My wife and I have the privilege of traveling to Spain in a few months, so I’m going through my triennial cycle where I have enough motivation to blitz myself with language apps, hoping to overcome the two steps backward that I’ve taken since the last go round and maybe even take another step forward. But just when I start to feel a hint of self-satisfaction with my progress, it occurs to me that, while my recognition vocab might be around 5,000 words (I actually have no idea what it is, but basically that of your average five year-old or above average Border Collie) my recall vocab, the words that are actually standing on deck and ready to go to bat for me when I need them to, is probably closer to like 800.
So, when the time comes and all my rigorous podcasting and Rosetta Stone-ing boils down to one moment of truth, let's say, visiting an old monument, and I have the opportunity to wow all spectators by casually spitting out,
Nos gustaría comprar algunos boletos para que podemos escalar la torre, por favor
(We would like to purchase some tickets so we can climb the tower, please),
past experience informs me that, under pressure, I’ll be lucky if I can just stumble through,
Nos gusta subir, por favor
(We want to go up, please).
And that, with some quite dramatic hand gestures to fill in the blanks (your average Basset Hound).
Then, as I sulk and lament over the countless hours that went into those five words (two of which, lets be honest, are a part of every slack-jawed yokel's repertoire before he even gets off the plane), the person working the ticket counter will give me that familiar smile of maternal indulgence, which says, “Aww, he’s American but he’s trying” and then proceed to finish the conversation in flawless English (one of three or four of her own fluencies).
As I ponder this inevitable frustration, it occurs to me that, when the apostles first came up with the terms which we now venerate as high theological language, their circumstances probably far more resembled my befuddlement at a Spanish ticket counter, than they did, say, a vaguely condescending priest waxing philosophical on terms like “penitence” or “redemption.”
Here is what I mean. Let’s consider the term,
The verb anastasei (or anastasis as a noun), which we now translate with the intimidatingly creedal sounding “resurrection,” actually just means to “rise up” or, more normally, in the passive voice, “to be raised up.”
Before two thousand years of piety, turned it into an entire doctrine unto itself, packed with metaphysical assumptions and be-robed sanctimony, this was the “good enough” term that some dumbfounded former prostitutes and fishermen latched onto in order to say simply yet shockingly, “He got up.”
I imagine, it didn’t come to them right away. I imagine their minds groped about in the dark for a bit, trying to find the correct words for these sorts of shenanigans and then realized that there were none. They had never seen a dead man get up before. They had no category for it. And they had, apparently, never read Archbishop Rowan Williams’ very helpful treatise on the matter.
They almost certainly weren’t presuming that anyone who couldn’t get his or her mind to adhere to this material impossibility was risking banishment to the fires of hell. Hell, they probably weren’t even too sure their own minds could take in the new data, if you can even call it data.
I imagine them studdering and “um, um”-ing like they’re holding up the line to the Alhambra museum.
When they go to tell others what they’ve seen and their descriptions are met with either mocking eye rolls or annoyed confusion, I can see them getting flustered: “Look, man. I don’t know what to tell you. He, uh, was dead. And now he’s not dead. He was, uh, upped. Someone upped him…No, not like they propped up his corpse like ‘Weekend at Bernie’s’. Like, they raised him. And now he is raised. Like, uhhh, some kinda raised guy. It’s sort of different than before, but then again, he ate a piece of fish, and it didn’t fall through him like Casper. I dunno. Just saying what I saw.”
God help them, trying to explain what happened 40 days later while still maintaining any shred of credibility.
“Yeah, I know I already said he was up, but now he’s like really up. Like even more way up there, above the sky. But he didn’t leave us. Well, he kind of did. He’s sort of everywhere but also nowhere. But he said he’ll come back someday. And like, not come back in the everywhere sort of way but come back in the right over there sort of way.”
We, of course, like you do, have since dogmatized and religio-fied what they were trying to express with the more respectably theological sounding,
Now, what happens to you when you’re at least somewhat convinced that your friend had been upped—undeaded? Nah, too ghoulish. Raised? Yeah, raised—and maybe there’s more to the ending of all of our stories than just getting tossed into the doornail heap? You
Believe. You have faith.
Pisteuo, or as a noun, pistis, was more or less the apostles’ way of sharing with others, “It’s going to be ok.”
Yes. I know. Many other Bible teachers have already helpfully explained that it meant something like “to trust,” which is definitely a step in the right direction away from the cognitive pass/fail test that is usually implied by the modern use of “belief” or “faith.” But I really want to do everything I can to steer us even further away from that silliness.
The early apostles—of whom the Bible variously says, “They fell down” and they “worshipped” and they “doubted” and they questioned, but mostly of whom it just says, “They were afraid,” when they first encounter the raised up Christ—certainly were in no headspace to pass a doctrinal exam, let alone one on which their entire afterlife wellbeing was riding.
You pisteuo or you have pistis when you’re not worried (or at least you somewhat pisteuo and you have some pistis when you’re a little less worried) that the end of your’s and this world’s story is a bad one—when you begin to entertain that God actually cares about the hairs on your head, let alone your heart and kidneys and lungs. And in a healthy person, the humbling feeling that you are cared for, really cared for, at the level should tend to manifest in a sense that everyone else is too.
When they told the people to “believe the good news,” it wasn’t just a roundabout way of couching bad news in good sounding language, as manipulative zealots so often do today: i.e. if you can’t believe it or you have a hard time believing it, you’re probably screwed in the afterlife.
This news was actually good.
The extent to which you are able to live with less fear, less dread, less self-defensiveness, less self-justification, less possessiveness, fewer weapons, more abundance, more humility, more peace, more selflessness, more freedom, because you’ve encountered the story of a dead man who is raised, is the extent to which you can stop obsessing over the afterlife and trust that the whole world is
Cheers and Peace,