The Doc File

The online journal of Luke Dockery

Tag: Resurrection

The Full Tomb

Christianity is, fundamentally, about an empty tomb. Following His crucifixion, Jesus was raised from the dead, and as I have written before, this changes everything. This is the central feature of the Christian faith, and the veracity of any of Christianity’s claims depend upon this, first. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 that if Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead, then our faith is worthless.

Having said all of that, I think we are sometimes so quick to emphasize the empty tomb that we fail to truly appreciate that there was a time—even if it was a relatively brief time—when the tomb wasn’t empty. It was occupied. It contained the beaten, battered body of Jesus, and the shattered hopes and dreams of His followers.

We like to rush from the crucifixion to the resurrection, and I guess that makes sense, because the in-between time wasn’t easy. For those who had left all they had to follow Jesus, a Jesus in the tomb meant that they had backed the wrong horse; they had gambled everything and lost. The One who they thought was the long-awaited Messiah was just another in a long line of failures.

We live in an in-between time, too, and it isn’t easy, either.

The resurrection of Jesus is the first-fruits of our own, and points ahead to a time when sin, Satan, and death will be defeated, and every tear will be wiped from our eyes. But in the present, many of us mourn beside tombs that are as full as the tomb of Jesus was prior to His vacating it. Many of us stumble through our days, staggering under the weight of shattered hopes and dreams.

Just as Sunday came for the disciples of Jesus, and Jesus Himself was vindicated as the risen Savior when it did, so, we, too, await the coming of a Someday when our faith will become sight, and all of God’s faithful will rise as Jesus did.

But until then, it is worth reflecting on the fact that there are many full tombs, that evil maintains a foothold in our world, and that we weep with those who weep.

Resurrection is coming, but you have to wade through the in-between time first.

If This Is All There Is: An Easter Reflection on Hopeful Courage

After describing the resurrection as “of first importance” in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul goes on to get even more specific:

 “…If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain, your faith also is vain…if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins…if we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.”

(1 Corinthians 15.14,17,19)

I once had a very well-meaning Sunday school teacher who said something to the effect that if it turns out that Christianity is not true, there is still no better way to live. His basic point, I think, was that a life characterized by Christian virtue, service, and sacrifice is a worthwhile way to spend our time on earth, even if we are ultimately incorrect about everything we claim and there is no eternity in view afterwards. I appreciate the sentiment, but I disagree, and the reason I disagree is that in light of Paul’s words above, I am pretty sure he would disagree.

If Jesus was not raised and this is all there is, Paul wouldn’t say, “Oh well, we were mistaken, but there’s no better way that we could have lived.” Instead, he would say that life was all a tragic joke, and that Christians were the butt of it. Of all people, we are most to be pitied.

This, I think, is cause for reflection: what if this is all there is?

If this is all there is, my career is a waste of time. I am nothing more than a delusional mentor to young people, feeding them false information and false hope, encouraging them to grow up to be as deluded as I am.

If this is all there is, I am foolish for staying in such a meaningless career that doesn’t compensate me nearly as well as countless others would.

If this is all there is, efforts at self-denial make no sense. Why should I deny myself anything? I have a limited time of existence, and I need to make the most of it by doing what I want, for as long as I can, as often as I can.

If this is all there is, then my beautiful daughter’s diseased and disabled life is the random byproduct of cosmic chance. There is no meaning, and no hope for something better in the future.

If this is all there is, any notion of turning the other cheek or loving my enemies is dangerous nonsense that should be disregarded immediately. Love those who would do me harm? Not retaliate when I am attacked? These are not natural responses, and they are not generally beneficial to me.

If this is all there is, why should I forgive? Oh sure, there are people who are an important part of my life who I want to be on good terms with and sometimes forgiveness is necessary to keep the peace and make life more pleasant. But a lot of times it is easier to write people off and forget about them than to forgive them.

If this is all there is, why spend so much time and effort in how I interact with people? Why be so careful about what I say and how I say it on social media? Why be careful about the way I act when I drive? Why be careful about the way I respond to people with whom I disagree?

If this is all there is, why the sleepless nights of concern over my students and the decisions they make, or over problems at church?

If this is all there is, I am giving up a lot of good opportunities for sleep on Sunday mornings.

If this is all there is, why spend my life doing anything but those things that make me happy, or bring me some level of satisfaction, or enforce my standards and values upon the world?

But.

I do not believe this is all there is.

Because the tomb was empty.

That gives me hope that there is more to the Story than the Broken Now, and that hope gives me the courage to continue to live in a way that makes no sense if this is all there is.

When God Shows Up: The Delightful Surprise of Job

The Book of Job is one of my favorites in the Bible, and Elihu is one of my favorite characters within the book. I have written on Elihu at length, but here, I just want to focus on Elihu’s role in what I like to think of as the “delightful surprise” of Job.

For a little bit of context to those who are not intimately familiar with the structure of Job, it goes something like this:

  • Prologue (Job 1-2): We are introduced to Job, learn of the wager between God and Satan, and watch as Job is dealt one devastating blow after another.
  • Dialogue Between Job and Friends (Job 3-28): Job laments his condition and three of his friends offer their thoughts, ultimately making things worse.*
  • Job’s Closing Monologue (Job 29-31): Job presents his summary defense and, maintaining his innocence, longs for an audience with God.
  • Elihu’s Speeches (Job 32-37): Young Elihu enters the scene, corrects Job’s friends, and foreshadows the appearance of God.
  • God’s Speeches (Job 38-42.8): God appears and addresses Job (with Job’s brief responses).
  • Epilogue (Job 42.9-17): The story of Job is resolved and his fortunes are restored.

I have argued that the primary purpose that Elihu serves is that he seeks to take Job’s focus off of his own troubles and turn his thinking to God instead. He concludes his speeches in Job 37 with repeated reference to the majesty of God, as illustrated by the power seen in thunder, storms, lightning, and other aspects of God’s creation. Elihu concludes his thoughts on God’s majesty and indeed, his speeches, by basically telling Job (cf. Job 37.23): “God is beyond us. We cannot understand Him and He owes us no explanation…don’t expect Him to show up!” From a literary perspective, this is part of the masterpiece of Job and the deep irony of Elihu: simultaneously, his talk of God’s majesty prepare us for a God who appears out of a whirlwind while his concluding statement tells us not to expect any appearance at all!

Elihu disappears from the scene and then, the surprising and incredible thing happens. Contrary to Elihu’s expectations, and Job’s expectations, and the reader’s expectations, the God of majesty who shows His power in the wonder of creation, the God who is beyond us…shows up! 

When He does, he doesn’t give Job what he wants—He doesn’t give an explanation for why Job has suffered and why so many terrible things have happened to him. In this way, God’s response confirms what Elihu was saying: God is beyond Job, and doesn’t owe him an explanation for everything. But even better than God’s explanation is His presence! He appears before Job, and that response of presence is better than any explanation. It is enough for Job to continue on in faith, despite what he has experienced.

Reading Scripture from a Christological perspective, I think this appearance of God foreshadows His ultimate appearance in the incarnation: Jesus comes and lives as a man, dies a cruel death, and is then raised from the dead. Ultimately, Jesus does all of this not to answer all of our questions, but to show that He is truly with us. 

Better than God’s explanation is His presence:

  • In the incarnation, He is present with us in our very nature.
  • In the crucifixion, He is present with us in the experience of suffering.
  • In the resurrection, He gifts us the hope of His eternal presence.

And rather than explanation, it is God’s presence, seen through Jesus Christ, that gives us comfort even when life deals us inexplicable hardship and suffering!

*Many scholars would break this down further and some would remove Job 28 as a separate poem to wisdom. That level of specificity is beyond my purposes here.

Image Credit: Sean Heavey

A Titanic Joke

There has been a big uproar over the last few days about an upcoming documentary by filmmaker James Cameron which airs on the Discovery Channel this Sunday night and chronicles the discovery of the supposed tomb of Jesus of Nazareth.
Cameron is famous for directing the highest-grossing film of all time, Titanic, which told the story of a big boat that sunk after a collision with an iceberg tore a gaping hole in it.

His new film, The Lost Tomb of Jesus, is somewhat similar, but this time, it’s Cameron’s unfounded theory that’s filled with holes.
Self-billed as the “Archaeological Discovery of the Millennium,” the documentary focuses on the 1980 discovery of a tomb in the Talpiot neighborhood of Jerusalem. This tomb contained ten ossuaries, which are basically limestone boxes that contain skeletal remains. Six of the ten ossuaries are inscribed with significant New Testament names, and according to the documentary, this supposedly proves it to be the family tomb of the Jesus of the New Testament.
I’m not really interested in going into great detail debunking the Cameron crew’s ridiculous claims in The Lost Tomb; that has already been done by people who are much more knowledgeable than I am, and there will be even more debunking after the documentary appears on TV.
I do, however, want to make a few quick observations that I’ve had about the Talpiot Tomb issue:

1. The “evidence” supporting Cameron’s claim is laughable.

Once again, I don’t want to go into great detail on this, but here is an example of the type of scientific reasoning used to back this theory:
One of the ossuaries has the name “Matthew” on it. The problem with this is that we don’t know of any person related to Jesus named Matthew. Rather than come to the explanation that a Matthew has no place in the family tomb of Jesus of Nazareth, and maybe this tomb belongs to some other Jesus, the Cameron bunch instead use this as evidence that the tomb must be authentic, because after all, Jesus of Nazareth did know a guy named Matthew! That must prove it!
Similarly, one of the boxes has a variation of the name “Mary” on it. DNA evidence has shown that this person was not related to the person in the “Jesus” ossuary. So what conclusion does the documentary make? This “Mary” must be Mary Magdalene, who we now plainly see must have been Jesus’ wife! Nevermind the fact that, outside of fictional novels, there is no evidence that Jesus was ever married!
According to the circular logic of the Lost Tomb theorists, the presence of an unrelated Mary in the tomb proves that she is the wife of Jesus, and the fact that the now-proven wife of Jesus is found in the tomb proves that it really is the authentic tomb.
Don’t worry; it’s not just you. It really doesn’t make any sense.

2. This is too big to just ignore.

The implications of the “discovery” are massive: if the skeletal remains of the Jesus of the New Testament were to be found, it would show the Resurrection to be a sham. And as the Apostle Paul pointed out, if Christ was not raised from the dead, then our faith (and, consequently, Christianity) is worthless.

I’ve heard some people say that this isn’t really an issue, because people who really believe aren’t going to be shaken by such pseudo-science and will reject the claims, while people who don’t believe are just going to use it as another reason for why they don’t.

I agree, but what about people who haven’t made up their minds yet? There are undoubtedly some people who won’t give Christianity an honest hearing because they have been turned off by “scientific proof.” I mean, just look at the repercussions of The DaVinci Code—and it even claimed to be a work of fiction!
As Christians, we can’t just completely ignore this. Just because we recognize it as foolishness, doesn’t mean that other well-meaning people won’t be deceived by it.
3. James Cameron’s ability to annoy me has reached new heights.

I accounted for about $7.50 of the $600,000,000+ that Titanic roped in, and honestly, I didn’t regret it at the time. Sure, the first half of the movie was painful, dominated by a cheesy love story, and yes, I did cheer when the Leonardo DiCaprio character finally froze to death, but the whole sinking ship part was pretty cool.

Of course, then the movie received a bazillion awards, James Cameron was all over TV being full of himself, Earth’s female population under the age of 16 became Leonardo-obsessed, and I got really tired of the movie.
But none of that compares to my annoyance with the man now.
See, if James Cameron was actually seeking truth, or even if he hated Christianity and really wanted to disprove it somehow, I could accept him making the documentary. I still wouldn’t like it, but I could accept his motives.
But I don’t think he’s doing it for either of those reasons; it’s all about recognition and money. If it wasn’t, he wouldn’t be releasing a Resurrection-denying documentary in the middle of Lent, a month before Easter.
And we would be hearing more about the actual archaeologists who worked on the project rather than just the man who made the movie about them.
Making a documentary that denies the Resurrection and unleashing Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On on an unsuspecting world. Yep, this guy is going to have a lot to answer for.

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