The resurrection of Christ is central to orthodox Christianity. It is therefore unfortunate for me that I sort of don’t believe it happened, me being a Christian and all. But when I try to make my brain believe it, I get caught up in the small fact that once people are dead, that’s it. Dead is dead.
When I was evangelical, I hid my disbelief from my evangelical friends. Privately I visualized Jesus being raised from the dead, as though being able to picture it could act as partial proof. It really bothered me that my faith was supposed to hinge on something I didn’t think could physically happen.
I didn’t realize then that the narrative of Jesus being raised from the dead flies in the face of facts on purpose. Here’s one personal reason for why I think this: When I was busy trying to believe the resurrection was possible, it didn’t speak to my real life at all. When I repeatedly found myself in the seemingly impossible-to-get-out-of situation of being paralyzed by severe depression, the only kind of story that could have given me a roadmap out of my mental state would have been one that started at an impossible place, because I was in an impossible place. If I had only read the story of Jesus’s resurrection as a story of hope impossibly springing forth from death, it might have helped me.
Since that whole paradox-y thing makes it really hard for me to decide if the story is real or not, I want to show you how I believe in the resurrection, not if.
What resurrection looks like in my life
In my early college years I would stay at my parents’ house for summers. At one point I was the only one of my siblings at home. One day I walked down to the beach near the house and collected rocks and shells. When I looked out over the bay, I felt lonely. The wide expanse of gray sky and gray water made me feel empty. I walked back up to the house as night approached, retreated to my childhood bedroom, grabbed a Bible, sat on my old bed and put my head in my hands.
Somewhere in my evangelical journey, I had pieced together a belief that I should be able to feel perfectly happy with God and no one else, because otherwise I wasn’t depending on God alone. I had come to believe that being with God alone looked like reading the Bible in solitude.
However, I had been dealing with depression since high school, and when I was by myself I had to face my fear of being alone forever. So I felt paralyzed, unable to text someone and ask for help while I was depressed, but unable to feel happy being alone with a Bible. My fear of undermining my salvation won out, so all I had was the Bible.
I flipped through the Psalms, looking for a way to say I needed help. I came to Psalm 13 and read,
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I bear pain in my soul,
and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
The psalmist feels betrayed. She gave me permission to be angry with God. I prayed the first two angry stanzas, and then I came to the last stanza. I had never really been drawn to it before.
But I trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.
It seemed so different from the rest of the Psalm. How did the psalmist go from betrayal to hope?
But as I was reading and re-reading, I remembered how much better off I was compared to high school, and how in high school I couldn’t imagine the kinds of relationships I would eventually build in college with people who didn’t tell me to “just be happy” but who supported me and sat with me when I was depressed. I remembered that even though it seemed like I would never be okay, things got better. And as I absorbed the last stanza, I felt it resonate with my experience: I had trusted in God, and he had dealt bountifully with me in the form of friendships, counselors, teachers, and an inner voice telling me I would be okay. And with that memory close, I felt myself relax and I let myself believe that things would get better again.
I cried with relief. With a sudden urgency, I looked through the rocks I had found on the beach and picked a black one vaguely shaped like a heart. I squeezed it until my hand hurt and I decided to make it a sign to myself, so that I would remember this lesson I had just mysteriously learned the next time I felt paralyzed by fear.
It wouldn’t be until later that I would realize the hope I found in the Psalm was the antithesis to the belief that I should be able to be alone with a Bible and feel satisfied. Perhaps accommodating my convoluted belief, God helped me actively imagine friendships and other kinds of relational support when I was unnecessarily stopping myself from reaching out to friends in real life.
Though my faith looks markedly different now compared to that summer, I still believe God intervened in the white space between the stanzas that night. If you have ever been severely depressed, you know that all the color gets sucked out of life, and it seems like nothing could possibly make you feel better. When I prayed the Psalm and the color rushed back, it was as though I had been resurrected. That shift felt just as impossible as someone coming back from the dead.
At the time, I would never have allowed this experience to inform my belief in Jesus’s resurrection. That would have put me in danger of thinking of it metaphorically, and as I have discussed in past columns, I thought I needed to read the Bible literally to guarantee my salvation.
Now I don’t really think I can choose between metaphor and literal. Instead, I admit I can’t force myself to think someone can come back from the dead, but I can feel the power of resurrection in my own life.
So you tell me. Do I believe in the resurrection?
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- Dear Exhausted Evangelical: I was Terrified of Hell - March 27, 2017
- Most Powerful Women in Scripture: The daughters of Zelophehad - March 13, 2017
- Dear exhausted Evangelical - February 14, 2017