This was published in the 12 April issue of the Canadian periodical Christian Courier:
In our society it is not difficult for people to believe in the immortality of the human soul. Even where Christian faith is not necessarily robust, public opinion polls persistently show a majority of North Americans in some fashion to believe in God and in life after death. Following a death in the family people will often claim to believe that their departed loved one is “somewhere else” and possibly looking down on them from on high. But it’s all quite vague and amorphous.
It takes no great effort to believe this. Plato famously believed in reincarnation, as does Hinduism and the varieties of post-modern spiritual experience grouped under the New Age label. Moreover, it seems to take little work on God’s part for a soul to drift off into the ether after the demise of the body.
Even some Christians believe that our ultimate destiny is in an incorporeal state with God in heaven. I recall a funeral in my youth in which the presiding minister conspicuously omitted any reference to resurrection, focussing solely on soul survival at the expense of the clear teachings of Scripture (e.g., I Corinthians 15).
Why the reluctance to put the resurrection in the spotlight? Because it is quite simply more difficult for people to accept. The Athenians laughed at Paul when he mentioned it (Acts 17:32). Many scientists today scoff at the notion that dead cells can be revivified. If our ultimate hope is in God intervening actively at some point in the indefinite future, raising every human being who has ever lived, and inaugurating the new heaven and earth, this requires more of us than a belief in immortality, which leaves the present world, including human remains, untouched.
During the Easter season we celebrate the resurrection from the dead of Jesus Christ, “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (I Cor. 15:20). Not everyone can accept this, even among those who name Christ’s name. Theologian Rudolf Bultmann famously argued that the crucifixion and the resurrection were one event, the latter consisting of the rising of faith in the early church and not literally of a dead person.
Yet Paul himself had anticipated this argument: “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. . . . And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost” (I Cor. 15:13-14, 17-18).
But, no, we are not lost. We have God’s promise that, as surely as Jesus was raised from the dead, so shall we be raised in his good time to eternal life. It may happen tomorrow. It may happen a thousand years from now. But it will happen. Thanks be to God, who has saved us through his risen Son!