Columnists > Soul Food

Best-case scenario

Wake up and smell the redemption: Christ's resurrection makes all the difference

Issue: "Bosnian relief," March 30, 1996

Have you played the "worst-case scenario" mind game? It's best played during a sleepless night by a pessimistic personality but can be played anytime by anyone. It begins with a "What if?" question that soon becomes the father of a multitude of frightening thoughts. It goes like this: You awake in the middle of the night and wonder, "Did I leave the dome light on in the car? If I did, the car won't start in the morning. It the car won't start, I'll be late for work. If I'm late, the boss will see how expendable I am. If I'm laid off, I'll lose my salary, pension, and insurance. If I don't have a salary, I won't be able to provide my family with shelter, food, or clothing. If I lose my insurance, I'll probably get sick. If I get sick, I might die. But then again, I might live. And, if I live, I'll be destitute." From dome light to doom. How do you end the game of worst-case scenario? You either go outside and check the light, or you use the word "but" followed by a fact combined with faith. "But I distinctly remember turning off the dome light. All those terrible things aren't going to happen." In 1 Corinthians 15, the greatest of Christian optimists, the apostle Paul, lets his mind run with the thought, "What if there is no resurrection?" If there is no resurrection, then Christ is dead (v. 13). If Christ is dead, the Christian message is a useless lie, proclaiming false facts and unreal realities (v. 14-15). If Christ is dead, then Christian faith is futile, devoid of content and power (v. 14, 17). You might as well believe in the Easter Bunny. If Christ is dead, we are still in our sins. A Savior conquered by death can't deliver you from condemnation or set you free from sin's controlling power (v. 17). If Christ is dead, then those who died believing in Christ are lost (v. 18). They have gone out into nothingness (at best) or judgment (at worst). If Christ is dead, then believers in him now should be pitied the way we pity the incurable cancer patient who says, "I believe I'm going to beat this thing," only more-for more is at stake (v. 19). On Good Friday, 1987, a theologian was asked by The Washington Post, "What if Christ didn't rise?" and she replied, "If the bones of Jesus Christ were found tomorrow, it would make no great difference to me. I would go on going to church as would the majority of Christians." For her the important thing is not what happens to the body of Jesus, but what happened to the spirits of the apostles. But not for Paul. For Paul, if Christ has not been raised, you are having your worst nightmare, but you can't wake up because the dreaded dream is reality. How do you wake up? Like this: "But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead." That is a fact of history and revelation, attested by many witnesses who saw convincing proofs recorded in apostolic writings (vs. 1-8). It is the fact that changes history, personal and cosmic. It changes your future by answering Job's question, "If a man dies will he live again?" with a resounding, "Yes!" Christ is the firstfruits, and in time your body will be part of the great harvest of resurrection (vs. 20-23, 35-54). You will be what God created you to be and what Christ redeemed you to be: body and soul in union with God, beyond the touch of death and sharing in Christ's glory. It changes the universe's future because Christ will continue to rule until he has brought everything, including death, into submission to himself, at which point heaven and earth will become one, and the will of God will be done as perfectly on earth as it is now in heaven (24-28). After the Russian Revolution of 1917, apostles of atheism and materialism were sent into towns to convert the deluded. Local priests were no match for their scientific knowledge or rhetorical skills. But in one place the communist evangelist met his match when the priest used his opportunity to speak by repeating the liturgy for Easter Day. "The Lord is risen!" he shouted. The people responded, "He is risen indeed!" That day they confessed their faith in the fact that makes all the difference. Because Christ lives, you can die in triumphant expectation (vs. 55-57) and live with triumphant determination (v. 58). It's the best-case scenario.

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William H. Smith
William H. Smith


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