Saturday, October 13, 2012

"See How He Loved Him!": Lazarus, the Love of God, and the Resurrection of the Dead (Part I)

Over the next few days I will be posting sections from my final paper for my Resurrection in the New Testament course. Obviously theological writing is not my strong suit, and I would much rather be exploring the social world and the historical background of the New Testament, but I have for the most part enjoyed my time in this class. It has been a time of intense personal spiritual and theological growth, and I am grateful for the experience. Below is Part I, the introduction to my paper, "'See How He Loved Him!': Lazarus, the Love of God, and the Resurrection of the Dead."

I take literally the statement in the Gospel of John that God loves the world…and that, insofar as [the world] is redeemable, it can be redeemed only by love. I believe that divine love…summons the world always toward wholeness, which ultimately is reconciliation and atonement with God.
Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace

The Gospel of John and its related literary counterparts, the Johannine epistles, place high value on the theological dualism which illustrates the triumph of light against darkness, good over evil, and love over hatred. Specifically, the author(s) of these texts contrasts love not only over and against hatred, but even death, which is presumed to be synonymous with hatred (John 12:25; also 1 John 3:15). It is particularly the pitting of love against death with which this present study is concerned. The raising of Lazarus of Bethany by Jesus well illustrates the triumph of love over death, and suggests that in this powerful sign we might catch a glimpse of the future resurrection, when all things are made right.
In this paper I intend to argue, using Johannine theology, that the raising of Lazarus was at its foundation both an act of love and a theological foreshadowing of the resurrection of Christ. With this in mind, it is therefore possible to assume that the resurrection of the dead at the eschaton will likewise be an act of divine love in which God reconciles all things in the New Creation, in which Love comes to dwell and reign on earth, and in which God truly becomes “all in all.”
The Raising of Lazarus
Each of the four canonical Gospels presents its own perspective of the impetus for the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. The Lukan narrative depicts those assembled before Pilate as accusing Jesus of inciting political uproar and encouraging tax evasion, while Matthew envisions the charges brought against Jesus involving blasphemy and malice toward the Temple. In the Fourth Gospel, we might comfortably allege that it is the raising of Lazarus of Bethany from the grave that ultimately leads Jesus to Golgotha.[1] Indeed, this whole episode foreshadows the events that unfold early on Easter morning following the crucifixion—it is a literary mechanism that ultimately reveals God’s final plan for human redemption. According to Fred Craddock, “Briefly put, for [Jesus] to call Lazarus out of the tomb is for [Jesus] to enter it.”[2] The answer “Come and see” to Jesus’s inquiry about the location of the corpse is a call to death which beckons Jesus into the tomb.
Theological Questions
It has become widely accepted among scholars and theologians that the raising of Lazarus must be distinguished from the resurrection of Christ by the use of the term “resuscitation” rather than “resurrection.” N.T. Wright clarifies resurrection as “going through death and out the other side,” presumably in opposition to (as in the case of Lazarus) returning from death into this world, where death continues to govern and those resuscitated must die again.[3] No such distinction is made in the Fourth Gospel—the word used to indicate the resurrection of Christ (ajnavstasiV) is used in the same capacity when Jesus claims, “Your brother will rise again,” in 11:23, and again when he announces, “I am the resurrection and the life” in 11:25. However, a thorough study of this distinction is beyond the scope of the present essay. The more urgent theological issues presented by this story involve the nature of death and the power by which death can be reversed. It is thus appropriate when attempting to establish theological correlation between the raising of Lazarus and the resurrection of Jesus to consider how the Fourth Gospel answers the following questions: 1) How does the present Gospel narrative depict the nature of death? 2) How does it suggest death might be overcome? I will examine a few possible answers to these questions in a later post.

[1] Basil S. Davis, “The Identity of the Disciple Whom Jesus Loved,” The Expository Times 113, no. 7 (April 2002): 230.
[2] Fred B. Craddock, “Jesus Wept: John 11:32-44,” Journal for Preachers 23, no. 3 (Easter 2000): 37.
[3] N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003), 3): 422.

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