Artiklar/texter av Carl Gustaf Olofsson
kristologi: Tron på den uppståndne Kristus
om Jesu uppståndelse - december 2011
Article - Svensk
The article was published in
swedish in Svensk Kyrkotidning issue 16/1998 and on
Internet the same year. This english translation was published
on Internet in februari 2008 as a 10 year celebration of the original
publishing. The name of this swedish websajt is Språk, tro och
religion. Translated to english it will be Language, Faith and
Religion. This article is one of three in english. The other two is by Paul
Tillich and John Shelby Spong.
Christ is Risen!
Carl Gustaf Olofsson
The article is an existential
interpretation of the biblical narratives of the resurrected Christ.
It differs from the interpretations of Rudolf Bultmann and Paul
Tillich. It could be read as an interpretation of what the Anglican
bishop and theologian John Shelby Spong calls "The Easter
Moment" in his book "Resurrection: Myth or Reality" (HarperSanFrancisco,
The article was first published in print in
Svensk Kyrkotidning, issue 16/1998. The same year it was also
published on Internet www.existentiell-tro.net/ku/21olofs.htm.
THE CHRISTIAN HISTORY OF THE PASSION
and the belief in the resurrected Christ have served as the religious
focal point of Western culture during almost two thousand years. Today
this "Greatest story" is perceived by most people as being an
antiquated religious remnant that has irreversibly played out its role.
This has for a long time been my opinion as well.
years ago my relationship to this Christian key drama changed radically.
It was staggering! A (for me) new and - at least superficially – very
different way of understanding the biblical narratives of the death and
resurrection of Jesus emerged. As a consequence, I have begun to believe
that it is possible, even probable, that the tale of the resurrected
Christ against all odds will reclaim its place at the center of Western
culture in a not too distant future.
attempt to impart this alternative perspective by telling a story about
the experiences of the disciples during the days following the death of
Death and Resurrection.
Jesus was dead! He had been executed as a
criminal of the worst kind, nailed to a cross to die slowly and painfully
as a warning to others. He had died in the most horrible and degrading way
And they who had placed so much faith in
Jesus and the vision of the Kingdom of God he had so often spoken of! Only
a few days ago when they came to Jerusalem, large crowds of people had
hailed Jesus with enthusiasm. It had felt as if something great were
nearing its completion. All had felt right.
Now all seemed utterly ruined. That which
had happened seemed to be one huge incomprehensible, paralyzing disaster.
It was a crushing blow to all they had believed in and hoped for. The hope
and faith that had grown ever stronger during the years of traveling with
Jesus suddenly seemed like naïve dreams.
It was difficult for the disciples to
fend off thoughts and feelings that questioned their decision to abandon
their regular lives and follow Jesus on his travels. Had they been so
mistaken? Had the years with Jesus been a waste of time? Their often so
strong experience that that there was something great and important about
Jesus - had it only been idle wishes and self-delusion?
In the midst of the dark and chaotic
feelings something revolutionary happens. At first maybe only to a single
disciple, but later more and more in the circle of disciples are affected.
It begins with a strong, sudden
feeling of affection and compassion arising directed toward the person’s
own identity and fate in life with all its flaws, difficulties,
disappointments, fears, longing, failures and betrayals. It also
encompasses the last days’ radical doubts, resignation and brooding
thoughts, not to mention the fear that had made the disciples panic and
flee when Jesus was arrested.
The feeling is of deep, almost unbearable
pain and at the same time intense affection in a paradoxical mixture. As
this wholly new feeling deepens, it also begins to direct itself outward,
towards all imperfect, fragile, longing, burdened people who with
different measures of success attempt to confront and relate to the
vulnerability and mystery of the human condition.
Viewing oneself and all other human beings from
this perspective is staggering. With great force, it seems to say that
there is an unconditional and all redeeming love that in a mysterious way
surges through the totality of existence and encompasses our vulnerable,
imperfect, and transient lives. It seems obvious that there is an
uncertainty, and a certain form of loneliness inherent in the human
condition that is so hard to accept that it almost inevitably tends to
give rise to romantic and unrealistic dreams and expectations.
difficulties and tragedy of life in a strange and paradoxical manner take
on a powerful divine lustre. A wholly new light has suddenly and
unexpectedly begun to shine on life and existence. It is something
The person, preachings, and death of
Jesus now take on meaning from this new perspective. It seems as if
exactly this revolutionary way of looking at oneself, one’s fellow man
and the whole of existence was that which Jesus all the time had been
pointing to and trying to make them take part in during the years they had
followed him. But it is only now, after his death, that this perspective
of unconditional reconciliation and affection reaches all the way in and
thereby also unlocks their own ability to view themselves and every other
human being in this new manner. It is as if Jesus himself is there,
manifestly present, watching them. At the same time, it is as if they for
the first time get to see themselves as well as others through the eyes of
This gives rise to an intense wish that
every man should be able to experience himself and existence in this way.
This exact possibility must be Man’s magnificent God-given possibility,
his deepest purpose! Imagine if every man got to view himself, his fellow
men, and existence from this perspective. How radically different the
world would be!
However, an intense, painful awareness
also arises, based on their own experiences of how infinitely remote this
perspective on life and existence may seem to be, despite the fact that it
is so close. Fear, distrust, refusal to take the vulnerability of the
human condition seriously, "the lusts of men", and attachment to
material and social circumstances tend to make us incapable of perceiving
this life-changing perspective by ourselves. This awareness leads to a
feeling of compassion for and unconditional brotherhood with this
vulnerable, frightened, longing, blind "divine man" that so
often fails and loses his way in life. The vision of Man’s inherent
divine possibility presents itself with such urgent force that it appears
as unrejectably true. The vulnerable fellow man gets so close to the heart
that he is almost perceived as part of one’s own being.
The disciples’ hearts have been set
Peter plays an important part in the drama of the Passion. He denies his
master three times and then he is forgiven by the resurrected Christ. It
seems reasonable to interpret this narrativ as being about Peter as a
vehicle for that revolutionary change of perspective that I have been
trying to imply.
FROM WITHIN A BIBLICAL AND CHRISTIAN
FRAME of reference I would like to term this way of looking at and
experiencing oneself and every other human being as Christ-sight.
It is important to notify that this "sight" can become manifest
in human existence from out of other religious and cultural frames of
reference as well.
When Christ-sight is opened in a human
being – as hunches, glimpses, or more thoroughly – she begins to truly
break away from the power of constraint and fear to govern her choices and
actions in life. Love, deep concern for the well-being of one’s fellow
man, and the enthusiastic and creative participation in the affairs of the
world can begin to gain the upper hand over the psychological attachment
to one’s personal, physical and social existence. Not as destruction of
the self or denial of life, but as the deepest affirmation of life and the
human condition for good and for bad.
The Cross and the Beginning of the
Jesus’ loyalty to the voice of his
heart even unto death became for the disciples like one last grand,
wordless sermon from their teacher, friend and master. At first it hurtled
them into unspeakable grief and feelings of paralysing disaster. After the
unlocking of the Christ-sight, it appeared clear that precisely Jesus’
loyalty unto death was of vital importance to the dramatic alteration of
perspective on life that they had experienced. They interpreted that which
had happened as if Jesus loved them – and all human beings – so deeply
and unreservedly that he even was prepared to give his life to make
possible their attaining Christ-sight.
That Jesus should have to die in this
horrible way for their eyes to be opened was a disturbing and unbearable
reminder of their inhibition and "blindness". However, in the
light of what had happened it seemed to be an unavoidable and tragic
In the midst of this drama the
vision of the messianic future which the prophets of Israel had
prophesised began to live in them in a wholly new way. A world of peace
and justice, with people living in a basic state of love no longer seemed
to be something just belonging to a distant and vague future. The fact
that Christ-sight had been opened in many people after Jesus’ death
seemed to show that this messianic future had already begun to come true.
The meaning of Jesus’ words about "The Kingdom of God which all
carry within themselves" had become clear to the disciples. At the
same time, the Kingdom of God was also that world in the future where
people was living in peace, love and a basic joy of life that had become
so tangible and seemed so close at hand.
The preaching and actions of Jesus had
certainly been important, but the fact alone that he had given his life so
that their eyes – and the eyes of all of humankind – could be opened,
was the unbelievable act of love that was needed to open the gate to the
Christ-sight and the belief that
Christ-sight was Man’s universal God-given possibility seemed the very
key to this messianic future. The disciples did not perceive Christ-sight
as being something personal, something that only concerned them and a few
chosen, or as something that would only concern the people of Israel. It
was something that everyone could become a part of. It concerned all of
humankind. It seemed to be Man’s deepest purpose, God’s intention with
Through that which had happened Jesus had
"returned from the dead" and become present and alive in their
lives in a new and different way. Not as they saw and understood him while
he lived and walked next to them, but as Christ, the divine, Messiah, the
Savior of the World, the glorified, the giver of the Christ-sight, the
King of Kings, God’s "firstborn" Son, who through his life and
his death had opened the gate to the messianic age that the prophets of
Israel had prophesised of. Something tremendous had happened.
The cross became the strange symbol
that came to summarize this dramatic historical course of events as well
as the essence of the Christian faith. The cross, a cruel instrument of
execution, became the sign of unconditional, fundamental, boundary-
breaking love manifesting itself in the transient existence of Man through
the life, suffering and death of one single person. The cross "bore"
the realization that there was an unconditional forgiveness and
reconciliation that Man could take part in. The cross also became a
constant reminder of the power of this love, not least in relation to the
threat of degradation, suffering and death.
A CRUCIAL ASPECT of this tale is that it
was only after the horrible death of Jesus that the true significance and
power of the teachings, life, and actions of Jesus reached the disciples’
hearts and thoroughly changed their lives, then also making them part of
the same calling that had driven Jesus. It was not their old faith in and
understanding of Jesus that "rose anew" and returned with
renewed strength after the days of darkness, death, and despair. This
"restorative" view is otherwise the predominant one among
the existential interpretations of the faith of the Resurrection that have
been formulated by a few prominent theologians during the twentieth
century. This is true of, for example, the interpretations of Rudolf
Bultmann and Paul Tillich.
From the "constitutive" perspective
that I’ve taken it upon myself to present here, the old "faith in
Jesus" died when Jesus died on the cross. A revolutionary and
radically new outlook on life entered the souls of the disciples after
these terrible days. The life and deeds – and death! - of Jesus appeared
in a wholly new light.
The Birth of the Church.
According to the chronology of the New
Testament, this profound transformation of the souls and lives of the
disciples began during the third day after the death of Jesus. It was not
consolidated until Pentecost. It is then that the disciples with great
vigor and fearlessness begin to preach about the tremendous thing that has
happened. This also marks the point of the birth of Christianity and the
Jesus never told in detail about how his
Christ-sight had been unlocked, for it made no difference to his preaching.
For the apostles, however, the unlocking of their Christ-sight was
inexorably connected to their personal relationship with Jesus – and not
least to his death. For them it was unthinkable to tell and preach about
Christ-sight as being a possibility inherent in every human being without
telling about the years with Jesus and the drama that had unlocked this
sight within themselves.
After the opening of Christ-sight,
the choice of becoming disciples of Jesus seemed important in a new and
different way. The daily life in the presence of Jesus in hindsight seemed
crucial in making possible this grand transformation of their relationship
to existence. Offering all human beings to become disciples of Jesus
Christ became the very essence of the calling that seized the disciples
after the drama of Easter.
Becoming a disciple, a Christian, and
starting to confess one’s faith in Jesus Christ was to begin to believe
that oneself, as well as every other human being, in all one’s
imperfection and with all one’s shortcomings could be seen through the
"eyes of Christ". Through disciplehood and the connection to a
Christian congregation, one was brought into a "process of faith"
where, in time, one might be able to view one’s fellow men through the
eyes of Christ oneself. At the moment of experiencing some of this one was
filled with desire that each and every human being should experience it.
When a community that supported this
faith was created nearly two thousand years ago, a new
cultural-religious form was born, the Christian Church. The strange thing
is, as I’ve come to see it, that this "new creature" was able
to strengthen the fragile process that dealt with "the opening of the
heart" in contemporary culture. The most mysterious possibility of
human life received for the very first time - in the Mediterranean culture
of that time, the cradle of Western civilization - a unified language and
cultural support with the power to surpass lingual and ethnical barriers.
From this perspective the birth of the Christian Church, no matter its
imperfections, seems to be a historical breaking point in our culture with
far-reaching significance for the mysterious "process of creation"
of Man as a sensible and loving creature. To what extent and in which
fashion this process of creation is expressed and interpreted in other
cultures and other religious vernaculars is an important and exiting
religious-theological question that there isn’t enough space to
elaborate on here.
The Divine service with its
sermons, Holy Communions, and a constant retelling of the stories of Jesus
became the first Christians’ most important way of symbolically
recreating "a life in the presence of Jesus". According to the
experiences of the disciples, this was the best way – and the only one
they knew of – to offer a lasting movement towards the resurrected
Christ and little by little let people participate fully in the miracle of
In the early Church, the baptism became the
ritual action through which the conscious choice of becoming a disciple of
Christ was confessed and manifested. Through this action one was also
joined into the community of the Church. By celebrating the Holy Communion
one constantly drew new strength to remain "moving" towards the
unlocking of Christ-sight despite all difficulties, personal and other. It
also became a ritualistic way of expressing one’s desire that every
human being should be joined in this "movement" and take part in
"The body of Christ". The Holy Communion also became a recurring
celebration of the messianic age that had entered history through the life
and death of Jesus.
The affirmation of a process of life that
can lead to the opening of Christ-sight, is expressed as "moving"
towards the resurrected Christ, using the traditional Christian vernacular.
Using secular language, this means believing that love and reason can
become fundamental forces in our lives and, equally important, affirming
this process of growth in oneself and in others in daily life. When one’s
life has attained this "direction of movement", it begins, in
spite of its flaws and shortcomings, to paradoxically become anchored in a
messianic future beyond death. One begins to take part in the "Divine
reality" that one hopes shall come true for oneself and all other
human beings. This takes the edge off the fear of death. Qualities such as
trust and hope, so crucial to our lives, are nourished and deepened. It
begins to become possible to accept and come to terms with the
vulnerability, ambiguity and transience inexorably linked to our human
existence. The heavenly light constantly generated while we are in this
"direction of movement", although it is often obscured by the
travails and worries of daily life, can on blessed occasions begin to
illuminate our existence.
This eschatological dimension of experience
is inexorably bound to a living Christian faith. However, it is also
connected to every way of life where the belief that love and reason are
fundamental and boundary-breaking forces is a corner stone.
What conclusions we draw about the "innermost
nature of reality" from our experience of Christ-sight and the
eschatological dimension that it is connected to is of secondary
importance. When human imagery and explanations become primary and start
to be regarded as the core of the Christian faith, a side issue has turned
into a primary one. If so, our human mental creations start to become
false idols that obscure our view of the centre of the faith.
On the other hand, deepening our knowledge
and understanding of this road of life will, from the
existential-dynamical perspective that I am trying to impart here, always
be a central task for every Christian and for a living Church. This being
a way of life in which a reconciliation with the vulnerability and
ambiguousness of existence as well as with the shortcomings of oneself and
others, can grow and deepen, sometimes leading to the opening of
Christ-sight. This quest for knowledge is about developing our
understanding of the inner structure and characteristics of this road of
life, what can aid different people in discovering it, and what is needed
in order to remain on this road while encountering vulnerability,
suffering, and severe conflicts.
In a Christian context all of this
is achieved by gathering strength from the strange events two thousand
years ago that resulted in the creation of the Church, and the tradition
that, however imperfectly, has supported an integrated manifestation of
this road of life in Western culture right up to our time. When the
Christian church is no longer in the "forefront of knowledge"
when it comes to understanding of this road of life it is dying. This
seems to be the situation of Christianity today. This predicament is not
necessarily caused by, for example, the advances of science and culture.
As far as I understand, the causes are found mainly within the Church and
What About the Biblical Narratives?
I am well aware that the tale told above
about the last Act of the drama of the Passion and the birth of
Christianity gives rise to many questions in relation to the texts of the
Bible and the doctrines of faith that have shaped Christianity since the
time of the ancient Church.
An important element of the Bible’s
contradictory accounts of the disciples’ meetings with the resurrected
Jesus a few days after his death on the cross, is depicting these as being
actual occurrences in the physical, corporal realm. This concerns the
accounts of the empty tomb, the disciple Thomas being offered to touch
Jesus’ wounds, and Jesus asking for something to eat in order to
convince the terrified disciples that he is present in his usual body of
flesh and bone. In the 15th chapter of 1 Corinthians Paul very
strongly expresses the opinion that the belief in Jesus’ resurrection
from death is absolutely crucial to Christian faith. That is my opinion as
well. Most traditional Christians are of the opinion that these words of
Paul should be understood as if he talks about the Resurrection in the
same bodily sense as the narrative about Tomas and the wound’s of Jesus.
There are arguments for another interpretation.
Those Biblical examples that emphasize the
bodily aspect indicate that the interpretation of the Passion that I am
offering here not be a Christian interpretation. Another possibility could
be that these two-thousand-year-old stories contain something stranger and
more elusive than this simple and seemingly obvious "bodily
interpretation" indicates. In that case, it means that this is one of
many possible Christian interpretations of the drama of the
The Gospels’ texts of the meetings with
the resurrected Christ are, from this point of view, narratives that speak
of the last and entirely crucial link in the historical course of events
that lead to the birth of the Christian Church. It is the early Church’s
way of telling about the incredible thing that had happened after the
crucifixion of Jesus. At the same time, these tales – and the Gospels as
a whole - are an expression of the attempts of the disciples and the first
Christians to understand these life-changing experiences with the help of
the conceptions and forms of thought of the time. The Jewish beliefs, the
preachings of the Jewish prophets, and Greek metaphysics were the given
framework within which they tried to interpret and give words to these
Many things indicate that the
all-pervading concern of the creation of the evangelical stories was
to try to make other people understand the fabulous thing that had
happened. From this point of view, the Gospels seem to be a mix of
testimony, preaching, and artistic creation, all to the purpose of trying
to attract people to the messianic transformation of one’s own life and
the world given by the faith in Christ. For the apostles and the first
Christians, this was undoubtedly a matter of concern for all of humankind.
AFTER THE SWEDISH PUBLICATION of
the article I read the book "Resurrection: Myth or Reality" (HarperSanFrancisco,
1995) by John Shelby Spong, the well known Anglican bishop from New
Jersey, now retired. With a thorough exegetic analysis he argues that the
Resurrection of Christ was not of the physical body. One important method
in Spong’s analyses is a cronological reading of the biblical
narratives. It means first reading Paul and then Marc, then Matthew, then
Luke and last John. Spong uses the concept "The Easter Moment"
to summarize his analyses: that something absolutly decisive happened
after the death of Jesus that gave birth to Christianity, that this
decisive thing was not a bodily resurrection of Jesus but something
remarkable that happened in the hearts of the disciples, that the basic
core in the experiences and insights of the disciples was about love,
foregivness and being fully human connected to the life and death of Jesus
and that "The Easter Moment" is the great mystery that all
Christians have to meditate on. In my view the concept "The Easter
Moment" is a poetic and very workable way of talking about the most
decisive moment in the birth of Christianity. This text could be read as
one possible Christian interpretation of – or meditation on - "The
A Church of Two Gates.
For me it is now obvious that there is a
"second gate" opening towards the centre of the Christian Faith,
beside the "traditional gate" that the Church has made visible
and looked after during its two-thousand-year-old history up until now. It
can be called "The gate of existential faith". Quite contrary to
conventional conceptions of the meaning of Christian faith, the Christian
life of faith entered into through this gate presupposes no concept of a
personally active god that can intervene in our individual lives with
gifts and trials, a life after death, or that Jesus should bodily have
risen from the dead.
I am well aware that this is a provocative
and awkward thought for many. Nonetheless this vision of "the
Church of two gates" is vibrantly alive before my inner eye. The
prerequisite for this "existential gate" to become a reality is,
however, that there are congregations wanting their church to have "two
gates". Priests willing to serve inside the "existential gate"
are needed. This presupposes a Church administration, centrally and at a
Diocese level, accepting the congregations that want to realize "the
Church of two gates", and not least, genuine and committed
theological work to firmly anchor the "gate of existential faith"
and the "Church of two gates" in the Christian tradition of
Today the Church is a marginal force
in the lives of a majority of people in the Western world as well as in
culture and the development of society. Through the creation of a Church
of two gates I believe that the Church would again become an important
creative force at the centre of culture and democratic society. It would
once again become a visible and important aid for people to consciously
choose, remain in, and deepen what I elsewhere call "the lifestyle of
participation" ("Har kristen tro en framtid?" [Does
Christian faith have a future?], Vår Lösen, issue 8/1996). To actively
affirm the lifestyle of participation means moving towards the opening of
Christ-sight whether one is aware of this "movement" or not.
Bearing in mind how insecure, imperfect and fragile we usually are, it is
of central importance for our individual lives as well as for the vitality
and spiritual health of our society that our culture contains a clear and
recognizable support of this way of life. This support does not exist
today. I believe that this from the beginning was the mission of the
Christian Church, that it is its mission even now, and will be in the
THE SHEER EXISTENCE of
two gates would be like a powerful exclamation mark in our culture
about the fact that there is a depth and an universality to the Christian
tradition of faith that today is nearly impossible to perceive. The Church
would be lended a shimmer of mystical poetry, speaking about the exposure
and ambiguity of human existence and at the same time about love, dialogue
and the crossing of boundaries. This poetical exclamation mark would in a
new and different way speak of hope and belief in the future in a time in
which humanity stands before large and sometimes seemingly insurmountable
To be sure, one can for various good
reasons think that this vision of the "Church of Two Gates" is
unrealistic. To this, I can only say that most visions are unrealistic.
Nevertheless, that which seems unrealistic sometimes comes true.
The translation from Swedish into English is preliminary and is made by
Axel Swahn. It must be read
and corrected by a person who has English as first language before it can
be published in print. DS.
of existential interpretation of Christian faith that is outlined in
this article is going much deeper in the book Existentiell livssyn -
kristen tro? (Existential View of Life - Christian Faith?) of
Carl Gustaf Olofsson. It is also published on this websajt. But only
Språk, tro och religion
- webbplatsens förstasida
Existentiell livssyn - kristen tro?
Har kristen tro en framtid? Debatt i
Vår Lösen 1996-97
Budord för en modern tid
Fyra klassiska bekännelsetexter
Artiklar/texter av Carl Gustaf Olofsson
om Jesu uppståndelse - december 2011