If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:19)
‘But what if it isn’t true and there isn’t a life to come? Won’t you regret missing out on the pleasures of this world? Won’t you be devastated to learn that in fact you didn’t need to give up your same-sex relationship after all?’ As a young Christian, I used to answer questions like these from friends by asserting that, even if it wasn’t true, well at least I’ll have lived a life of purpose, peace and meaning. No regrets.
This way of thinking is not unlike what’s known as ‘Pascal’s Wager.’ The French philosopher argued that a rational person should live as though God exists. If God does not actually exist, such a person will suffer only a finite loss, forgoing, for example, certain pleasures and luxuries. But if God does exist, they stand to receive infinite gains (eternity in Heaven) and avoid infinite losses (eternity in Hell).
I now realise that this way of thinking is completely out of step with the Apostle Paul’s arguments in 1 Corinthians 15. He clearly doesn’t hold to the view that if there’s no resurrection from the dead, well never mind as I’ve lived a great life here on earth – no regrets. Nor does he urge the Corinthian Christians to simply “take a punt” on there being a resurrection life to come.
No, Paul argues that if there were no resurrection of the dead, seven inevitable and catastrophic consequences would follow: 1) not even Christ could have been raised from death (v 13); 2) preaching Christ would be in vain (v 14); 3) faith in Christ would be in vain (v 14); 4) all the eyewitnesses and subsequent preachers of the resurrection would be liars who have misrepresented God (v 15); 5) nobody would be redeemed from sin and its penalty (v 17); 6) all earlier believers in Christ would have perished eternally (v 18) and 7) Christians would be the most pitiable people in the whole world (v 19).
Why ought we to be pitied? Well, because if there is no resurrection from the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. He’s still dead. And if he’s still dead, then evidently he has no authority over life and death. So for us to put our hope in him for resurrection to eternal life is utterly futile. The two resurrections – Christ’s and believers’ – stand or fall together. And if Christ didn’t rise from the dead, then it is pointless for you and I to take up our cross, deny ourselves and lose our lives for the sake of a dead man who claimed to be God. Rather we should focus on pursuing maximum wealth, pleasure and amusement in this life. “If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die’” (v 32).
But Christ did rise from the dead. Paul stresses “as of first importance” (v 3) the eye-witness evidence for the resurrection: “… that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me” (v 4-8).
The evidence for the resurrection is overwhelming. And it really is worth giving everything in order to follow the one who declares in Revelation 1:18, “I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”