If you've read my musings on previous posts, then you'll know that I'm keen on a philosopher by the name of Bryan Magee, and that I think his book 'Confessions of a Philosopher' is a gem. As I was preparing for a funeral on Friday I found myself recalling some of the things Magee recounts in relation to his reading of the New Testament (and of the Gospels, it seems, in particular). After summing up his (perhaps rather idiosyncratic) interpretation of the Lord's teaching, he concludes:
[T]he fact that there was anyone at all going around preaching things like [Jesus preached] two thousand years ago in a desert area of the Middle East is, to say the least of it, surprising...[W]ithin the limitations of morality he goes as deep as anyone was to penetrate for the better part of two thousand years. When it comes to tellingness of moral insight, a question like 'What will a man gain by winning the whole world at the cost of his true self?' is unsurpassed. (pp 355-356).
Well, I hardly disagree. But what got me thinking was that this same Jesus, whose moral teaching is so striking that it has undeniable power for anyone who cares to listen to it, also said things like this:
In my Father's house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? (John 14:3).
A great moral teacher who gives a personal promise of eternal life. He speaks with such authority when it comes to good and evil that I can't believe that he lies about heaven and hell. And yet this word of promise about the Father's house he gives privately, to his chosen disciples.
It makes me think about the mystery of the Resurrection of the Lord. His empty, open tomb was there for all to see. Accessible. Perplexing. Ambiguous in its meaning. But the Lord revealed his glorified body only to those whom he chose to be his witnesses; and he explained the meaning of his death and resurrection privately. And yet even his own hand-picked disciples, beholding his glorified body with their eyes, and hearing his words with the ears, could still doubt (Matthew 28:17).
The Resurrection seems almost as unbelievable as death.
The funeral I was taking was for a woman who had died in her mid fifties. She was a very active person who was evidently greatly loved by her family, friends, and workmates. Six weeks ago she was fine, but was quickly taken by very aggressive brain tumors (NB Nick Lindner, if you’re reading, Kate Drummond was this woman’s neurosurgeon). It was hard to believe that her body was in the coffin at the front of the church. Or that her body is now in a box six feet under in a cemetery at Spring Hill. Or that I will also die.
Lord Jesus, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.