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The Resurrection Effect

“The message of the Resurrection is that this present world matters; that the problems and pains of this present world matter; that the living God has made a decisive bridgehead into this present world with his healing and all-conquering love; and that, in the name of this strong love, all the evils, all the injustices, and all the pains of the present world must now be addressed with the news that healing, justice, and love have won the day. That’s why we pray: “Thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.” Make no bones about it: Easter Day was the first great answer to that prayer.

If Easter faith is simply about believing that God has a nice comfortable afterlife for some or all of us, then Christianity becomes a mere pie-in-the-sky religion instead of a kingdom-on-earth-as-it-is-in-heaven religion. If Easter faith is simply about believing that Jesus is risen in some “spiritual” sense, leaving his body in the tomb, then Christianity turns into a let-the-world-stew-in-its-own-juice religion, instead of a kingdom-on-earth-as-it-is-in-heaven religion. If Easter faith is only about me, and perhaps you, finding a new dimension to our own personal spiritual lives in the here and now, then Christianity becomes simply a warmth-in-the-heart religion instead of a kingdom-on-earth-as-it-is-in-heaven religion. It becomes focused on me and my survival, my sense of God, my spirituality, rather than outwards on God and on God’s world that still needs the kingdom message so badly.

But if Jesus Christ is truly risen from the dead, Christianity becomes what the New Testament insists that it is: good news for the whole world, news that warms our hearts precisely because it isn’t just about warming hearts. The living God has in principle dealt with evil once and for all, and is now at work, by his own Spirit, to do for us and the whole world what he did for Jesus on that first Easter Day.”

NT Wright, Grave Matters, Christianity Today 4/06/1998.

Crowns Rolling in the Dust

“Now can this really be, as the media so continuously insist, what life is about—this worldwide soap opera going on from century to century, from era to era, whose old discarded sets and props litter the world? Surely not. Was it to provide a location for so ribald and repetitive a production as this that the universe was created and man—or homo sapiens, as he likes to call himself, heaven knows why—came into existence? I cannot believe it.

If this were all, then the cynics, the hedonists, the suicides are right. The most we can hope for from life is amusement, gratification of our senses, and death. But of course it is not all. Thanks to the great mercy and marvel of the incarnation, the cosmic scene is resolved into a human drama. God reaches down to become a man, and man reaches up to relate himself to God. Time looks into eternity and eternity into time, making now always and always now. If this Christian revelation was ever true, then it must be true for all time and in all circumstances. Whatever may happen, however seemingly inimical to it may be the way the world is going, its truth remains intact and inviolate. “Heaven and earth shall pass away,” our Lord said, “but my words shall not pass away.” Our western civilization, like all others before it, must some time or other decompose and disappear. The world’s way of regarding intimations that this is happening is to engage equally in idiot hopes and idiot despair. On the one hand, some new policy or discovery is confidently expected to put everything to rights: a new fuel, a new drug, détente, world government, a common market, North Sea oil, revolution or counter-revolution. On the other hand, some disaster is as confidently expected to prove our undoing: Capitalism will break down, communism take over, or vice versa; fuel will run out, atomic wastes will kill us all, plutonium will lay us low, overpopulation will suffocate us.

In Christian terms, such hopes and fears are equally beside the point. As Christians we know that here we have no continuing city, that crowns roll in the dust, and that every earthly kingdom must some time founder. As Christians, too, we acknowledge a King men did not crown and cannot destroy, just as we are citizens of a city men did not build and cannot destroy. It was in these terms that the apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome and in Corinth, living as they did in a society as depraved and dissolute as ours—under a ruler, the emperor Nero, who makes even some of our rulers seem positively enlightened—with the games, which, like television, specialized in spectacles of violence and eroticism: “Be steadfast, unmoveable,” he exhorted them, “always abounding in God’s work and concerning yourselves with the things that are not seen; for the things that are seen are temporal, and the things that are not seen are eternal.” It was in the breakdown of Rome that Christendom was born, and now in the breakdown of Christendom there are the same requirements and the same possibilities to eschew the fantasy of a disintegrating world and seek the reality of what is not seen and is eternal—the reality of Christ. In this reality we see our only hope, our only prospect in a darkening world.”

Malcolm Muggeridge in Christ and the Media, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society Volume 21/3, September 1978.

The Christian eschatological hope

Christian hope is not about wishing things will get better. It is not about hoping that emptiness will go away, meaning return, and life will be stripped of its uncertainties, aches, and anxieties. Nor does it have anything to do with techniques for improving fallen human life, be those therapeutic, spiritual, or even religious. Hope has to do with the knowledge of “the age to come.” This redemption is already penetrating “this age.” The sin, death, and meaninglessness of the one age are being transformed by the righteousness, life, and meaning of the other. What has emptied out life, what has scarred and blackened it, is being displaced by what is rejuvenating and transforming it. More than that, hope is hope because it knows it has become part of a realm, a kingdom, that endures. It knows that evil is doomed, that it will be banished.

David Wells, The Courage to Be Protestant, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008).