...if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.... If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile.... -- 1 Corinthians 15:14,17
I don't understand these words of Paul. I don't understand how if this one fact becomes untrue, my faith is nothing. So, in the tradition of Thomas, I will voice my doubt and hope to understand eventually.
I can see, from Paul's perspective, why he would think this. His primary, life-changing, life-motivating, experience was of the voice of Jesus saying, "Why do you persecute me?" And, of course, all of the experiences that followed. He believed that Jesus had been raised from the dead because of these experiences. They went hand-in-hand. He could not believe in one without the other. So, I can understand why Paul felt that his faith would be in vain if Christ had not been raised from the dead. This was his defining experience of God.
My faith in God, however, does not rest entirely on whether Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. My faith rests primarily on my own experiences of God. Whenever I have a momentary feeling of doubt that God exists, I immediately remember experiences that have happened to me that I can explain in no other way but that God has intervened in my life. Just as Moses reminded the Israelites of all the miracles God had performed in their sight in order to give them strength in the wilderness, I rely on my miracles to keep me going.
Now, would I know Jesus if he had not been raised from the dead? That is an interesting question.
I wonder how the first disciples of Jesus would have continued if they had not experienced the risen Christ. Possibly, they would have dispersed, lacking the necessary conviction and courage to do what Jesus had asked them to do. Even after all the miracles they had witnessed, and all the truth they had discovered in Jesus' teachings, the fact that Jesus was crucified like a common criminal had shaken them to their core. They were in hiding, fearful of the authorities. They needed a sign from God that told them Jesus had spoken the truth. They needed a powerful God-experience to give them the courage to trust what they heard.
There is another story in today's readings of someone needing a sign -- actually, two signs! In Judges 6:36-40, Gideon cannot believe what he hears God telling him to do. God wants the weakest member of the weakest tribe (him) to lead an army!? Say that again? Before Gideon can trust what he is hearing, he needs to be convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is present in his life.
We doubters need signs. Some people can believe wholeheartedly simply because of another person's conviction. As John wrote at the end of his Gospel, "these things were written so that all my believe." And as Jesus said, "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed." But, I wonder how strong my faith would be if I had not ever had any signs. I think it would not have stood the test and trials of life, nor would I have been able to do even half of what God has asked me to do.
Dear God, I am grateful for the many signs of your loving presence which you have blessed me with. They give me the strength and courage I need. Please keep me ever mindful of all that you do. Love always, Pam