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Your God Raises the Dead? Give Me a God Who Raises the Living!

January 01, 2012

No matter how great a song is it cannot raise the dead, cure cancer or make your lost lover return. Music does not change the world you live in, reverse time or change history. It does not promise snake oil solutions to life’s woes. But music is anything but impotent; indeed it can be experienced as one of the most potent forces in our universe. For music can assist us in changing the way that we interact with the world we live in.

Great music can help us to affirm life, embrace it, face it and sublimate it. In other words music can help sensitize us to, and celebrate, the life that we participate in.

The poet is one who helps us experience life as inscribed with a rich and sensuous texture. She helps us to call forth, confront and confirm our existence. Inviting us to find the courage that might enable us to say “yes” and “Amen” to life in the midst of its complexity and in spite of our anxiety.

In light of this we might begin to understand how a divine miracle is not something that simply raises the dead but one that is able to raise the living to a place where life is not experienced as death. For without the latter the former would appear to be nothing more than the work of an evil demon.

I guess that is why I was never that interested in gods who raise the dead. The real power lies in raising the living: something that is testified to in the act of love.

Love is that which experiences another as worth more than the mundane matter of which they are composed. In love we find a cause for which we would be willing to die, and it is there that we experience life as worthy of living. In love we find a world worth dancing in and celebrating.

The claim that “God is love” testifies to this miracle. It points to the idea that, in the act of love, we encounter a transcendent depth and mystery that sets our world ablaze, a depth and mystery that we cannot grasp, but which renders our world worthy of being grasped. In other words it hints at the idea that the highest good is not some object that we should love, but a reality we participate in through the act of love itself.

Love is then the true miracle; it is in love that the living are raised from death to life. In love we do not run from our world, but learn to embrace it and raise it to the level of the sacred.

28 Responses to Your God Raises the Dead? Give Me a God Who Raises the Living!

  1. Ron Cole says:

    Radical! scandalous redemptive imagination…Peter Rollins you rock my world.

  2. So appreciated. Thanks Pete.

  3. Paul C says:

    Peter, your thoughts above are truly beautiful and refreshing. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Lyle Taffs says:

    Thanks again for your thoughtful contribution to the ‘conversation’ Pete. As I look in the mirror I say ‘theory, theory , theory, all is theoriness’. How do i make an expansive ‘dis-course’ of ‘meaning’ into something practical, meaningful, useful? How do I transform it into an ‘incarnatedness’ that is applicable to (and by) everybody both professor and laborer, relaxed and harried, happy and unhappy, Christian and non-Christian etc?

  5. Kerith Hart says:

    Mr. Rollins, this is an unsuspecting take on resurrection that I have been looking at myself, granted it has been on a slightly different degree. Let me clarify. I hear tell of so many charismatic movements praying for revival ad nauseum. Not that I am disagreeing per sé but I see revival as a mere band aid for believers. Personally I don’t want to put a band aid on a dead man and expect him to twitch and come back to life. That would be a little awkward if you ask me. I pray instead a resurrection of the church would take place widespread. All this said, I have been reading and searching the Word for what the Father has been trying to show us about resurrection. I have been consistently finding, particularly in the Gospels, some rather beautiful cases of the resurrection of the living. Even as Jesus performed signs and wonders such as healing of the blind and the leper, He was also resurrecting the living from the dead of the Law by showing the people the very essence of the Father and pointing the way to eternal life. Does not John 3.16 point this very element out? Did He not also come that we would be “elevated” to a deepest intimacy that is “sacred” indeed? Alas, I could go on for a while. But I am rather excited that someone has a rather similar view “raising the living”. Be blessed Mr. Rollins.

  6. Stephen says:

    Love the Dore illustration – a perfect choice.

  7. Scott Cowan says:

    This seems to resemble Jesus’ message in Matt. 21:28-31 & His words in the next chapter, “And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: …He is not God of the dead, but of the living.”

    Also along the lines of Kierkegaard’s idea:
    “From the Christian point of view love is the work of love. Christ’s love was not an intense feeling of love, a full heart, etc.;it was rather the work of love, which is his life.”

    I enjoy reading your ideas on love!

  8. edwardpillar says:

    I love the idea of raising the living…how much we need it… But, having spend the last 5 years studying the meaning of the resurrection of Jesus I am increasingly convinced that we need to see this event as the the key to understanding God’s love, his gift of salvation, forgiveness, how God subverts power, brings about peace…and so on. Just about everything I used to think was rooted in the death of Jesus I am now wondering whether it has all been misplaced (possibly in the cause of Christendom…?) and in fact is made visible and possible by the resurrection.

  9. merlinaeus says:

    @ edwardpillar

    Yes, read Rene Girard, or, more specifically Sebastian Moore, ‘The Contagion of Jesus’ for more on this.

    The problem with some trad theories of atonement (eg penal substitution)is that they relegate the resurrection to a sort of after-party; not really integral to atonement at all.


    @’God is love, and those who live in love live in God’ Could it be stated any more plainly?!

  10. phil says:

    all good points, definitely-

    however i am also very excited that Jesus (and his followers) are also able to resuccitate people that are actually dead, as well…

    would be a shame to miss the reality that Jesus raised lazarus (and others) from death. sometimes the obvious truth is also amazing. Jesus is Lord!

  11. John says:

    Once again – why such a dreadfully dark image?

    Sure enough we all eventually die, even potentially in the next moment.

  12. John says:

    ALWAYS remember that your inherent heart-disposition wants and needs Infinite, Absolute, True, Eternal Happiness.

    But first you have to become supremely Real about your situation.

    The real man or woman learns to live by becoming willing and able to die in any moment.

    such a one is able to confront the difficult barriers and frustrations of this (only slightly evolved) world and, yet, remain capable of ecstasy in every moment.

    Therefore, the primary initiation that leads to true human maturity is the confrontation with mortal fear.

    Only when the ultimate frustration that is death has been fully considered and felt and understood as a process can the individual live without self-protective and self-destructive fears.

    Only in intuitive freedom from the threat and fear of death is the (apparent) individual capable of constant love of the Divine Being, and thus of all seeming “other” beings.
    Only in freedom from mortal recoil is the (apparent) individual capable of ecstasy under all conditions.

    Therefore, be alive – but learn right life by first dealing with your death.
    Become aware that you do not live, but that you are Lived by the Divine Person.
    Become willing to die in any moment, and maintain no armor against it.
    Die in every moment – by not holding on to your (apparent) separate life.

  13. Mike says:

    So many of the “old guard” evangelicals who inherited a theological model straight out of fundamentalism tend to objectify God. They speak of loving Jesus as something one does in the same way as loving any person or thing in our material lives.

    I really love how Rollins counters this by essentially saying we do not objectify God; we experience God; we live in God and therefore, love God by loving and loving who and what God loves. Amen.

  14. Margaret says:

    The irony of “rising from the dead” in the Christian context, whether it is the the dead dead who are raised (as we saw in the resurrection stories of Jesus) or the living dead who are raised, is that such re-birth, if it is genuine, marks a transformation. Things change. Once someone, a living dead person, dies to self and is raised in Christ, parts of that person stay dead -they have to, or the whole thing is some sort of bizarre phoenix rising out of the ashes to be the same again.

    The miracle is the transformation, a transformation which can only be seen or measured in what Peter shows above. An insecure person needs to be bolstered up with possessions, including the God-possession. Being raised to life s/he gives way to becoming someone truly re-born who learns over time to love unstintingly and sacrificially as indeed God does.

    Raising the “dead” dead is awesome, in it can be contained in time and place and observed as such. Raising the “living” dead cannot be so easily contained. Some parts remain irrevocably dead, and the new birth involves a growing and unending change, and continuous dying and rising again. Not so awesome, but infinitely more miraculous.

  15. Kelly says:

    Dr. Rollins,

    In this blog you speak to the very thing I am doing with music. Attempting to raise the living. There appeared in several of the above posts some of the themes (or absence of themes, notibly John 3:16) that Johannes Brahms avoided in his Requiem, which otherwise is an extended development upon the idea of the kingdom as a present and future reality. I hope to attend the UCA Lecture tomorrow. If you have time, my website is ecumenicalendeavors.org. Grace and peace, Kelly Craft

  16. merlinaeus says:

    I love these very ‘incarnational’ posts of yours, Pete.

    I wonder, too, with this post and others, how you might start to develop it into a more balanced Trinitarian framework. What might that look like?


  17. Daina House says:

    Brilliantly said and so true!

    Thank You,

  18. mark says:

    Perhaps this is why Jesus waited around for a few days before raising Lazarus. Perhaps his sisters needed to experience the depth and value and richness of his life (through the agent of loss)–it was a resuscitation from death; it was a resurrection to life.

  19. Tim Kelly says:

    Actually, for me, this post has insufficient fleshing out of the these transcendent signifers. What worries me a little is that Dr Rollins should be a whole lot more careful, more self-conscious about the use of phrases such as in the ‘act of love we encounter depth and mystery.’ Well, these are the phrases we hide behind when we don’t really have anything to say for fear that somebody might accuse us of actually having a position. These words are packed with signification that deserve to be explored in concrete terms. I recall Dr Rollins Mars Hill address on ‘Material Reality” in which he represented the very mundane and true idea that people ‘don’t walk the talk’ behind unnecessarily conceptual language. For a movement that is unhappy with tired and habitual theology, we do not need cliches dressed up in aphoristic language. And don’t start me on the studied casualness of ‘never much interested in gods who could raise the dead’. Really? Because you think it’s not true? Or because it would bore you?. If you think it’s not true say so (I have no problem with you wanting to take that position)but don’t hide behind hipster cool.

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  21. Grayson says:

    With much appreciation . . . and yet . . . what accountable tribute to death is conceded by saying “In love we find a cause for which we would be willing to die . . .”? Why is “death” the justifiable “cause” for loving? When did “love” become answerable to “death”?

    • Peter Rollins says:

      It isn’t the cause

      • Grayson says:

        Is not saying “In love we find a cause for which we would be willing to die” equal to saying “In love we find the cause to die for”? What then is the “cause”? Again, how/why does “death” justify the “cause” you’ve called “love”?

        • Peter Rollins says:

          Sorry. They are structurally different. To
          see the difference all you need to do is reduce the two statements to their basic logical form and contrast their structure. So again, from a purely logical philosophical perspective, it isn’t the cause.

          • Grayson says:

            “Sructurally differently”? Maybe so. Phenomenologically you’ve left us with one and the same.

        • Lisa Carson says:

          Your question reminds me (I may be wrong)of what a few atheists find as a fault of religion – that it teaches or influences martyrs or those who will die for God – and how this can become troubling when many have irrational belief’s in God that they will then “die for”…and how does one argue with that, or do they fight against any belief in God (Atheists). What occurred to me a while back is not that it is the idea to die for God (or insert Love) but that when a person experiences improvement or the potential for better within the world it becomes more difficult to remain the same or to deny the desire for growth (or further entering into), so one finds that they would rather sacrifice toward this insight rather than live in not doing it – in this one would “die for it” but would rather hope to live in it. It can be pretty logical…for instance…say that you discover that certain research has uncovered an amazing find that if continued in can aid humanity greatly…but it requires huge risks and trial periods….but if it grasps you that much then one might conclude it is worth it…but great love should be lived out otherwise we should all just go eat some worms.

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