closer to home, it’s discouraging to me when pastors and Evangelical Thought Leaders do the same thing. Some do so while feigning modestly or even embedding literal prayers for humility in their talks or writing. Everyone needs to take their own advice on intellectual humility a bit more seriously. The fact is, the world contains a mountain of things that cannot be explained. Many of these things we can observe and know are real (in our heads or hearts/souls or both), but articulating exactly how they work is a much taller order. What the Resurrection of Christianity is, is one of those things:

Paul spends half the fifteenth chapter of I Corinthians trying to answer the question, “How are the dead raised up?” But to explain how the dead are raised up is as difficult as giving exact answers to questions concerning the intricate workings of nature, the fascinating discoveries of science, or even the composing of a symphony.

It would be just as simple to ask, and equally impossible to answer, how does the heart beat or how does the eye see? We could give a word picture of the eye, for example, this unique member of the body, without which man would walk in darkness. We could liken the eye to a camera which takes pictures, colored pictures and moving pictures, without once reloading, and which focuses automatically in any light, at any distance. We could note that it also develops, prints, and files away countless pictures as mental images in a vast “morgue.” But when the description is finished we still don’t know how such a complex instrument could have been conceived and executed. But it was, for God was adequate to do it. Man’s knowledge, or lack of it, does not affect his seeing. It would be foolish of any man, wouldn’t it, to say “I don’t believe it,” just because he can’t understand how the eye can possibly see?

Or take atom smashing. It is “old stuff” now, but just ask a scientist to explain what happens when an atom is smashed. He will probably say that the atom is not smashed or split at all, that it is transmuted into radiant energy. Atom smashing, which brings to mind an infinitesimal speck disappearing into nothingness, is really a process which releases something the scientists call “radiant energy,” and the atom is not destroyed at all, but transmuted, changed from one form to another.

Man can describe such miracles as sight and nuclear fission, but he cannot explain them.

So it is with the resurrection life and the question, “How are the dead raised up?” Inconceivable as all this is to finite minds, men have clung to the faith that continued existence and growth in some form after death are part of God’s plan and in them is the fulfillment of man’s deep-seated longing for completion.

God has planted within men their longings and their needs. He has also provided the means for satisfying them. The Christian faith declares that God is sufficient to satisfy all human hunger, whether for physical food or for hope beyond the curtain of time, and that men can trust Him.

Paul’s illustration of the seed dying and bringing forth life in a new kind of body is good, and refers to the spiritual body as well as the physical. “That which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die.”

Men are told that physical matter is never destroyed, but only changes its form, which is its death and resurrection, and no one questions this fact. Is it any less easy to believe that Spirit, which makes fleshly matter vibrant and creative, is not wasted eternally, but changes its form, and goes through a similar death and resurrection by God’s grace? One of the famous Compton brothers, the physicist, tells us that “Science has found no cogent reason for supposing that what is of importance in a man can be buried in a grave,” and he might have added, “forever dead.”

This was written in 1957 – a little over 60 years ago. The analogy of “smashing atoms” to describe nuclear fission was dropped long ago. I think it was already pretty much out of fashion when I was a kid in the 1980s. The analogies you hear to describe it today probably won’t be kicking around a century from now as our understanding of it improves and scientists continue to ferret out the details in more recently-built large particle accelerators. Our ways of thinking and talking about theology have of course come a long way too since the first century but they still don’t get anywhere close to uncovering the mysteries of the deep things of God. And that’s OK. We don’t have to understand something all the way or even half the way for it to be very true.