Read an Excerpt
He Is the Living One
It makes a big difference whether we think someone is dead or alive.To the person in either of those conditions it probably makes an even bigger difference.But it certainly also matters to anyone interested in that person.
When someone is dead, even someone we knew alive, we may be able to learn more about him or her as time goes by If the person was famous, accomplishments or words will continue to circulate.Diligent research might uncover proof of actual deeds and words, and we can also discover how these were perceived and interpreted by those who survive.But the only way we will hear from the actual person again is if some previously undiscovered deed or unpublished word is made public.And even. then, we say, "I didn't know she thought that back then.How interesting." We hear about it now, but the information is about someone no longer here: an echo from the past, not a hew word in the present.
When we think someone is alive, we have a completely different set of expectations.People who are alive are still capable of doing new things and saying new things.They can change their minds.They can show up in different places. from the ones they used to inhabit,.They can surprise us.They can appear on our doorstep, contact us in the middle of a family celebration, arrive at our bedside when we are sick.Even if we are separated from a living person for a long period of time, or circumstances keep us far apart, we are able to say, "She is my friend," or "He is my brother," in a way different not only in tone but also in meaning from the way we say, "She was my mother," or "He was my teacher," aboutsomeone who has died.
When someone is still living and we are in relationship with that person, our knowledge of the person is more multiform than in the case of someone dead.In addition to the documentary record and the memories of others--data available to us about all people, living and dead--new data is still coming in.It is possible to address a living person and ask, "What did you mean by that?" or "Do you still think that?" and expect an answer.In the presence of this person, furthermore, we can observe how she acts with others.Even more important, we can experience how she acts toward and with us.As a result of this continued contact, knowledge of the living person grows and changes.The process of learning is therefore much more complicated.
The dead, on the other hand, stay still.Their deeds are ended, their words are complete; their power--however impressive it may once have been-is gone.Others have quite literally taken their place, walking over the spot where they lie buried.They neither move nor complain.An adequate historical reconstruction of the dead is therefore a goal realizable at least in principle, although--depending on the information available for analysis--often extraordinarily difficult to achieve.We know how frequently historical perspectives even on the recent dead change in response to new information and changing criteria for evaluation.But ideally at least, historians can hope to fix an account of a person truly dead, finally in the past.
The most important question concerning Jesus, then, is simply this:
Do we think he is dead or alive?
If Jesus is simply dead, there are any number of ways in which we can relate ourselves to his life and his accomplishments.And we might even, if some obscure bit of data should turn up, hope to learn more about him.But we cannot reasonably expect to learn more from him.
If he is alive, however, everything changes.It is no longer a matter of our questioning a historical record, but a matter of our being put in question by one who has broken every rule of ordinary human existence.If Jesus lives, then it must be as life-giver.Jesus is not simply a figure of the past in that case, but a person in the present; not merely a memory that we can analyze and manipulate, but an agent who can confront and instruct us. What we learn about him must therefore include what we continue to learn from him.
To be a Christian means to assert that Jesus is alive, is indeed life--giving Spirit (1 Cor. 15:45).To consider Jesus simply as a figure of the past means to consider Jesus not from the perspective of a Christian but from that of one who stands outside Christian conviction.The Christian prays, "Come, Lord Jesus". (Rev. 22:20; see 1 Cor. 16:22), intending thereby to address a real and living person capable of manifesting his presence still more palpably Such a prayer is nonsensical to one who is not a Christian, for it is fantasy to address the dead as though still alive.It is either make-believe or necromancy to summon from a grave one who died two thousand years ago.
This seems to be one of those very few choices that allow no equivocation.There is no middle ground between dead and alive. if Jesus is dead, then his story is completed.If he is alive, then his story continues.
The decision whether to consider Jesus dead or alive ought to have consequences for how we regard his story.If his story continues after his death, then paying attention only to what he did before his death is at best inadequate, at worst fundamentally distorting.For if Jesus is alive, then he is alive not simply as a continuation of his former existence (as a wraith or poltergeist might be) but as the one who has entered into God's own life and who rules creation as its Lord.
To be a Christian, then, means confessing that Jesus is alive in the sense of that ancient declaration, "Jesus is Lord" (1 Cor. 12:3; Rom. 10:9; Phil. 2:11).