The other night I was watching a documentary about Bobby Kenney (RFK).  After his brother’s assassination, Bobby became a different person.  As those who knew him attested, he developed an empathy that had been sorely lacking beforehand, an empathy especially for those suffering marginalization and oppression, the exact opposite of his extravagantly privileged background.  He spent significant time with people who were deeply impoverished, particularly in Appalachia—perhaps the poorest region of the country at the time—and came away profoundly moved.

This eventually led him to run for President in 1968.  Like no other before or since, his campaign captivated people with the hope that the promise of America as a nation of true justice and equality for all would finally be fulfilled. 

One vivid scene in the documentary captured the night Martin Luther King was assassinated.  Bobby delivered an impromptu speech pleading for peace, rawly sharing how his loved one, his brother JFK, was killed by a white man too.  His words breathed hope into that night of despair and calm into a grieving nation on the brink of violent upheaval.

But just two months later, in the cruelest of twists of fate, Bobby himself was assassinated.  And all that hope swelling around him died too. 

The saddest scene In the documentary was the “funeral train” procession that took Bobby’s body from New York to Washington.  Thousands lined the tracks to pay their final respects, mourning not only the man, but also the vision many hoped he would achieve.

Bobby Kennedy was the third major figure that decade gunned down by an assassin.  As with JFK and MLK, the country agonized over what might have been.  America might be a significantly different—and far better—nation had he lived.  He probably would have gotten us out of Viet Nam sooner, prevented the Nixon presidency with its Watergate fiasco, achieved major social justice reforms, and on and on.

Many Americans have often wondered: “What if?”  What if RFK had lived?  What if MLK and JFK had lived? 

What if they could somehow return from the dead and finish what they started?

This points to a striking thing about Jesus’ Resurrection—the absolute uniqueness of this claim.  There are plenty of people we’d like to see resurrected—JFK, MLK, RFK, Elvis, to name of few.  If in any of these cases, the claim could be credibly made, it would.  But it can’t.  Only with Jesus is the claim ever seriously entertained.  Only with Jesus is there enough evidence to make the claim credible, to allow the case to go forward.

No sane person would ever dare make this claim about anyone else—there’d be no credible evidence to sustain it.

And as Karl Rahner, one of the most brilliant theologians of the Twentieth Century, observed: “Does not the reason for this uniqueness lie in the fact that the reason itself is unique and simple and thus ‘true,’ and hence that it is not that accidental combination of disparate experiences and reflections which represents the cause of errors?  Anyone who denies the resurrection of Jesus would have to ask himself this question—that is, he would have to answer the question why the error he is asserting does not occur more frequently, even though the causes it presupposes are continually present.” (Karl Rahner, Foundations of Christian Faith, New York, NY: Crossroads, 2013, p. 274)

Why ISN’T this claim made more often?

Of course, there have been rare instances where people claim to have seen loved ones (and in several instances, complete strangers) in the immediate aftermath of their death’s.  But this only proves the point.  In not one of these cases does anyone ever dare claim that the dead person’s body is no longer in their grave—it most certainly is.  In not one of these cases does anyone ever dare claim that the person is raised from the dead in some permanent and tangible way—these are brief sightings that never repeat themselves.  In not one of these cases does anyone ever dare claim that the deceased has been utterly transformed, resurrected in a glorified body that possesses qualities of a transcendent nature. 

It would be laughable to make such claims.

But this is precisely what makes the claim about Jesus’ Resurrection so utterly unique in the annals of history: his disciples did claim that his tomb was empty; that he did appear multiple times to multiple people raised from the dead in a permanent, tangible way; that he did possess a glorified body which had been transformed to the transcendent sphere.

It’s laughable to suggest that Elvis, for example, has returned from the dead.  No Elvis fan making this claim would stake their life on it or reorient their worldview around it.  The same applies, as much as we might long for it to be true, to JFK, MLK, RFK and every other person who has ever lived—with one notable exception.

And as Karl Rahner suggests, the fact that the evidence surrounding the empty tomb and bodily appearances can’t be immediately dismissed as laughable, as it would in the case of every other human being who has ever lived, reveals that, in all probability, this evidence is good enough to make it true. 

How so?  For such an outrageous claim—that someone has actually risen from the dead—to have any credence whatsoever; for it to be taken seriously; for people to argue and debate about it, the evidence has to be substantial enough to overcome the fact that it runs counter to all the accumulated experience humans have ever had with death and its dreadful finality.  In other words, the threshold is so extraordinarily high just for this claim to be seriously entertained that the quality of the evidence has to be that good.

Why ISN’T this claim made more often?  The most likely reason is that only in Jesus’ case did it truly happen.

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About Me

E.J. Sweeney is a true skeptic. He needs to see to believe. Hard Evidence. Compelling Proof. Solid Logic. This is what he believes in. In college, he encountered questions that the superficial faith he was raised on couldn’t handle. So he began a quest for Truth, a quest for the answers to life’s ultimate questions.

EJ Sweeney

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