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?
K.S. Elizabeth lives in Spokane. She grew up knowing nothing about Christianity, but then experienced a sensational conversion to evangelicalism in her youth. Now, she still considers herself a Christian but doesn’t feel comfortable with many evangelical practices.
well I guess do you believe that he had dominion over earth and the spiritual world? if you dont then raising Lazarus would also not be possible, prior to the Cross. The Bible does say that the message of the Cross is foolishness to those that are perishing. Not that you are. So it is hard thing to grasp. To question one’s faith is real, but its what you do with that nudge to question. The world will not help you believe in the resurrection. It’s called faith for a reason. If you could prove the spiritual then way more people would believe..maybe. Even with scientific proof people still choose to deny. The Jews repeatedly wanted signs and wonders from Jesus to prove himself. He did them and it still didnt convince them. As someone who has suffered from depression and anxiety disorders there are times I questioned as well. I can empathize with the struggle. Another Christian recommended I get real help. Its not anti Christian to get help from those outside the Christian domain. I would argue that it helped me make more sense of the chaos in my mind so I could manage and focus spiritually. I do hope you find not just a faith in the resurrection but a long lasting power to overcome whatever comes you way and tries to dislodge your faith. Thanks for your article!
can’t say that i believe anyone comes back from the dead based on hearsay.
Not even Elvis? 🙂 Or is it that he just never died…?
hearsay isn’t good evidence for such a wild claim.
Yes, I agree. I was unclear – I was joking about Elvis. I don’t think hearsay is good evidence, which is why it’s so hard for me to intellectually believe in the resurrection. 🙂
I think your approach to the resurrection has a lot in common with the Apostle Paul, for what it’s worth. For one thing, Paul saw Jesus’ resurrection as just the first domino in the whole process of the redemption of creation. Important, but also particularly worth talking about because of what changes it inaugurates in us, not just as a spectacle that proves something on its own. And Paul, when talking about the resurrection of the rest of us, is awfully reticent about the particulars in terms of physicality (“we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet”), but very specific about particulars when it comes to the transformation that it affects on real human beings and how we suffer, “What you sow does not come to life unless it dies”.
I really appreciate your willingness to identify how you can feel the power of resurrection in your life. One pitfall many of us have when we talk about “belief” is that we find it possible to imagine holding a belief that is at odds with how we actually live our lives. It seems to me that Paul (among many others in the cloud of witnesses) charges us to live as if the resurrection is already working its transformation on us. Then belief, in some narrow intellectual sense, hardly seems to matter.
I look forward to hearing more of your witness of the resurrection.
Thank you for your thoughtful response! I haven’t looked at Paul’s writing in that way, but it does make me feel like I’m in good company. I agree that belief in the “narrow intellectual sense” doesn’t seem to matter much to me in my daily life – it’s interesting and important but I don’t feel the need to master it the way I used to.