The Dawkins Delusion and Resurrection Reality
If there is a God, then it is entirely reasonable to assume that he is capable of communicating with us. Thus it Is perhaps not so surprising that many people claim to experience God in diverse ways. But what if there is no God. Could such experiences simply be inventions of the mind?
Could our upbringing have simply conditioned us to believe in something that is actually not there? Could our clever brains fill in the ‘evidence’ for a non-existent god? Richard Dawkins claims just that. Believing in Jesus Christ is no different from believing in fairies at the bottom of the garden or (as he puts it) believing in the ‘spaghetti monster’. The question for the Christian is whether there is any external evidence to support what we believe. Is it all just a trick of the mind or is there evidence outside of our minds that we can put our full weight on? Paul writes to the Corinthians to say without doubt that there is solid evidence upon which our faith rests. The Christian faith is a historical faith founded on stuff that happened. Real events in time and space convinced skeptical minds. In this 15th chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul reminds his readers of the solid evidence on which the Christian faith rests and he goes on to describe the consequences of this evidence for Christians in the here and now, as well as the future. The implications of this evidence also have an impact for those who have passed from this life to the next.
- The foundation of faith: Resurrection of Christ
Every Christian needs to be reminded from time to time on what basis we ‘take our stand’ as believers. If you are anything like me, there are days in which God feels very distant to the point that one doubts his very existence. The good news (or gospel) that Paul preached about, has a basis in history that affects the present day. Paul says that it is by this gospel that we are ‘saved’. Saved from what you may ask? The bible uses this term ‘saved’ to indicate rescue from disaster. The disaster is that we each have sinned and are headed for judgement. Just as Noah and his family were saved from the disaster (and judgement) of the flood by entering the ark, so we can be saved from the disaster of judgement that confronts us by entering into the rescue boat which is Jesus Christ. The good news is that Christ died for our sins, he was buried and he was raised to life. This was all in God’s rescue plan. Paul is careful to point out that all of these events were according to the scriptures. It was according to plan. So how does this help us in our days of doubt? Paul describes that after his death, burial and resurrection Jesus appeared on at least four occasions. First he appeared to Cephas (Peter), then to the disciples, then to 500 witnesses and finally to Paul himself.
Paul indicates that the resurrection was predicted in the Old Testament scriptures and the resurrection was proved by the appearance of Jesus before many witnesses (most of whom were still alive at the time of Paul’s writing). This was a significant claim as the witnesses were still alive at the time of writing and were open to cross-examination – no reasonable person could doubt the resurrection of Christ. Finally Paul indicates that the resurrection is the basis of his preaching – he says ‘this is what we preach, and this is what you believed’. We see in these remarks of Paul that the Christian faith is not blind faith, it is not faith in something we make up, it is not faith in some trick of the mind, it is not faith in a fairy story, it is not faith in some psychological phenomenon, it is faith based on an event that took place in time and space and which was observed and authenticated by reliable witnesses.
2. The impact of resurrection faith
In our moments of doubt ad uncertainty we do well to remember on what our faith rests – a real event that cannot be wished away – even by Professor Dawkins.
It may seem surprising, but the resurrection is not only a tangible rock on which we base our faith, but the resurrection has a remarkable impact on us as Christians. Paul says that if there was no resurrection, our faith would be of no value and the preaching of the gospel would be useless. There simply is no Christian faith worth speaking of without the resurrection.
But surely you say, the whole point of Jesus’ visit to this planet was to die for our sins and having accomplished that, the price of sin was paid and our sin problem is solved? Not so says Paul. “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins”. Somehow the offer of the gospel rests on both the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
But isn’t that missing the point Paul? Think of all of the benefits we receive by trusting in the death of the Lord Jesus? We have peace with God and our daily lives are changed because of this. No, no, no says Paul, if Christ has not been raised, our faith is nothing because we have no future. This is the point, of course the death of the Lord Jesus is of critical importance – it releases us from sin, it satisfies the need for sin’s price to be paid, but it leaves both the saviour and ourselves in the grave, Paul explains more in verses 21-22. The human race is in Adam. Our origins are in this man – what he did affects us all because we are in him. Adam sinned and became subject to death – so do we. In passing please note that there was a real Adam, the Genesis story is not a fable or allegory, there was a real man who did real things that have real effects on our being and lives. We are subject to death both spiritually and physically because of Adam. But what about Christ? Paul says that just as through one real man, Adam, death comes, so through one real man, Christ, life comes. Paul says, “For in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive”. Note the small word ‘in’. We are all in Adam, it’s what we were born into. To be “in Christ” we need to be born into him too – this is new new birth, we must be born again – a spiritual birth. We will learn more about what this looks like later in the chapter, but for now Paul says that there is a sequence to this resurrection: first Christ, then the ‘firstfruits’ and then when he comes those who belong to him.
Just who are these firstfruits? In Matthew 27 we read the following: 52The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus' resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people. Jesus is first in rank, he has shown what resurrection is, the firstfruits seem to be these people who were raised to life at the time of Jesus’ death, and they appeared to many people after the resurrection – then it’s our turn, and the occasion of our resurrection will be when Jesus comes. Paul now puts on his wide angled lens and shows us how all of this fits into a big picture: the rescue of mankind from sin, the restoration of believers from physical death and finally a removal of forces of dominion and authority on this planet that are against God. There will be a final victory over sin, over death and over the forces of darkness. John was given a glimpse of this final period of victory in Revelation, take a look at Revelation 19-21 and you will see Jesus riding a war horse and taking back possession of this world and finally dealing with the evil one.
So what’s to be our response? If there is no resurrection we may as well ‘eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die’. It’s very likely that this was the attitude of the Corinthians – Paul says no! There is a resurrection and this means that what we do with this life is of vital importance, there is meaning and there is purpose. The hope of resurrection changes our perception on life – puting up with difficulty in the here and now is to be seen within the perspective of the coming resurrection. Paul says that he faced death every day – but not for nothing: because there is a coming resurrection.
How are you living? Are you living just for the present, without hope or expectation of resurrection? Slipping into a life characterised by sin without a thought for eternity? Paul says this will stunt your Christian life, ‘come back to your senses!’ he says, we have a resurrection to look to and as we live in the expectation of this, the focus and direction of our lives is changed.
3. The nature of resurrection
All this talk of resurrection bodies elicits in us inevitable questions as to what this will be like. There are some rather sad people with too much money and not enough sense who pay $200,000 to have their bodies cryo-preserved in the expectation that one day medical science will enable them to be resurrected! The cheap option (a mere $80,000) is to have one’s head cryopreserved! You couldn’t make this up!
The question about resurrection is not entirely an unreasonable one. I recall the old (and rather funny) film ‘Heaven Can Wait’ in which a junior angel, in order to spare a man’s agony of a fatal accident, takes the man to heaven just before the accident takes place. To the horror of the junior angel, the man in question is not on the list to be received into heaven – his time had not yet come. The real problem arose when the junior angel (under supervision from his exasperated boss) attempted to put the man back in his body only to find that the body had been cremated! So how will we be resurrected when there is not much to resurrect? Paul explains: the resurrection body is qualitatively different from the natural body – the two do have some connection, but they are different in nature. Paul says just as a seed dies as it brings new life, so it is with the old body and the new resurrection body – the seed is rather different from the plant. As the seed dies and is lost, so the new plant from which it comes takes over. This difference is emphasised by Paul as he compares our current physical body with our future resurrection body in the same way as one would compare the sun and moon – they each have a different glory. Here’s how Paul explains it: 42So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power;44it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. Our current bodies are physical and relate to Adam, our future resurrection bodies are spiritual and relate to Christ.
When will this take place? It will happen when Jesus comes. Those believers who have died in Christ will be raised ‘imperishable’ – no longer subject to the decay of the grave, and those of us who are still alive when Jesus comes will be changed. Paul says that ‘we will not all sleep (die)’ – he was expecting this great event to take place at any moment – we should do so too. And as we live out our lives on this planet we do well to do so in the expectation of the coming of the Lord and the prospect of being changed from being perishable to imperishable.
I read in the Metro this morning of a young couple who were murdered on a beach in Thailand and also of a bridegroom who was killed in a jet-ski accident just two days after his wedding – several families are feeling the sting of death this week. And we know that sting too. But when Jesus comes ‘Death will be swallowed up in victory’. Paul quotes the prophet Hosea ‘Where O death is your victory? Where, O death is your sting’. We certainly know the sting of death now, and feel as though it has won, but on resurrection day the victory will be ours through the Lord Jesus Christ.
This calls for a response. How could the Corinthians continue to live such ungodly lives and continue to be divided and disorderly. Paul tells them to stand firm in the fact of the resurrection, to be immovable, and give their all to the work of God – because work done now is not done in vain.