March 15, 2015: A little about the resurrection of the dead: Hitting a snag in the road
Originally written 15 March 2015
I’m afraid I have hit a snag with my Tolstoy project. A couple of snags actually. Snag No.1 was I got sick and lost all desire to do anything, even write, for several days. The second snag was way more serious; even Amoxicillin could not cure it. I reached a mental roadblock except it is more than a mere traffic backup or having to wait 15 minutes for a train. A year or so ago there was a deluge in Colorado that lasted several days and when the Big Thompson Canyon flooded the main highway through the Rocky Mountains cracked in half. My roadblock was more like that.
In more exact terms, when I got to Chapter 8 of What I Believe I did not like what I read and found I just could not write about it. It was all fine as long as Tolstoy was trashing the world’s systems – government, wars, courts, laws, etc. – but when he started messing with the next world that’s when I began to get disturbed. Chapter 8 deals with the Church’s traditional doctrine concerning resurrection. Although Tolstoy does not say the Christ did not rise from the dead, he does question whether the gospels really say the rest of us will continue to live beyond the grave, at least in a form recognizable as our individual selves. He leans toward the idea that the promised eternal life will be in the form of some universal shared kind of existence, absorbed in the whole or God, as opposed to the cherished Christian belief that we as individuals move on to a sublime existence in a heaven where there is no disease, death, or any kind of evil.
I realize of course that this is just one man’s opinion and Tolstoy does not know any more about what happens beyond the grave than I do. Nevertheless, I so respect him as a writer, and up to this point I find his reasoning so well-considered, well-researched, and deeply thought out, that I cannot not simply disregard his ideas just because I don’t like them. I started to think about how dependent our beliefs must be on our desires and life investments: how far we will go to defend the truth of something because we want or need it to be true. But at the same time just because you want something to be true doesn’t mean it is not true either. As much as I don’t want to be, I am a child of the post-modern era and cannot avoid questioning the very nature of truth and the possibility of ever grasping the slippery thing. But I am certainly not ready to discard the doctrine of individual eternal life, even for Tolstoy.
The book had me going back to Tolstoy’s scripture interpretations and comparing his translations with other translations. For example, Tolstoy paraphrases Matthew 22:29-32 like this: “‘You err, not knowing the scripture or the power of God….The raising of the dead is neither carnal or individual. Those who are raised from the dead become sons of God and live like angels (the powers of God) in heave (with God), and there can be no question for them whose wife she will be, because, being one with God, they lose all individuality.’”
The New King James Version translates the same passage as: “Jesus answered and said to them, “You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven. But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.”
Once again I was frustrated I cannot read ancient Greek. So I downloaded Young’s Literal Translation of the Bible, which translates the same passage as: “And Jesus answering said to them, `Ye go astray, not knowing the Writings, nor the power of God; for in the rising again they do not marry, nor are they given in marriage, but are as messengers of God in heaven. `And concerning the rising again of the dead, did ye not read that which was spoken to you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not a God of dead men, but of living.'”
Neither Young’s nor the NKJV nor any if several other translations I compared indicates to me that Jesus was in any way saying we lose our individuality. From the little I know of angels they seem pretty individual to me. So in this case and several others, I do not see what Tolstoy sees. However I do agree with him that Jesus taught that eternal or imperishable or “real” life begins in this body right here in this life, and not that we are to devalue our earthly lives in favor of sitting around hoping for something better after we die.
Anyway as I read further into the book, the water got deep and when I am in over my head I need time more time to work out my thoughts and want to tread carefully. I would tell anyone reading this book, or anybody’s interpretation of religious or any truth, that you and your reason are your best guide to what to believe. But I also think we all need to stand back sometimes from even our own reason because reason is always influenced by desires, needs, and environment. So we need to read a lot, think a lot, pray a lot, and frequently consider everything from different angles. Consciously or unconsciously we decide on a model of truth that works for us and we go with it as long as it keeps working.
I know that sounds a little post-modern. But my core belief is closer to Plato than post-modernism. I believe that absolute truth does exist no matter how distant or obscure it may seem. Something is true and whatever that is will always be true even if not a single human being ever knows it. Our ability to understand all the truth is ridiculously inadequate and therefore we find metaphors to create models of truth small enough to be encompassed by a human mind. The truth as taught by Jesus Christ seems to me not only the highest and most challenging, but the most attractive model, I can hope for.
So I guess I did end up writing something about Chapter 8 after all. I will end up writing a study guide to What I Believe, but I don’t think I will post all my commentary as blog posts. If you are interested, I will link all sections on my Tolstoy Series page (in the menu).
I will be coming back down to earth on this blog shortly. My son and I are going to be starting a new blog together about local folks, places, and events and I’ll be sharing a dog-related sample here from that new project. I will also be writing about my latest classic, The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas, and that book is about as opposite of heavenly as you can get.