Is the resurrection just a myth?
Just a few years after the crucifixion of Jesus, St Paul wrote these words: “Now brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the good news I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this good news you are saved…. For what I received I passed on to you…that Christ died for our sins…. that he was buried…. that he was raised on the third day…. that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of who are still living…. then he appeared to James… and last of all he appeared to me.” (1 Corinthians 15.1-8)
Was he making it up? Were all these people deluded? Had these people seen an apparition or some kind of ghost? Did the resurrection of Jesus really happen, or was it some kind of wishful thinking? After all most of us prefer a happy rather than a tragic ending to a story. So were these followers of Jesus simply avoiding reality by creating a beautiful myth? Some people would say so. To some atheists any religion is simply a kind of crutch for people who can’t face the harsh reality of life. To Karl Marx religion was the opiate of the people – something that deadens our senses to reality. To Richard Dawkins he is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. The only problem with this argument about myths and reality is that it only works if believing the myth makes the believer’s life more rather than less comfortable. But that’s exactly what belief in the resurrection didn’t do for those early Christians. In those days becoming a Christian meant risking life and limb for your faith. It was no easy option for people who just wanted to harbor a few pleasant delusions.
Listen to what it cost St Paul to believe in the good news of Jesus Christ: “Five times I received 39 lashes, three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I have been shipwrecked…I have been in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own countrymen…I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep…I have known hunger and thirst and often gone without food…. I have been cold and naked…. besides everything else I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.” (2 Corinthians 11.24-28)
The fact that St Paul was prepared to go through all this doesn’t prove that the resurrection is true, but it does make it more likely. After all, once your beliefs start to cost you something, you think very carefully about whether it’s worth keeping them. But if the resurrection is true, then it’s the best news in history, because it shows us that neither evil nor death has the last word in life. In fact God has the last word – and that word is love.