Is it possible for people, and even for a whole society, to lose faith in God? ... [If] it happens, [it is] not primarily because something they used to think existed does not after all exist, but because the available language about God has been allowed to become too narrow, stale and spiritually obsolete ... the work of creative religious personalities is continually to enrich, to enlarge and sometimes to purge the available stock of religious symbols and idioms ... (The Sea of Faith, 1984)



... people of different periods and cultures differ very widely; in some cases so widely that accounts of the nature and relations of God, men and the world put forward in one culture may be unacceptable, as they stand, in a different culture ... a situation of this sort has arisen ... at about the end of the eighteenth century a cultural revolution of such proportions broke out that it separates our age sharply from all ages that went before (The Use and Abuse of the Bible, 1976)

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The Final Solution

Jeremiah 31.4   Once again I will rebuild you. Once again you will take up your tambourines and dance joyfully. Once again you will plant vineyards on the hills of Samaria.

It's a natural human tendency to look for final solutions. We all do it. Sometimes whole nations choose a final solution through a particular political philosophy or the person of a national "saviour". Final solutions take many forms. But they have one thing in common - they are responses to difficult life questions and situations. 

As a cub reporter I recall being sent out to the scene of an accident. The dismembered corpse of a man lay scattered beneath of the wheels of a train. The sight was a considerable shock to my young sensibilities. It brought home to me the absolutely certain end awaiting us all. It also raised for me one of those large questions requiring a final solution. Why do I have to die? Why does anyone have to die?

The traditional final solution of Christians to this question is to propose that death has been defeated through the physical resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

And yet, I know in my bones that the death I saw on the railway line is final in terms of my experience. One of the great discoveries of our times concerns the nature of the physical world. God's creation does not allow resurrection of a dead human. Or if it does then all our scientific disciplines are ultimately nonsensical. The physical world simply does not work that way.

Physical death is sad, especially if it's premature. That can't be denied. On Good Friday, accompanied by millions the world over, we mourn the early death of Jesus, our pioneer in the faith. Yet death is natural, normal and ultimately inevitable for us all. It's part of God's creation. Death is not the consequence of a primal sin committed by Adam and Eve. It's the way God designed things. Dare I say that a timely death is good?

One of several great crises facing Christians today is the suggestion that the physical resurrection of Jesus must perforce be abandoned because it can longer be acknowledged as something which "really happened". This controversy will continue for a long time to come.

Yet many ask (myself among them) what essential difference it makes if Jesus did or didn't rise from the dead in the dim and distant past? How can such an event affect us? We look for a difference to our lives here and now. A resurrection two thousand years ago doesn't prevent the death every year of millions of children, for example. It makes not a bit of difference to the corpse under the train.

There are many kinds of death. There is emotional death brought about by intolerable stress. Relationships crack, break and die. What is more difficult to accept isn't death but despair - the mental and emotional conclusion that life isn't worth living. Many of us have known someone who has reached this end, and have perhaps experienced the puzzlement, exasperation and eventual horror of those who have failed to help. 

Why the dismay? 

Surely because we all know in our heart of hearts that resurrection is a natural and normal fact of life. The astounding truth is that new life comes to all who choose it. Paul affirmed this, the central message of Jesus, when he wrote, 

For I am certain that nothing can separate us from his love: neither death nor life, neither angels nor other heavenly rulers or powers, neither the present nor the future" (Romans 8.38). 

Since then countless others have affirmed the same truth, each in his or her own way.

In other words, Easter is concerned with resurrection as a fact of life in the here-and-now. We all have the free gift of resurrection from the various kinds of potential death which life brings. Individuals, organisations, whole communities and entire nations can rise again from destruction. Resurrection is a natural gift available to all who will have it.

So the final solution announced at Easter is one which works because it is a natural gift available to all. We celebrate Easter as the greatest day of the year not because a belief-stretching miracle may or may not have happened two thousand years ago, but because we have experienced and can witness to resurrection in ourselves and others.

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