In the first Provocative Resurrection post, I looked at how the resurrection happened, is real; the resurrection cannot just be a metaphor for ‘things working out’, but has to be an actual, real thing. And how Jesus’ first apprentices didn’t get it, and how we really can’t blame them. Who would get it?
Something more, something much more. Because Jesus wasn’t resuscitated, he was resurrected; he wasn’t just raised to life, but raised to new life. Because this Jesus who was very dead and then very alive wasn’t a normal human, but was God. So in a way, God was alive. Then God was dead. Then God was alive.
During Comic Relief this year there was an amazing telly programme called Comic Relief: Famous, Rich and in the . Basically some people off the telly lived for a few days in the Kibera slum in Kenya, one of the worst places to live that humans have created and made their kind live in. This programme showed us what it is like to intentionally live somewhere you do not need to. For a few days. Jesus’ life shows us that it is in God’s character to do the same. Forever. The incarnation is what we call that, that God came to live among us. The resurrection takes the incarnation one step further.
Like the celebrities, God wanted to change the environment, to change the way people lived. Unlike Lenny Henry, who was able to make a huge difference to one family at little real personal cost, God took that filth and rubbish upon himself, at great personal cost; and yet it did not overcome him, he overcame it. He made possible real change. The provocative resurrection shows us that God steps into the crap we make ourselves live in and is able to transform it.
But isn’t that just a metaphor, a spiritualisation? Does the resurrection mean anything real for people in suffering? Yes. Because it shows us that this world matters. That we do not seek to avoid this world and its pains in order to escape to the next. The resurrection happened here, the new life happened here. Here matters. Matter matters.
But. People suffer. We suffer. We think of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. And countless other things. Can anything real and meaningful be said of God in the midst of that sort of disaster. Nick Baines wrote this:
Christian hope is not derived from a fantasy of personal happiness or security, but rooted in the person of a God who doesn’t spare himself and drives the people who bear his name (and have been grasped by him) away from their own securities and into places of vulnerability. We are not called into the light, but to shed light in the dark places: the distinction matters.
The question of suffering is a big one. But as Nick later writes, we have no right to be spared cancer or hurricane. In our culture we do all we can to eradicate pain and suffering, desperate to control our lives and all influences on them; if we do not choose it, we think it is bad. If things go wrong, God must be absent.
God is not absent. Christians are not called to retreat from pain. God has not given up on this world. The cross is placed right in the middle of the pain of the world, geographically and spiritually. The resurrection challenges and provokes us not to spiritualise our faith, but to earth it; not to make it all about ‘up there’ and avoid the ‘down here’. God came here, chose here, lived here, died here and rose again here.
We must be a part of bringing that resurrection life to people here, both spiritually as people come to know the resurrected Jesus for themselves, and practically in an Isaiah 58 kind of way, as we serve those in the world who live in places desperate for light, any light.
The resurrection is true. The resurrection speaks hope into a world that often seems hopeless. And whilst there is no easy answer to the question of suffering, the question is a lot different when asked to the God of incarnation and resurrection.