April 25, 2011

A Terrible Good


‘Tis a dark and definitively stormy night, and I find myself rereading Charles Williams’ Descent into Hell while thunder rumbles with a stirring splendour, rattling the windows and shaking the walls of the house.  Fitting, it seems.  It’s the sort of night where you might almost expect, reaching out a hand to the empty air, to encounter another being—a doppelgänger, perhaps—or something else dead but not departed.

A rather morbid dread, in retrospect, on the day in which we celebrate the empty tomb.

I wonder if those who were present at the resurrection trembled at a similar clap of thunder before the tomb opened—and how violently the earth must have shaken—and how it must have been to suddenly see multitudes of undead walking about.

The gospel writers say these things happened.  I wonder whether it was all as terrifying as it sounds.  I rather think it must have been.

“If things are terrifying,” I can almost hear Pauline Anstruther asking, “can they be good?”  I echo with Peter Stanhope: “Yes, surely.” 

Yet on a night such as this, it doesn’t seem enough to simply cast my vote in favor of the resurrection.  Yes, I believe in the resurrection.  No, I don’t fully grasp what it means, but I do think it’s more than the terms we like to throw around to define it: “substitution,” “propitiation,” “reconciliation,” “ransom.”  Not that these terms aren’t true—not that they don’t help us try to make sense of it—but we spoil the power of the moment (I think) when we limit it to purely philosophical claims.

I hope in the resurrection, but there are aspects of it that do still terrify me—and I hope they always shall.  Lightning flashes before my eyes, and I feel the thunder.  The very ground beneath me shakes—because God is near.

He is risen.  A terrible good.

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