Realism in the light of the resurrection
When it comes to stories or movies with good endings, I confess I can’t help but be a critic. Something about tales ending “happily ever after” leaves me questioning whether the author or filmmaker conceived of four-year-olds as their audience. “Get real!” I chime. What brought on my “realism”? Experience – a life in which I am both witness and recipient of the consequences of a fallen world.
However, I have come to see that this form of realism is symptomatic, perhaps even a cover-up, of the more insidious problem of fear. We’re afraid because in the real world fairy-tale endings don’t really happen. The curious thing about fear and this kind of realism is that they cloud our minds; they deny the God-created goodness that is also present in this world and that you and I have experienced in many ways. In short, fear creates a misinformed reality.
There is, however, another way of making sense of this world, a reality that has broken into our grim one, a reality that is far more concrete than what we hear on the six o’clock news: the resurrection.
From fear to radical boldness
Luke 24:13–35, the walk to Emmaus, is the rousing account of two skeptical pilgrims, hopeless disciples of Jesus turned radical followers. In this part of the Gospel, Luke shows how a group of incredulous and fearful disciples come to understand that despite the pain of this world – poignantly attested to in their Master’s crucifixion – evil does not have the final say.
Before they catch this vision, their eyes must be opened to this reality. During their trek, the two share their skeptical sentiments with a mysterious traveller who seems to know nothing of the tragedy that has taken place in Jerusalem. Perhaps. Maybe it’s just that the traveller didn’t see it as a tragedy without remedy. He rebukes them: “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” (25–26).
The three travellers stop, rest for the night, and share a meal. It is not until these disciples break bread and eat with this sojourner that they recognize him. Were we to stop at this simple conclusion, we would fail to see the richness the author, by his use of analogy, seeks to convey. In verse 31, we see Luke’s intentional use oflanguage recalling Genesis 3 and the fallout that came by eating forbidden fruit. “Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him…” (Luke 24:31).¹
As they recognized Jesus, the disciples also recognized a new reality that had almost eluded them. In this reality, fear, suffering, and death are not the determining factors governing their lives. By eating the bread, the disciples internalized the new reality, one that trumps their experience previously manifested by eating the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. In this reality, we are no longer utterly vulnerable, naked so to speak, to the evil powers of this world. Here, the God we serve cannot be confounded even by death itself.
The change that takes place in the disciples is truly remarkable. Luke’s sequel, the Acts of the Apostles, is the account of what happens to followers of Christ when they finally get it, when they understand that death and suffering is not how the story ends for us. These will come our way, but no longer do they stand as obstacles to our faithfulness to God or living life to the fullest here and now.
New reality marked by hope
Too often, we have treated the resurrection as only doctrine that as good Christians we simply need to profess. And we should believe that historically Jesus was raised from the dead. Nevertheless, if we stop here, we will miss the fact that the world is now marked by a different reality, one not of fear and suffering but of hope. Wright puts it this way, “Believing in the resurrection of Jesus isn’t just a matter of believing that certain things are true about the physical body of Jesus that had been crucified…. Believing in this God means believing that it is going to be all right; and this belief is, ultimately, incompatible with fear.”²
To fellow skeptics, I offer these final words: perhaps it is impossible to eradicate fear from our lives. I dare say Jesus was afraid as he envisioned what lay before him while praying in Gethsemane. But, because of the resurrection, because of the new reality that has broken into the fabric of life, we need not let fear control our actions nor our lives. Indeed, God commands us not to be afraid.
Furthermore, what if good endings are true? Deep down, isn’t it what we truly yearn for, what we truly want (Hollywood and bedtime stories included)? What if happy endings are not simply the stuff of fairy tales? Better yet, what if fairy tales turn out to be better descriptions of post-resurrection reality than the most objective newscast ever could?
1. N.T. Wright, The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is (Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 163.
2. N.T. Wright, Following Jesus: Biblical Reflections on Discipleship (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995), 68.