You are on page 1of 17

Studia Theologica 55 (2001), pp.

129 144

The Resurrection and the Incarnation Myths, Facts or What?


Stefan Eriksson

In recent years there has been a growing interest in philosophy. A lot of people, however, seem as concerned with philosophy itself as with its subject matter. They may nd the lives of philosophers intriguing or else they focus on the more comprehensive question of what philosophy is and should be. For my part, the latter question has always seemed important in its own right, and my writings have discussed how religion may be understood by philosophers. What a philosophical analysis really is and what it should and can accomplish have been key questions. To this end, I shall discuss two problems relevant to the philosophy of religion, namely how we are to understand the Resurrection and the Incarnation. Naturally these are theological doctrines but they are also religious realities or experiences which are expressed in religious statements, prayers, hymns, and acts. Now I do not wish to choose sides in e.g. the christological disputes. Rather, I would like to pose a philosophical question: what signi cance can expressions of the reality of Incarnation and Resurrection have today? It would be preposterous to think that one could give new answers to ancient and controversial religious matters. The challenge is to try and make clear how the formation of Christian concepts and a philosophical interpretation of this very process is possible. My approach is critical in the sense that it does not assume that these religious conceptions are intelligible or that philosophical accounts of them necessarily fare any better in that respect.

To Understand the Resurrection and the Incarnation


Let us start with the Resurrection. There has been an international debate about how to comprehend the Resurrection and about the criteria for a real resurrection . The ensuing discussion of the Resurrection

130

Stefan Eriksson

produced in me a sense of philosophical bewilderment. It was like entering a familiar room: although all the usual things are there, one has the feeling that something somehow is different. It can be the same with words. Someone speaks, using common words, but somehow uses these words differently. I therefore decided to try to understand how those philosophers talk about resurrection and how it differs from ways more familiar to me.1 It soon become apparent that the participants agreed that talk of the Resurrection is meaningless unless the resurrection happened in a physical and literal manner. The answer to whether this actually took place is to be found in historical evidence and nothing else. These philosophers think that there is a literal meaning to `the Resurrection of Jesus and that this literal meaning refers to a physical process which is amenable to historical investigation. But isnt the Resurrection an unique event which we know nothing about apart from the Resurrection of Jesus? So, what does `resurrection actually mean? Confronted with this dif culty most participants just af rmed that there is an unproblematic literal meaning to `resurrection which no one can be ignorant of. Norman Kretzmann, one of the participants, expressed this conviction thus: [What] I take to be the natural, ordinary interpretation of `Jesus rose from the dead, an interpretation that is also shared by most Christians, present and past: Jesus, after he died on the cross and was buried, left the tomb alive, on his own two feet .2 Upon reading this I did not feel uncertain about a certain object in the room . No, I reacted much more strongly. It was more like the poor fellow in Candid Camera, who went out for a wet night. After he fell asleep, his home was taken over by the television team. They actually turned the living room upside-down! The furniture was attached to the ceiling and the roof lamp was placed on the oor, pointing upwards. When the man woke up he walked into the room and looked around, before in panic grabbing the lamp in order not to fall up to the oor . Every single item in that room was utterly familiar to him, but nothing was in the right place. Such was my reaction upon reading how Kretzmann understood `resurrection. I understood every single word but the way they were pieced together made no sense at all. Why? Because the Resurrection of Jesus in the Christian religion, to the best of my knowledge, is a cosmic event which changes the relationship between God and man and between God and evil. In other words, there is a religious character to the Resurrection which disappears completely when one only speaks of its literal and physical meaning. In theological terms we may say that the Resurrection happens when our salvation becomes a possibility;3 when the holy lamb isnt left in the Kingdom of the dead4 but becomes the Lion of Judah,5

The Resurrection and the Incarnation

131

seated on the right hand of God Almighty; when the resurrected is the rstborn of many;6 and when the power of evil and sin is broken,7 etc. If this had not taken place Jesus might very well be walking around on his own two feet to this day, without a real resurrection having taken place. This is the only reasonable meaning one may give to `the Resurrection of Jesus. Since those things are not within the reach of history research there is something very peculiar about the idea that `the Resurrection of Jesus refers to a moment in history. It is no easier to understand the Incarnation. Recent research has shown that as far as people living in the Nordic region are concerned, about 50% do not believe that Jesus was both man and God.8 In my experience, these people often say something like this: Jesus was a good person who told the truth about man and life, but I cannot believe in this business of being the Son of God. I think this is a common dif culty. And while this state of affairs may be seen as a problem for the Church, I also think that it presents us with a philosophical dif culty. Why is this? Well, do people know what it is to be a God who became man and then rejects it? Is it not more likely that the person who does not believe in Jesus hardly can be said to give the expression `Jesus is God incarnated a determinate meaning which subsequently may be denied? What meaning could that be? But are Church people really better off? They learn phrases about God becoming man but it seems to me unclear to what uses they can put these expressions. Perhaps talk of the Incarnation today must be viewed as a metaphysical left-over or residue, an example of language which has lost its connection to ways of acting and attitudes which give it its meaning.

Christian Attempts to Explain


Theologians have of course wrestled with questions about the meaning of the Incarnation. Carl-Henric Grenholm talks at length about God becoming man in his book Vad skall kyrkan beka nna? (What should the Church profess?) It is obvious, however, that his discussion takes place inside a theological framework which so to speak has already accepted and presupposes the religious language in question. After acknowledging the trouble people have believing in the divinity of Jesus, Grenholm says: But contrary to this belief it is important to emphasize that we meet God in the human Jesus. In him the divine being itself has incarnated, has taken human form, and the Son is of the same being as the Father. Jesus was indeed a human being with the limitations which are

132

Stefan Eriksson

connected with human existence, but at the same time he was the Son of God, sent by God, and of the same being as him.9 I would have to admit to my ignorance in confessing that I am no further forward in understanding the Incarnation by reading this. Certainly a theological-historical study would explain the meaning of some of those terms, but Grenholms ideas must be seen in a much wider context: he writes for all interested in the Church of Sweden, a rather large circle of readers. However the expression take form certainly makes most people think of ghosts materializing, and when one reads of someone having a certain being it is hard to give this a de nitive signi cance, other than in expressions to the effect that people have a certain nature, as in N. N. really is an adventurer, hes one of a kind, thats just his nature I guess . To say that God sends his Son seems to imply that God is not coming himself but instead sends his representative, his son. Yet it seems to be the case that this expression is most commonly understood as to inform us that God was present in Jesus. The reader may now think that I am rambling on about things I do not understand but isnt that exactly the point? Is it possible to explain these things so that they may be comprehended just as you would elucidate how a complicated machine works or explain the workings of nature? This matter can hardly be explained by studying Church fathers or councils: their explanations would be as much in need of an elucidation as the Incarnation itself. gren, in the book Kristen Sometimes analogies are given. Per-Olof Sjo beka nnelse i dag (Christian Creed in our Times), tries to explain this matter with God becoming human with the help of the `mediator concept.10 Just as a mediator, in order to intervene effectively, must be well informed of the positions of both the parties involved in a dispute, Jesus must deeply understand both God and humanity in order to mediate between them. But isnt it the case that in order to describe something by way of an analogy, you must be clear about the thing being described in this way, otherwise you could not decide upon what gren know what the makes a good or illuminative analogy? How can Sjo Incarnation is, in order to know that the analogy ts? The answer is, of gren is doing Biblical theology. He just assumes right course, that Sjo from the start that the Incarnation is understandable, and that the task at hand is to systematize the pictures and concepts of the Bible in order to give the faithful a deeper understanding. I do not object to this. I just note that such explanations, which take place inside the inherited system of belief, do not help those who do not believe in the Incarnation or who have philosophical dif culties in trying to understand it.

The Resurrection and the Incarnation

133

But is my problem not perhaps merely a pseudo-problem? What would Kretzmann have said about the Incarnation? Is it not just a historical fact which we may understand literally? It is perhaps not something physical that a camera would have registered, but something metaphysical which we could have seen only if we had been equipped with the appropriate organs of perception. There are plenty of examples of such a conception. The Catholic Encyclopedia on the Internet has as its rst headline: The fact of the Incarnation .11 To quote Per-Olof gren again: [The Creator] takes his Sons task to mediate much more Sjo seriously. He makes him a human, born in a mysterious way without male assistance by virgin Mary, brought about by the Holy Spirit [But if he had] been Gods Son only, he could have been content with visiting earth more or less temporarily, giving people some instructions on how to live. 12 This is confusing. The emerging image is of an absent god (perhaps located in another dimension) who miraculously from this somewhere else sends his son to earth in order to be born as a human by a virgin. This image is con rmed by the creed book, Befrielsen (The Liberation), published by the Church of Sweden a few years back. When explaining the Incarnation the rst thing said is this: `Gods son is not only an image or a title of honor without content. He who was to be called Jesus was pre-existent as a person before he was born of Mary to live on earth. He was present already at the dawn of time. 13 This can be stated. But even if you disregard the question whether what is said is connected in any way to the spiritual realities towards which believers turn, you are likely to encounter two well-known problems by taking this route. 1) Historical problems. The support from the Bible is remarkably weak. The New Testament obviously talks about the divinity of Christ on the basis of a belief in the Resurrection. According to Paul, Jesus in some way became Gods Son by a declaration after the death and resurrection (see Romans 1:4). The most recent gospel, Mark, seems to identify the baptism of Jesus as the point in time when he became divine. This was later placed increasingly earlier in the history of Jesus. In Matthew and Luke this takes place at birth, while John even speaks of the word as something pre-existent and eternal. The exegetical lesson to be drawn is that the stories of Jesus birth are late inventions and therefore historically uncertain, to say the least. It is also common knowledge that the only title we can say with some certainty that Jesus himself wanted to be designated by, was the Son of Man (which leaves Messiah and Gods Son historically very uncertain). 2) Problems of logic. If you take classic theism and combine it with a literal and materialistic view of the Incarnation you get logical

134

Stefan Eriksson

absurdities as a result. Let me brie y mention one such dif culty: God is said to be omnipresent. That is one of Gods essential characteristics. But how then can God become human and thus be con ned to a certain space? By de nition anyone limited in such a way cannot be God. Such problems arise for those believers who think of the Incarnation as a kind of metaphysical fact. This route leads only to further dif culties in understanding.

But What Do These Doctrines Mean?


When the dif culties with a certain approach to the concepts of `resurrection and `incarnation have been shown, one may very well ask for the alternative. Certainly these writers have brought no light on the subject by talk of a literal meaning or physical sense. But how do we highlight the kind of meaning these realities may have for believers today? Im neither asking for a theological theory of christological language, nor for an alternative philosophy. Im rather trying to point to a way of understanding concepts such as `incarnation or `resurrection which does their religious character justice. What does `resurrection mean? In order to answer I may make use of the understanding displayed by a Christian tradition. It functions as an object of comparison which undermines the philosophical representation put forward by the debaters, this creation of theirs which imply that it is most natural to think of the belief in the Resurrection in this way, or even that it is necessary. How do religious people talk about resurrection? I think one way of getting an answer is to analyze the Swedish book of hymns. After all, todays believers meet a Christ formed by tradition. The meaning of `resurrection has been moulded in different directions by different traditions, and a believer learn to use the concept in accord with such a tradition s view of proper language use.14 Even a quick analysis of some Easter hymns (hymns 464 68) show some dominant themes. First, when believers receive the message that Christ has sacri ced himself in order to save them, they are expected to give a sacri ce of praise in return. The message is to be received with joy since it is a message of comfort for the believer. The resurrection of Jesus makes it possible for Jesus to be present as the comforter in the lives of Christians. You may accordingly speak to or make an appeal to the very character described in sermons, hymns and liturgy. But his deeds have ever greater signi cance, as is shown in hymn 465:1. It states that Christ deliver us from death. To understand the resurrection you must be familiar with the experience of being under the power of death . The hymns presupposes that you are aware of your spiritual condition and

The Resurrection and the Incarnation

135

that you be able to acknowledge the message as a divine answer to that condition. To people aware of being under the power of death the preaching tells of the liberator , thus enabling the af icted ones to experience in their own lives the liberation and the reality of the resurrected. A recurring theme is that of the Communion and the accompanying idea that every believer have to nd spiritual nourishment in the company of the resurrected. To know the meaning of Jesus death on the cross and of the Resurrection you need to hunger for the heavenly food. If you know how to use expressions such as `I hunger for righteousness and if they can meaningfully be applied to your own life, then you may search for the resurrected one in the Lords supper. The believers who, after the communion for example, have the ability to account for their experiences in terms of having received heavenly strength etc., show that they understand what it means to say such things as The resurrected is present or Hes in our midst (hymn 467:4). My point is that our understanding of the Resurrection is constituted by the ability to connect experiences of being given strength or comfort in a service with the presence of the resurrected Jesus. People learning to talk of the Resurrection in a Christian setting will do this by, among other things, singing such hymns and by applying the words to their own lives. The words aim at evoking certain experiences and the criterion for someone having a good command of the meaning of these words is that they can describe in an intelligible way experiences of the resurrected Jesus by using these very words.15 The life led by the resurrected Jesus has nothing to do with being able to walk on his own two feet. It boils down to being present in the lives of believers here and now. Believers experience being in the company of their master and it is only through these experiences and what they mean that you may come to an understanding of the Resurrection (which does its religious character justice). In short, the criterion for a believer really understanding expressions about the Resurrection is that they are able in an intelligible way to express their own experiences of the resurrected with the use of those very expressions. To understand the meaning of `the Resurrection of Jesus is not a very complicated thing for Kretzmann et al. If someone doubts that it has taken place you need to carefully analyze the historical evidence for it. I am inclined to think that the real dif culty lies elsewhere. Perhaps it consists of letting go of ones pride and of accepting the mercy given in communion, so that the resurrection life may be given as a gift when one walks in Christ . If the things designated by these words truly

136

Stefan Eriksson

happen, then perhaps I can say that I understand what the Resurrection means.

The Kind of People We Are


Why do we land up in such intellectual trouble as Kretzmann et al. do? I suggest that it has to do with the kind of people we are and I shall try to focus on this aspect by discussing the Incarnation. As D. Z. Phillips emphasized in his introductory book on philosophy, you may distinguish between two kinds of people.16 In line with our discussion, we could say that on the one hand you have those who hear about the Incarnation through their Church or the Bible and ask whether what they hear is based on solid evidence. Notice two things about them. First, the Incarnation stands in no need of an explanation; it is no mystery. The meaning is more or less immediately clear. It is claimed that the Incarnation is a fact which we can discuss without further investigation. Second, the task at hand is very often to provide an explanation for this fact. How can Jesus be God in human disguise? Can it be explained by the notion of two persons but one substance? On the other hand there are people who do not see the point of searching for explanations. To talk of Jesus as an incarnated God is meaningless because such expressions do not yet have a clear use, they are not affected by them. Those people do not see the point in talking about God being human. But through their experiences and the lives they lead, they form a belief in Christ and the way they experience this Christ suddenly puts talk of Jesus as God in a different light. They feel that such talk is now tting: the expressions are experienced as adequate and helpful in conveying the sort of experience it is. How does a philosopher come upon these experiences? One way is to study when a person may be said to truly understand an expression or the realities expressed by it. By saying certain words a person shows what kind of experience they have had and by relating to this very experience they displays their understanding of the language in question. The one goes with the other. From this perspective the words do not constitute an explanation of the experience (even if they take the form of an explanation). There is a big gulf between those who seek explanations and those who do not. That much is obvious when studying discussions about religion. What I did when I studied the resurrection hymns was to search for those relations between experiences and their expressions which may characterize those who do not search for explanations. When it comes to the Incarnation that was not as easy. While the hymns clearly

The Resurrection and the Incarnation

137

speak of the Resurrection as something grounded (so to speak) in Christian experience, the Incarnation at rst seems to lack such an experiential core. It is hard to see, at least for me, how people connect expressions of incarnation with Christian experience. Perhaps there is an obvious explanation for this. It may be that an expression such as Jesus is God incarnated is not normally connected to experience because it functions as a grammatical rule. This possibility n, among others.17 Well, imagine has been brought up by Tage Kurte this: someone tells of Jesus walking on water or Jesus transforming water to wine. A listener objects: such things do not happen. The answer is: Jesus is God, so everything is possible . To me it really seems as if the expression is used to convey the grammar of Jesus-talk. That is, it gives a rule for talk about Jesus and what he did. Since Jesus not only is human but divine, you should not be surprised about the miracles performed. But it is important to notice that this rule is not necessary in the same way that the rule 2 2 = 4 is necessary in the case of mathematics. While the latter is truly constitutive of mathematics to count properly you must accept it the former is subject to disputes . Not everyone agree that we should hold on to the belief in Jesus walking on water. Perhaps some people think it is important to keep the story but to interpret it in a symbolic way. So, even if some believers may nd a use for the expression as a rule, that is hardly of any help to the non-believer who tries to understand its meaning. What conclusions it is possible to draw from it being a rule, depends on the meaning it has. And since we do not know that, we are left in the dark.

Internal Relations
So, what is it that I am looking for? One way of describing the connection between meaning and attitudes, experiences etc. is by use of the concept internal relations : there is an internal relation between meaning and use. We say that a relation between two things is internal when the one cannot be understood and explained without the other. If you know what front means, you also know what back is and the same can be said of pairs such as `up down and `question answer. Such relations exist in religion too. We philosophers are tempted to think thus: religious customs and practices cannot be intelligible if one cannot describe the thing these customs etc. point to. The idea is that it is possible to identify and speak of the object of religion without taking our relationship to this object into account. This is the possibility of an external relation to religion. Against this, I propose that the possibility of talking about religious

138

Stefan Eriksson

realities depends on whether the description of religious expressions aims at clarifying their religious character or not. That is so, since their meaning only emerges when seen against their religious background. It is through those feelings, experiences, reactions and attitudes that the expressions religious character appears. Experiences do not, from this perspective, result from faith: they rather show what the belief amounts to. When philosophizing we are tempted to think of statements expressing such experiences and reactions as metaphysical propositions. Today we philosophers and non-believers are so alienated from the spiritual life that religious expressions often cannot be understood. We tend to quickly dismiss the faith of believers because it seems too primitive , it consists of pictures and analogies which belong more to childrens books than to the real world. Do we have to think of faith in this way? That God has become human in Jesus is a central notion to Christian belief, of course. Perhaps the role it plays can be outlined in another way. Let us call it constitutive for the possibilities of a Christian life. Jesus may play a greater part in the lives of believers than any other person could ever do. That part is de ned, described and made possible by stories of Jesus life that may look divorced from reality and too fanciful. When the response to a critique of that possibility is Jesus is God, so everything is possible , a line is drawn for what may be said that is much wider than is usual for humans. But that response need not be seen as a metaphysical proposition, it is more rightly viewed as the hub around which the religious life moves. Because of this center, Christians are prone to have certain experiences. What experiences? In this short article I cannot do more than point to one meaningful use for talk of the Incarnation. I do not claim to identify the most important or the prime kind of experience. One suggestion is that Christians experience a God who can understand what it is like to be human. When readers of the Swedish Christian magazine Dagen wrote letters on how they perceived Jesus, one letter stated that Jesus is God who knows what it is like to be human .18 You may nd this theme in the hymns too. Hymn 48 tells of how understanding Jesus is. That God comes to the believer and that he understands our suffering is connected to the idea that God himself has experienced what it is like to be human. Therefore Jesus comes to our help and unburdens us. But, one wants to ask: is there really a strong connection with the Incarnation here? Why would God need to be incarnated in order for this to be possible? Does He really need to live life in order to know what its like? (Consider what kind of human God became; could He then really understand slaves, Asians, women etc.?) I do think that there is a deeper dimension to this

The Resurrection and the Incarnation

139

theme which might be disclosed by reading a childrens story by Tolstoy.19 I sympathize with the insight offered by Tolstoy, that the most ef cient way of talking about deeper things is with the help of simple stories. Tolstoy tells of an old shoemaker, Panov, who lived in a small village. His life was rather satisfactory and he was highly regarded by the other villagers. One Christmas Eve he was a bit sad, however; he missed his dead wife and also his children who were nowadays grown up, living far away. Since it was Christmas Eve Panov read the Christmas gospel. He learned that Jesus had nowhere to go and that the wise men had brought him gifts. Oh dear , he said, if Jesus had come here I would have let him stay at my place . He lifted the best shoes he had ever made and looked at them: they were baby shoes. I would have given him these , he said. Panov fell asleep in his chair but a voice calling his name roused him. The voice said: You wished to have been able to see me. Tomorrow I shall visit you. Look carefully, because I wont identify myself . Panov was certain Jesus had spoken to him and of course he got very excited. He waited eagerly. On Christmas Day Panov looked out of his window repeatedly. The rst person he saw was the street-sweeper of the village who was very cold. He invited him in for a cup of coffee and let him warm himself by the re. During the course of the day, he sees a few more of societys castaways and all are given a helping hand. But the day passes and when night comes Panov despairs. It was only a dream , he tells himself. He cried silently that night. Suddenly it was as if someone had entered the room. Through his tears Panov sees all the people he had met during the day pass by. They all say to him: Didnt you recognize me, Panov? I was hungry and you gave me to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me to drink, I was frozen and you let me in. All those you helped today, were me . In this story the Incarnation is about God identifying with people in need an identi cation which we are to partake in. Since Jesus is God and because this is the hub around which the religious life moves, Christians are predisposed to meet Jesus in other people. If you, like Panov, can recognize Gods presence in another human being, you can understand what it was like for God to be present in a meeting between two people 2000 years ago, no matter what you are inclined to add by way of metaphysical and theological speculation. The presence of God in a human being is not to be seen by supernatural senses but by an acknowledgment of how God relates to people. There is no plain fact to be seen here, later subject to interpretation, but what happens is shaped, constituted , by how a person acts and reacts to other human beings.20

140

Stefan Eriksson

Also note the kind of people in whom Jesus may show himself. That vulnerable people are worthy of special consideration in this respect is a modern theme in theology that seems closely connected to the conceptual beginnings of talk about Jesus as incarnated. Let us dwell upon this point for a few moments. For example, one of the proponents of a black theology, James Cone, writes: I am more convinced today than I was during the 1960s that the God of the Christian Gospel can be known only in communities of the oppressed who are struggling for justice in a world that has no place for them. I still believe that `God is black in the sense that Gods identity is found in the faces of those who are exploited and humiliated because of their color.21 What Cone is saying here is often understood to mean that the oppressed have a privileged epistemological position . I would rather understand him as pointing out that these people are in a privileged conceptual position . The kind of experiences they have give the religious expressions their meaning, and those who do not share in those experiences do not give the expressions any meaning at all or else gives them a very different meaning. Of course, what Cone et al. say they know about God is something very different (which I shall not discuss further at this time). Other theological movements often display a point of view which accords with such black theology. When the famous depiction of Jesus as Christa was put on display many were provoked, just as happened with the Swedish exhibition Ecce Homo. Yet they both express the same idea: The Jesus who is God incarnated understands what it is like to be a vulnerable and oppressed person and it is in one of those people we may discern the heavenly face.22 It is possible to present empirical data which supports the idea that people who re ect on their Christian faith out of such perspectives experience the kind of christology here hinted at (although please understand that I do not at all present a christology in the usual sense). Anne-Louise Eriksson interviewed a number of feminists about how they perceive Jesus. A clear tendency was that the metaphysical and the historical played little or no part. Jesus rather had a concrete part in their lives. They saw in him a boundary-transcending gure who motivates them to go against cultural taboos and established values.23 This is similar to the theme I put forward as a conceptual key: Jesus meets people in need of justice and of obtaining redress, and they in their turn understand how to act in imitation. An interesting corollary is that the

The Resurrection and the Incarnation

141

Incarnation hardly can be said to be an idea of the past. This analysis of mine says nothing about the desirability of keeping to this theme, however. If someone were to say: We shouldnt understand the Incarnation in this way and instead puts forward a view of the Incarnation as compatible with and supported by science, then I as a philosopher can only point out that this would be to give the Incarnation another meaning. It would amount to partaking in another kind of religion. Each person may for him- or herself come to an conclusion on this matter, but this is an ideological decision about what true faith amounts to. If such an ideological statement con icts with or erases the conceptual ground or beginning for talk of the Incarnation, it means that it no longer can be said to be part of the same religion (conceptually speaking). People may have all sorts of ideas about what needs to be said in addition to the conceptual hub proposed here, but whether those suggestions are conceptual or ideological in nature remains to be analyzed in each and every case. The Incarnation may be a fruitful concept for our times. The theme of incarnation seems to be alive and well among people who try to deal with highly potent con icts of our times. Christa and Ecce Homo are not as much expressions of incarnation experiences (although they may be) as illustrations of their relevance and immediate interest. Today believers are often described as being confronted by a choice between dead traditionalism and creative new approaches. A good example is U.S. Bishop Spong, who compare todays believers to the ancient Jewish exiles: Exile people know that there can be no return to the past, so they must be prepared either to give up or to look in some other direction. If exile from all religious systems is not our nal destination, then only one alternative is open to us, and that is to go forward into we know not what. That is where the talk of God must now be located. 24 There is no space for the traditional talk of Incarnation in this vision. But I think the analysis above suggests that traditionalism and new thinking arent the only alternatives. True, traditionalism today has a metaphysical side to it which is not believable even within the church. Kyrkans Tidning, the paper published by the Church of Sweden, in their Advent Sunday issue had the headline: Goodbye to the God up in the clouds . It further tells of a God who today has turned into a just and socially engaged power which we can meet inside ourselves .25 This is not necessarily an example of new thinking. There is another side to traditional Christian life which we often do not notice, which even today may be a real possibility for some. It is important to notice, however, that this line of reasoning is no quest for the original experience of Christ or something of the sort. Whether experiences of the risen Christ today

142

Stefan Eriksson

are the same sort of experiences as those which are described in the New Testament can only be decided from inside faith. A philosopher could, however, try to get clear about what counts as same sort of experience for believers, but that is very different from what I am doing here. So what is the dif culty with understanding the Incarnation? My argument has been that the understanding of the Incarnation is internally related to certain experiences. But those experiences are religious in character and presumably reserved for a select few. In that case the Incarnation is hard to understand because of the dif culty with living a way of life which infuses meaning in incarnation-language. It is a question of deeds rather than of intellect.

Closing Remarks
We have on the one hand seen that the Resurrection is expressed by language with a logic internally related to certain experiences. I suggest that the Incarnation, on the other hand, can be viewed as the hub around which the religious life moves. That belief makes certain experiences possible. An obvious connection between these concepts which I do not dwell on here, is that there would be no point in expecting experiences of the risen Christ if he had not been the incarnated God. It is also striking that re ection on both the Resurrection and the Incarnation makes the re ecting subject visible. You see not only the logic of the religious concepts but also the one who philosophizes. It is a certain person who enter the room and who sees the items in there in a certain con guration. The question of whether they are standing in their proper places, are warped, or are strangely positioned is not decided by these things alone but also by the experiences and expectations that each observer brings with him. I found the understanding of the Resurrection offered by Kretzmann very strange. Still, others nd nothing objectionable about it. To engage in the questions of how to understand the Resurrection and the Incarnation we necessarily ask how we as persons are to relate to the reality pointed at by the words and expressions examined. As we have noticed, the dif culty in understanding a religious expression is closely connected with the dif culty of living according to the religious conduct which the words are meant to bring about. Therefore this kind of philosophy may be characterized as a personal struggle. The problem of philosophy is in this case on a par with the problem of whether it is possible to lead a religious life and if so, how it should be led.

The Resurrection and the Incarnation


Stefan Eriksson Uppsala universitet Teologiska institutionen Box 1604 SE-75146 Uppsala Sweden

143

Notes
1. I have previously, in a paper written in Swedish, talked about the Resurrection as a ndelse som philosophical problem at greater length. See Eriksson, S: Jesu uppsta filosofiskt problem , Svensk Teologisk Kvartalskrift 1 (1998). The present paper uses reworked and translated material from that article. 2. Kretzmann, N.: Comments on the Paper of Adela Yarbro Collins , Hermes and Athena / Eleonore Stump & Thomas P. Flint (eds.), Notre Dame, University of Notre Dame Press, 1993, p. 143f. (pp. 141 150) 3. See for example Rom. 4:25 and Acts 13:38 39. 4. See for example 1 Pet. 1:19 21 and Hebr. 10:11 14. 5. Rev. 5:5. 6. See for example Acts 26:23 and 1 Kor. 15:20 22. 7. See Romans, chapter 6. 8. Gustafsson, G. & Pettersson, T.: Folkyrkor och religio s pluralism den nordiska religio sa modellen (Stockholm, Verbum, 2001), p. 80. lvsjo , Verbum, 1986), p. 95. 9. Grenholm, C.-H.: Vad skall kyrkan beka nna? (A gren, P.-O.: Jesus Kristus sann Gud och sann ma nniska , Kristen beka 10. Sjo nnelse idag / lvsjo , Verbum, 1986, pp. 50 60. Carl-Henric Grenholm (ed.), A 11. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VII, Robert Appleton Company 1910, Online Edition 1999, http://www.medcor.mcgill.ca/~cmds/Jesus_Incarnation.htm (1/9 2000). gren, Jesus Kristus, pp. 53 54 & 56. 12. Sjo 13. Befrielsen, Stora boken om kristen tro, Svenska kyrkans centralstyrelse (Stockholm, Verbum, 1993) , p. 134. 14. In my article (see note 1) I gave four reasons for treating the hymn book as a good source in trying to understand a tradition and its language: (1) This book is the end result of how the tradition has developed and expresses the ways in which the tradition uses the expression. (2) Those hymns were understood to be good expressions of faith when the hymn book was collected. (3) The hymns are religious language in use rather than an expression of re ection on the Christian language. (4) Since that is so, those hymns continue to guide peoples conceptions of the Resurrection and how they use the resurrection-language. 15. If someone, for example, told of how God had come to her in grace when she was overwhelmed by sin, but then refused to participat e in any existent form for expressing gratitude (i.e., rejected the rst theme outlined above, which states that since Christ has sacri ced himself in order to save you, you are expected to give a sacri ce of praise in return), then her story is incomprehensible or will be seen as hypocrisy. teborg, Daidalos, 1999), p. 170. 16. Phillips, D. Z.: Filoso en presentation (Go

144

Stefan Eriksson

n, T.: Grunder fo 17. Kurte r en kontextuell teologi. Ett wittgensteinianskt sa tt att na rma sig teologin bo, A bo Akademis Fo rlag, 1987). i diskussion med Anders Jeffner (A 18. Dagen , January 14 (2000), p. 12. rlaget, 19. Paraphrased from Pappa Panovs stora dag, adapted by Leo Tolstoy, EFS-fo Uppsala. 20. I write at length about this, allegedly dif cult, notion in my dissertation (written in Swedish). See Eriksson, S: Ett mo nster i livets va v. Tro och religion i Wittgensteins loso (Nora, Nya Doxa, 1998). 21. Cone, J.: God is Black , Lift Every Voice: Constructing Christian Theologies from the Underside / Susan Thistletwaite & Mary Potter Engel (eds.), San Francisco, Harper & Row, 1990, p. 83. 22. Ecce Homo was a Swedish photography exhibition, photographed by the artist Elisabeth Ohlson, and consisting of twelve pictures of Jesus in the company of homosexuals. It was rst shown in Stockholm in 1998 and caused erce reactions from a lot of people. See http://www.eccehomo.nu/eng/indexeng.html for an introduction (21/7 2001). There have been many different versions of a female Christ, a Christa, but the most famous is one by Edwina Sandys from the 70 s which is reported to be located at Yale University in the U.S. The point they try to get across, of course, is that women, too, are made in the image of God. 23. Eriksson, A.-L.: Kvinnor talar om Jesus. En bok om feministisk kristologisk praxis (Nora, Nya Doxa, 1999), p. 83. 24. Spong, J. S.: Why Christianity Must Change or Die. A Bishop Speaks to Believers in Exile (New York, HarperSanFrancisco, 1998), pp. 48 49. l till gubben pa r en ny tid , Kyrkans Tidning 6, molnet. En ny Gud fo 25. Larsson, M.: Farva Magasin Advent (2000), pp. 16 18.

Copyright of Studia Theologica is the property of Routledge and its content may not be copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder's express written permission. However, users may print, download, or email articles for individual use.