We read a great deal in various media these days about a rising tide of atheism in our society–not just passive or quiet lack of belief in the existence of God, but an overt and increasingly passionate unbelief. Many times, Christians and other persons of faith, attack this atheism head-on, with counter-arguments of varying coherence and quality. (“Facebook Theology” is in interesting genre that probably deserves some closer study!)
But I wonder whether both atheists and counter-atheists are asking the wrong question. Some of you may have heard me quote Lutheran theologian Robert Jenson, who defines God this way: “God is whoever raised Jesus from the dead, having first raised Israel from Egypt.” Could it be that “Does God exist?” is not really the fundamental question? No historical event can be proven with test-tube-in-a-laboratory certainty. But an open-minded examination of the literary and historical data does support the conclusion that Jesus was not in his tomb on the third day after his crucifixion precisely because he had been raised from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus, not the existence of God, is the bedrock data point for Christian faith and Christian theology. If Jesus is risen from the dead, then the existence of God follows, because God is whoever raised Jesus from the dead.
The Christian hope is to experience resurrection writ large: To be conformed to Christ in a death like his so as to be conformed to Christ in a resurrection like his (Romans 6:5). This is the vision that beckons us throughout our journey in this world–a journey of gradually, inch by inch, step by step, one small decision or action compounded on tens of thousands of other small decisions and actions–toward being made holy, toward having the image of God in which we were created but which has been distorted by sin perfectly restored, toward looking completely like Jesus. This is why we pray and worship and work and give and share our lives with others who are on the same journey.
But we also experience resurrection writ small. If we are attentive, we can know our daily environments to be gleaming and resounding with nano-miracles: signs and token of order emerging out of chaos, of forgiveness healing guilt, of hope conquering despair, of light shining into darkness, and life overpowering death. It happens in nature (especially in springtime!), it happens in families and communities, and it happens in our hearts and minds. The same God who wonderfully created human nature and even more wonderfully restored it (Collect for Second Sunday after Christmas)–restored it by raising his Son Jesus from death to life–shows up when we’re looking for him and when we’re running from him, out in the open and in the nooks and crannies of our lives, with great power and with a gentle whisper.
Throughout the Diocese of Springfield there are scattered tokens of the power of Christ’s resurrection working among us more than we can ask or imagine: new vitality at the Church of the Redeemer in Cairo and at Trinity, Mattoon; the beginning of a new pastoral ministry at our Cathedral Church in Springfield; exciting new life and growth at St Andrew’s, Carbondale; ongoing vitality at our “anchor” parishes of St George’s, Belleville and Emmanuel, Champaign … the list could go on. Have I left out something important? I hope I have! Let us know, and we’ll sing praises where praises need to be sung. The challenges are great, but Grace is greater.
It is my joy to be among you serving the God who raised Jesus from the dead.