“Personally, I do believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus… So I am quite conservative and orthodox by most standards on this important issue…”—Richard Rohr, daily meditation 4/24/19
I love Richard Rohr and his teachings, particularly his insights in Christian mysticism. But this is one area where I think I disagree with him, and I think it is perhaps a central issue that is causing Christianity to implode today. Because I think we can clearly see this truth:
People do not come back to life.
No one ever has, and I’m quite confident no one ever will. I don’t think that is what “resurrection” is trying to tell us. It’s not saying that our ego personality or our particular physical body will return to life from the grave. I don’t think that’s what it is saying at all. This literalism is as mistaken and misunderstood as all the other literalism in spirituality, in my view. It doesn’t escape the same tragic problems that all that other literalism encounters, turning it wholly into something it is not and was never meant to be.
The ego dies! This seems to be well known and attested among the mystics. In the garden myth, when “Adam & Eve” became self-aware, or developed a sense of ego-self in the Fall, one of the first things they were promised by God was that they (their psychological “self”) would “surely die” (Gen 2:17). I don’t think God was mistaken. That “self” that develops and emerges in us does surely die, and this is as sure as anything is sure.
I perceive that it’s not an ego or personality or unique physical body that resurrects and is eternal, but rather it is Life itself, the Christ nature, the Divine nature, Love and Light and Truth. Jesus didn’t come back, but rather it was Christ! If we fail to make this distinction I think we may run afoul of supernaturalism and pseudoscience and error, making God into a magician.
Christ is the Life and substance and energy and incarnation of the cosmos itself, which is always forming anew, creating new forms, new manifestations, new combinations, new structures, new works. It is perpetually in motion, in process, in creation, in evolution, always moving on to the new, the next thing, the better thing. The old creature dies, and the new creature is born (2 Cor. 5:17). And this process, identity, and substance Christians call Christ (which I think is also known by many other names in other traditions). And we can realize the Christ living in us, even as Paul (Galatians 2:20). This is what it means to be reborn, or born again in Spirit (John 3:3-15). You realize that Spirit is what you are! This Consciousness, this Awareness, this Life, reincarnates itself eternally throughout the cosmos in physical forms.
Jesus didn’t resurrect after his biological death, in my view, but rather realized the Christ nature in him while he lived, and many other early Christians likewise realized the Christ after Jesus was gone, which is what I think the early witnesses and accounts were all about. I do think they felt deeply at-one with Jesus and his teachings, in these mystical experiences, but I don’t think that means they were literally meeting Jesus, the historical man. They were meeting the Christ, as I think Jesus met and knew and was at-one in Christ. The Christ and Jesus seem to have been conflated, however, and so we’ve received the myth of Jesus coming back to life instead of the universal Christ which has come and is coming eternally all around us, and in us right now.
I hope we can make a course correction here, as I don’t think Christianity can survive if it continues to perpetuate the unnatural bodily reanimation of a human who died, and which claims that all humans will reanimate likewise. I believe God is calling us to realize a deeper identity than our ego-self or our unique body-mind self. We need deeper mysticism. Go deeper! It’s not the false self that comes back to life, but the true Self, the Christ in us, what we really are, this deeper Divine universal identity of the cosmos that continues to reincarnate itself into an infinite diversity of new forms, people, lives, and beings. That we may realize the Christ in us, this greater identity in God, and be One, is my prayer.
To Rohr’s credit, he did finish his statement by saying, “although I also realize it seems to be a very different kind of embodiment post-resurrection as suggested by the Gospel accounts.” So he realizes that this resurrection is not simply a return to our unique physical body. There is something much more to it!
I suggest resurrection is the eternal evolution of the Life of the whole Kosmos as it is embodied and re-embodied in an infinite diversity of forms or incarnations. And we can come to know ourselves as That, in That, knowing this Divinity living in us, as our deepest Self.
What do you think? Do you think traditionally bodily/egoic resurrection makes sense? In what way? Or do you think there are better ways of interpreting this concept? How might different interpretations be more meaningful to us in our spiritual journeys? Please share with us in the comments below or on Facebook.
The painting at the top of the page is The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb, by Hans Holbein the Younger, oil and tempera on wood, ca. 1520–22. Wikipedia notes that “Holbein shows the dead Son of God after he has suffered the fate of an ordinary human.” The painting was a favorite of Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky, who describes it in his 1869 novel The Idiot in this way:
I think I stood before it for about five minutes. There was nothing good about it in the artistic respect; but it produced a strange uneasiness in me. This picture portrays Christ just taken down from the cross. It seems to me that painters are usually in the habit of portraying Christ, both on the cross and taken down from the cross, as still having a shade of extraordinary beauty in his face; they seek to preserve this beauty for him even in his most horrible suffering. . . . But the face has not been spared in the least; it is nature alone, and truly as the dead body of any man must be after such torments…
If all his disciples, his chief future apostles, if the women who followed him and stood by the cross, if all those who believed in him and worshipped him had seen a corpse like that (and it was bound to be exactly like that), how could they believe, looking at such a corpse, that this sufferer would resurrect? Here the notion involuntarily occurs to you that if death is so terrible and the laws of nature are so powerful, how can they be overcome? How to overcome them, if they were not even defeated now, by the one who defeated nature while he lived, whom nature obeyed?
Here is a great review of the work and Dostoevsky from my alma mater, BYU, a few years ago.