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May 8, 2014

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Margaret Alter 

Jesus' death and resurrection bring us face to face with a powerful and liberating paradox. It liberates us from the intense human desire to be safe at any price, to be risk free, to be certain, to be happy. If we strive for this for ourselves, we strive even harder to protect our children and prevent tragedies from happening, wanting  to create a perfect childhood. But as Robert Coles discovered in his study of children of privilege, even the most careful planning cannot make a system of denial complete.  And those less protected may demonstrate remarkable resilience. Ironically, were we in the United States to succeed in our efforts--each generation becoming more comfortable and competent than its predecessor--we would have nothing to say to the world.  There would be nothing in our lives to draw us into compassionate understanding of humanity in any loving and appreciative way.  

It is our scars that make us credible, and it is our scars that make us sensitive.  It was Jesus’scars, as well, that made him credible in his own day as well as among suffering people of the world in our day.  In resurrection accounts when Jesus encountered doubting and troubled followers, he established his identity not by brilliant discussion nor by miracles, but by his scars.  Thomas is a case in point. Jesus’scars made him credible.  John’s Gospel relates this story:  

But Thomas…was not with them when Jesus came…he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my hand in his side, I will not believe.” A week later . . . Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands.  Reach out your hand and put it in my side.  Do not doubt but believe.”(Jn 20:24, 25b, 26a, c, 27) 

Life jolts and wounds us, and we carry the scars, the results of those wounds, throughout our lives. Some of us have grown up in a family plagued with alcoholism. Others have struggled with poverty. Some have suffered from racism. Others have endured a disability, a serious illness, or a deformity. Very often it is by these experiences that we identify ourselves and by them we set the course of our lives.

From the perspective of popular culture, this is tragic: we will never really be “whole.” Life will never be pain free. From a Christian perspective, these scars mark the beginning of faith, compassion, and ministry. Frederick Buechner writes, “Christianity… ultimately offers no theoretical solution at all [as an explanation for suffering]. It merely points to the cross and says that, practically speaking, there is no evil so dark and so obscene--not even this--but God can turn it to good” (1972, 24). Jesus’ words of comfort to our world continue to ring true not because God rescued him, but because he moved with integrity into the heart of suffering, rejection, and death. And out of this, the terrible power of God brought everlasting victory.

When the worst that life might deal us can be so transformed, we encounter a “resurrection psychology.” Our confidence lies not in preventing anything bad from happening to us, nor in seeking perfect healing of our psychological wounds, but rather our confidence lies in the transforming power of God promised us through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.


Margaret Alter is the author of Resurrection Psychology: An Understanding of Human Personality Based on the Life and Teachings of Jesus. She is Professor of Psychology and Christianity at New College Berkeley.






Posted on May 8, 2014 at 4:44 PM

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