Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.
(1 Cor 15:12-14)
It is not uncommon to speak, in Christian circles, to talk about “preaching the gospel” or “proclaiming the good news”. This implies that the core Christian message is something that we want people to hear and that when they do so they will recognise it as something they should be pleased about. So what is the news and why is it good?
The answer to this is often along the lines of “your sins are forgiven because of what Christ did on the cross” but it isn’t clear that everybody or even anybody would hear that immediately as good news. To do so they would first have to be worried about God’s judgement on their sinfulness. Forgiveness of sins will only be good news if you think you need it. If you don’t see yourself as sinful or are unworried about the verdict to be passed on you that version of the gospel will not seem like very urgent or very good news.
I’ve been thinking about this a good deal because in our Bible study last week we looked at what Paul has to say about faith and resurrection (not so much judgement) in 1 Cor 15 and the group were keen to turn from that to judgement next week.
Paul says in that chapter that faith in the resurrection is essential to our shared faith. Without the resurrection (as something that has been done for or to Christ and will be done for or to us) our faith is, he says, in vain. Paul tells us that what we are promised, what we depend upon, the good news, is resurrection. This resurrection is neither the seamless continuation of our life beyond the point of death as a disembodied soul that was previously resident in our bodies (he explicitly rejects that, I believe, when he talks at verse 44 of the death of the psychikon or “soulish” body and its raising as a pneumatikon or “spiritual” body).
The mortal, perishable body is the body of the soul. I believe the implication to be that the soul, too, perishes. What is raised is not in simple temporal continuity but is discontinuous and dependent on the action of God. Without a special resurrecting action of God there is no immortality and the resurrection is a beginning again, with a new body of a new kind.
This new action, what is more, takes place not in some other part of the universe (“heaven”) or even another (“spiritual”) dimension or realm (as body/soul dualism would have it). We are raised to new life in this creation, which is itself remade to return it to the state it was intended for at its first creation, before the fall. This new creation is in the future, at the parousia, the appearance, of Christ the King. This new creation will be one in which sin and death are no more and perfect peace and justice reigns in the direct presence of God.
Now this detour through what (I think) Paul believed and taught about what we have to hope for if our faith is not to be in vain is relevant to what I think the good news actually is. I don’t think the core of the good news is really that Christ died for our sins and that his death wins our forgiveness (although I don’t deny that this is very important to Christianity and that the good news can’t be fully delivered without saying these things).
The good news, I think, is simpler and easier to understand (if not to accept). The good news is that God loves us and can and will express that love by making things right for us. That every suffering, every dissatisfaction, every doubt, fear, anxiety, everything that makes our life less than perfect, that all of this can and will be made good and made good permanently.
The good news is that, for everybody, God’s intention is that all of life will be better than the very best they have experienced and can imagine. That’s the real good news; that everything is going, in the end, to be all right.
The rest is explanation of that very simple message, explanation of why, we believe, things are currently so much less good than we are saying God could and will make them and what the shape of the solution, as far as we understand it through what is revealed to us through Scripture, interpreted in the Holy Spirit.
This news is quite straightforwardly good, for everybody, without any prior explanations or assumptions, it is just difficult for people to believe. Who would not want to believe that everything that clouds their horizon is temporary, that what is to come is all good?