Controversies swirl today, in our embattled Church, over whether this story or that in the Bible “actually” happened. Did the sun stand still in the sky until the Israelites won that battle? Did Noah really bring two of every kind of animal on the Earth into the Ark? And how about that talking donkey, or those multiplying loaves and fishes? Some of us believe every word we read in Scripture, while others have come to consider the stories we find there little more than myths.
I believe that on that first Easter morning, Jesus literally, bodily rose from the dead. Not because His Resurrection could have happened in no other way, but because that’s how His early disciples had to have it. I honestly don’t believe they would have accepted that He’d really risen, and that He still lived, if it had happened any other way. To them, physical resuscitation was resurrection — and their imaginations were probably limited to this understanding. God meets us wherever we happen to be and speaks to us in a language we can understand.
This isn’t because God is capable of speaking in no other language. God is the ultimate polyglot: “He” is fluent in every tongue known to men and angels. God comes to where we are because we need “Him.” This is what Scripture is trying to tell us when it says that in Jesus, God took on human flesh. God loves us not because of who we are — or because we in any way deserve it; God loves us because of Who God is.
On the other hand, I do not believe God sees anything wrong with alternative ways of seeing the Resurrection. Those who, like Bishop John Shelby Spong, see it differently — perhaps more as having been a continued, very powerful experience of Jesus’ presence in our world — are not necessarily wrong. God does not speak to everyone the way “He” does to everyone else. Christ is as vitally alive, to many of those who do not believe the Resurrection was a literal, physical event, as He is to those who must believe it happened literally. In some cases, perhaps more so.
Adding up the gospels
When I was in college at Grand Canyon University, then a Southern Baptist school, we studied something, in our mandatory New Testament class, called a “Harmony of the Gospels.” This was a brave attempt to iron out all the inconsistencies between the four gospels’ presentations of Jesus’ life. Even at the time, in my youthful credulity, I found it a bit strained. How many women did go to anoint the Lord’s body — and were there two angels at that tomb, or only one? How could Jesus have been so sporting about one woman’s dumping a jar of perfume over His head on apparently the same day when another blubbered all over His feet and dried them with her hair?
There are — let’s face it — a lot of details, in the four gospels and elsewhere in Scripture, that simply don’t add up. For crying out loud, there are two different versions in Genesis of the Creation story alone. The Bible begins, for the literalist, in a state of confusion. God brought order out of chaos, but we can’t figure out quite how “He” did it. The Bible ends in confusion, too. We’ve been tearing our hair out trying to decipher the Book of Revelation for hundreds of years.
Literalism, I believe, stems not from strong faith, but from weak faith. Those who can’t bring themselves to believe in the authority and authenticity of Scripture unless every darned thing in its pages took place “exactly” the way it is depicted are hanging onto the edge of a pretty steep cliff. These are the people who insist, among other things, that because the Holiness Code of Leviticus and Deuteronomy mandates death by stoning for men who lie with men as they would lie with women, men and women today in loving same-sex relationships must be denied even the most basic human rights.
God is attempting to speak to them through the reality of our lives, but God is real to them only in the Elizabethan words printed in their King James editions. And even then, though the words in red are actually those of their Incarnate God, they give more weight to the stark, black print in Leviticus and Deuteronomy.
Resurrection: The living God
When Jesus rose from the grave, it was God’s way of telling us — in a way at least some of us weren’t too dull to get — that This is Who God is. The God Who made seeds that, buried in the ground, sprout and burst out of the soil to grow into mighty trees. The God Who made us not for destruction, but for life. The God Who reserves the right to keep right on speaking, even when those who don’t want to listen to anything new slam their Bibles shut and walk away. The God Who, as we are walking away in anger, sorrow, despair or even smug certitude, calls out to us with, “Wait! There’s more!”
Jesus’ life gives testimony to the fact that there is no limit to the number of terrifying, dangerous, painful and seemingly degrading things God is willing to endure in order to reach us with “His” love. That this is how much God loves us. That this is Who God is — and, in God’s eyes, who we are. Are you beginning to get it yet? Wait! There’s more!
We were so clueless — so unwilling to accept that God had more in store for us than we could imagine — that we killed Him. “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not.” But God wouldn’t let us simply shut the book right there and walk away. “Wait!” God cried out to us on that first Easter morning, “There’s much, much more than you can begin to imagine!”
The adventure hasn’t ended yet. God calls us to be a part of it. In our still-living Christ and our still-speaking God, the adventure goes on.
We will never totally figure God out. “He” will always stay several beguiling steps ahead of us. We can’t use the Bible to trap God, or to keep “Him” stuck in the past. From inside those neat, leather-bound covers, God will always call out to us to wait for what comes next.
The entire cosmos — all there ever was, and is, and will be — came forth from the Mind of God. No one but God knows it all. If all that is could be confined within the walls of some Pharisee’s puny imagination, the cosmos would be a very drab and cramped little place. Who else but God could have imagined Jesus in the first place? Certainly none of the religious bigots who handed Him over to death because He blew their tiny minds.
Meeting us on our terms
Jesus’ disciples knew enough, at least, to pick a winner. But they could certainly be dense. Throughout the gospels, He hung on — despite His frustration — literally loving them through their cluelessness and confusion. He never gave up on them, because He was there to do His Father’s will. And His life stands as evidence that His Father met those stubborn, often dim-witted disciples where they were — not where even Jesus would have liked for them to be.
The whole Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, is the story of how God very gradually opened up “His” people’s eyes. Many people today speak of the dramatic difference between the God of the Old Testament — stern, arbitrary, bloodthirsty, vindictive and chauvinistic — and that of the New: Kind, compassionate, all-embracing, eternally devoted and steadfastly forgiving. God has not changed; “He’s” the same yesterday, today and forever. What changed, over the centuries during which the scriptures were written, was our understanding of God.
Why do those ardent devotees of “infallible” Holy Writ so often fail to get this? The very theme of the Bible is that of our limitations and God’s limitlessness. To insist upon it all as some static unit is to totally, spectacularly miss the point. Indeed, the greatest thing about the Bible is that it chronicles an adventure that goes on to this very day — and promises to lead us forward forever.
When I first came out as a lesbian, I was afraid I’d lose my faith. I had spent most of my life afraid that I couldn’t be both gay and Christian. But there is a real spiritual revival going on in the GLBT community of today, and my faith has grown, since I came out, in ways I’d never dreamed of. I even found my calling as a lay minister and writer. God had more in store for me than I could have imagined.
Things seem pretty desperate in this country right now. But God has seen us all through worse times over the past 200 years. I have a feeling that God isn’t through with us yet. We are often told, by the pointy-headed, that we have reached “the end of history,” and the Rapture crowd is ready to take flight and leave us behind. But they may yet be disappointed — because there may yet be more.
God will write the final chapter, just as “He” has authored the story from the very start. We can’t be sure how “He’s” done it all along, but we know that God is firmly in charge. Nobody else is going to rewrite the story. I, for one, am willing to wait and see how it all comes out. The one thing I know is that it will come out just as I have: Better than I ever could have dreamed.
Wait! There’s more! And so much more.
A self-described “Libertarian Episcopalian lesbian,” freelance writer and the author of Good Clowns, a young adult novel published in 2018, Lori Heine published a blog called Born on 9-11 and was a frequent contributor to the website Liberty Unbound. A native of Phoenix, Ariz., she graduated from Grand Canyon University in 1988 and spent much of her life in the insurance industry before turning full-time to writing as a freelancer, blogger and author.