The Conclusions of Unbelief

If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all. [1Cor 15:19][1]  This, to me, is the saddest verse in the entire Bible.  And the most devastating

If Christ has not been raised,

  • then empty [too] is our preaching;
  • empty, too, your faith.
  • Then we are also false witnesses to God, because we testified against God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if in fact the dead are not raised.
  • Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.
  • your faith is vain;
  • you are still in your sins. [1Cor 15:14-18]

All that is terribly logical.  And we are left with only logical conclusions, the most prevalent of which is “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you die.” [Is 22:13; Eccl 8:15; Lk 12:19]

The thing that always bothered me about this passage is that Paul turns it around and argues, not from the starting point of Christ, but from the starting point of the dead: If there is no resurrection of the dead, then neither has Christ been raised. [1Cor 15:13,16]  Note that he repeats himself, so his word order is not by accident.

If there is no resurrection of the dead, there would have been no reason for Christ to be raised. There would have been no reason for Him to suffer and die.  Indeed, there would have ultimately been no reason for Him to be incarnated, to become man.  It might have been better if He had just remained in heaven as the Son of God.  There He lives eternally.  No fuss, no muss, no involvement, no contact, no regrets, no love.

But look around. This is a creation that shouts: “I love you!”  This is a Creator who brings us flowers, who lavishes upon us all sorts of food, who nurtures us and comforts us with warm sunshine, cool breezes, lapping waves and twinkling stars.  This is a Creator who trusts us with the most dangerous, most exciting, best gifts ever: our minds, that we might know Him, and our free wills, that we might choose to love Him.

This is a God, we are told, from the first moment of our creation, loved and cared for us, giving us all creation for which to care and paradise within which to live.  He gave us the Tree of Life to sustain us.  He walked with us in the cool of the evening in the Garden.  All He asked is that we not eat of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Even when we disobeyed, He dealt justly but mercifully with us, not condemning us to eternal death or punishment but having us work out our punishment over the course of our lives, giving us another chance to respond to His love.  Even Cain, though he kills his brother, he allows to live.

And so it was down the ages.  Saving Noah and his family and making a covenant with them.  Calling Abraham, granting him a son, testing him and rewarding his faith with a promise to his family would become God’s people.  Sending Joseph into slavery that he might save Egypt and his own family and father.  Hearing his people’s cry and raising up Moses to lead them from slavery to freedom and their own new land.  Caring for his people with mighty Judges, with Saul, David and his royal line, with prophets who called the people back from sin and idoltry.

Then, in the fullness of time, God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.[Jn 3:16-17] Jesus had eternal life.  God has eternal life.  It is not for Himself nor His only Son that God sent Jesus into this world to pitch His tent among us…but that we who know Him, who love Him, who follow Him might not be dead forever, but might have eternal life.

God loves the world so much that, far from condemning it, He infused His own Son, Life itself, creation Personified, into the world to save it through Him.

How often does Love have to tell us: Why do you look for the living among the dead? We are the living, even though we die.  Death is but a door to a different and eternal Life.  Resurrection was not for Jesus alone…He is but the first, the proof of God’s love, the guarantee that we have much to which to look forward, a foreverness with the One who loves us more than we love ourselves.

Our daily problems and worries can wrap us up in ourselves, in sadness and bitterness … and that is where death is. That is not the place to look for the One who is alive! [Pope Francis I, Easter Homily, 2014]

But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead came also through a human being. For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life, but each one in proper order: Christ the first fruits; then, at his coming, those who belong to Christ; then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to his God and Father, when he has destroyed every sovereignty and every authority and power.[1 Cor 15: 20-24]

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

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