A Bodily Resurrection of Jesus? or of Christ? A Mystical View

Did Jesus come back from the dead, or should we look deeper for the truth of resurrection?

“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.

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4 thoughts on “A Bodily Resurrection of Jesus? or of Christ? A Mystical View

  1. This resonates as logic, a logic that is pure and innocent and touches the “love” aspect of Truth, the Truth people keep searching for but can’t find it “inside.” The “inside” guides; at least for me, it’s been guiding me to finding Truth, finding Myself, not “me,” but the “Soul” that came to experience me. I must protect that Soul with the Truth. The “resurrection” gives reason for a celebration of life, while “alive.” The other method, which has been taught from the Church, is to celebrate death that came at the hands of man with a faithful belief attached that that death saves the “life” of others! It is the complete opposite and it comes not from someone else but from one’s own self. Your words are rich, and I thank you for the opportunity to have absorbed them.

    1. Well said, Jocie. Yes, they seem to quite different views. One is the celebration of Life while alive, a salvific realization that Life is our deepest Truth, even our Self, our Soul. The other seems to be a celebration of death because it gives life to others. People believe they have to die first to receive this salvific life from Jesus. But I perceive that the only “death” that should happen is the one while we are alive of our “separate” ego-self, which will reveal our true Self as One in God, in this infinite Love of all beings, and it is this mystical revelation and awakening itself that I think the resurrection is pointing towards. I think this was Jesus’ resurrection, and ours as well. Thank you for reading, and adding your voice to this conversation.

  2. I have to chime in here Bryce because I feel that your starting point is fallacious. Stating that people don’t resurrect, and therefore Jesus did not resurrect, is an invalid way of approaching your ultimate point. I’m not saying that Jesus did or did not resurrect bodily (I personally don’t think it matters whether he did or not), but Christianity is historically, traditionally a religion built within a materialist, dualistic worldview, where the physical world is “here” and the spirit world is “out there somewhere.” Therefore, to many Christians it is critical to appreciate that of course people don’t resurrect, but Jesus himself did. For many (the majority, I would say), that is entirely the point of Christianity. God stepped in to his creation and intervened in the normal order of things. He made an exception. And the resurrection was that exception. To argue that people don’t resurrect and therefore neither did Jesus is to fail to appreciate the nuances of what that belief of theirs means in the context of their own worldview.

    I would agree that Christianity is collapsing, but not because of this relatively innocuous truth claim. I would suggest that its overemphasis on guilt and sin is much more damaging, as well as the fact that it’s become hyper-intellectualized in academia and under-spiritualized in general. It would definitely benefit from a fresh injection of mysticism.

    1. Hi Walt. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, and for questioning this. Yes, to many Christians, people don’t resurrect, but Jesus did. My suggestion is that the traditional understanding of this resurrection needs to be reinterpreted. This reinterpretation is not based solely on the observation that people don’t resurrect, but that literal interpretations like this which contravene nature are in conflict with everything we know about nature as well as the mystical nature of God which we can directly come to experience and know.

      Through millennia of traditions and interpretation and culture shifts and a transition to taking spiritual concepts literally, what many Christians think they know about resurrection today I perceive to be inaccurate. It’s not literally true. And I believe part of that inaccuracy is that God does not act through unnatural means. I perceive that God doesn’t break nature, but rather is at-one with nature, in perfect harmony with it, even identifying with that creation, incarnating as that creation. The Creation itself is a manifestation of God. Nature is not a bad thing that must be wrangled to God’s will, but is God’s very being that is manifesting in the world. So to say that God stepped in and intervened to change the natural order of things I think is dualistic and problematic. I think it may be a deep misunderstanding of God. It seems to make God into a kind of magician, who changes the way reality works in supernatural ways, and who pits “Himself” against nature, as an antagonist to nature. God becomes the adversary.

      For many people today it seems such literal bodily resurrection is just not credible. Today we have a good understanding of the laws of physics, we know how corpses decompose and return to the dust of the Earth, we know that they do not rise again in the very same body and personality. Nature doesn’t seem to work that way. And so affirming something like a literal bodily resurrection seems to them just too incredible. It goes against everything we know, is contrary to all our science, all our discoveries about biology and the human body and nature. It simply doesn’t work. And so many people are asking themselves if the literal interpretation is not true, then what is true? Many perhaps fall away from religion and spirituality entirely because of issues like this. And I don’t think this is a relatively innocuous truth claim. For many the resurrection seems to be the cornerstone upon which all of Christianity rests. If we have that wrong, then the rest crumbles. And I think we are currently seeing it crumble.

      I’m not necessarily trying to convince those Christians who have a deep faith in the literal bodily resurrection of Jesus. As Jesus said, I have not come to heal those who are well, but those who are sick, not to those who think they can see, but to those who are blind. I am speaking more to those who doubt it, who are on the margins or who have left Christianity, who can’t see how it could possibly be true, who think there must be something more to it than what we have traditionally been taught. And I think there is more to it. I think it is found in a deeper experiential spirituality, in mystical consciousness, in that direct experiential unitive knowledge of oneness in God, in a transformation of consciousness (metanoia) in which one identifies with the Life of the cosmos itself, as One in God/Reality. And when one so experiences their Self as One in and with the cosmos, then one knows that all the Life and Creation that is continually springing into being is that same Christ that is living in them. Christ is actually resurrected in them while they live, as in Paul (Gal. 2:20; Col. 3:1), as they come to identify with Life and Being and the Cosmos itself, in this radical infinite Love which includes all things in it. We come to realize that Jesus was a human being just like us, who realized his divinity just like we can. We can realize we are One with our Source, and in that realization come to live Life fully as an incarnation or manifestation of God, of Reality, of our Source, at-one with all of Life in Love.

      Yes, I think the focus on guilt and sin is also problematic, which are other concepts which need fresh reinterpretation.

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