Saturday, April 12, 2014

Given the Resurrection of Christ

In the April 2014 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Elder D. Todd Christofferson said something very interesting:

“Given the reality of the Resurrection of Christ, doubts about the omnipotence, omniscience, and benevolence of God the Father—who gave His Only Begotten Son for the redemption of the world—are groundless. Doubts about the meaning and purpose of life are unfounded. Jesus Christ is in fact the only name or way by which salvation can come to mankind. The grace of Christ is real, affording both forgiveness and cleansing to the repentant sinner. Faith truly is more than imagination or psychological invention. There is ultimate and universal truth, and there are objective and unchanging moral standards, as taught by Him."

"Given the reality of the Resurrection of Christ, repentance of any violation of His law and commandments is both possible and urgent. The Savior’s miracles were real, as is His promise to His disciples that they might do the same and even greater works. His priesthood is necessarily a real power that ‘administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God. Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest.’ Given the reality of the Resurrection of Christ, death is not our end, and though ‘skin worms destroy [our bodies], yet in [our] flesh shall [we] see God.’” [1]

This is a fascinating inversion of our usual way of thinking and it could easily be seen as circular and begging the question. How are doubts about the omnipotence, omniscience, and benevolence of God and doubts about the meaning and purpose of life groundless and unfounded? Doesn’t the reality of the Resurrection of Christ itself require grounding and foundation? Elder Christofferson has done something very interesting here, something very bold. By taking the reality of the Resurrection of Christ as “given” it seems that Elder Christofferson is declaring that the reality of the Resurrection of Christ is itself the grounding and foundation for other beliefs. Rather than a proposition which must be derived from other foundations, the reality of the Resurrection of Christ is the foundation from which all other truths are established.

This is quite scripturally appropriate. The scriptures say that it is on Christ that you must “build your foundation.” (Helaman 5:12) They also speak of a unique epistemology founded in Christ Himself. Moroni wrote: “For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God. But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him.” (Moroni 7:16-17, italics added) Moroni, like Elder Christofferson, also grounded all knowledge in the person of Jesus Christ. Indeed, he said we could have a “perfect knowledge” by referring to Christ as the standard for all things - a very bold claim indeed.

At the risk of diluting the power of the prophets’ message, a comparison with one historical philosophical theory of knowledge might be interesting. The modern philosophical project known as foundationalism is the effort to find some secure foundation for certainty, to establish perfect knowledge. Foundationalism distinguishes between two kinds of beliefs: (a) beliefs which we hold on the basis of other beliefs and (b) beliefs which we do not hold on the basis of other beliefs. Beliefs which we do not hold on the basis of other beliefs are called properly basic. All other beliefs rely on properly basic beliefs. It seems that both Elder Christofferson and Moroni take belief in Christ and His Resurrection to be properly basic beliefs, beliefs that do not require support from other beliefs because they are themselves most basic. [2]

Some more scriptures will help to illustrate and understand this principle. The scriptures often speak of knowledge of God as something that is universally accessible to all even though it is often not recognized or is rejected. For example, Paul in his letter to the Romans said: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith. For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” (Romans 1:16-21) It seems from Paul’s letter that there is a basic knowledge of God that is “revealed” to all people both “from faith to faith” and is “understood by the things that are made”. That is, knowledge of God is given both in the words of the prophets and through the world that we perceive around us. This knowledge of God infuses all things.

A similar witness was given by Alma to the doubting Korihor: “Will ye say, Show unto me a sign, when ye have the testimony of all these thy brethren, and also all the holy prophets? The scriptures are laid before thee, yea, and all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator.” (Alma 30:44) Again, Alma refers to the witnesses within the faith, “the testimony of all these thy brethren, and also all the holy prophets”, and the witnesses surrounding us in the universe. Both Alma and Paul see knowledge of God as something that is self-evident and incorrigible, the kind of knowledge that is foundational. And significantly, this knowledge has important moral implications.

Moroni, speaking of the “perfect knowledge” we may have in reference to Christ speaks further of the mechanism behind this perfect knowledge. This mechanism is the light of Christ: “And now, my brethren, seeing that ye know the light by which ye may judge, which light is the light of Christ, see that ye do not judge wrongfully; for with that same judgment which ye judge ye shall also be judged. Wherefore, I beseech of you, brethren, that ye should search diligently in the light of Christ that ye may know good from evil; and if ye will lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not, ye certainly will be a child of Christ.” (Moroni 7:18-19)

The light of Christ is further described in a revelation given to the Joseph Smith: “He that ascended up on high, as also he descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth; Which truth shineth. This is the light of Christ. As also he is in the sun, and the light of the sun, and the power thereof by which it was made. As also he is in the moon, and is the light of the moon, and the power thereof by which it was made; As also the light of the stars, and the power thereof by which they were made; And the earth also, and the power thereof, even the earth upon which you stand. And the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your understandings; Which light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space.” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:6-12, italics added)

From these passages we can see that Christ is the source of all things and power by which all things are created and sustained. [3] He is prior to all other things and all things proceed from Him. “By him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created.” (Doctrine and Covenants 76:24, see also John 1:1-3; Doctrine and Covenants 93:10) It is through Christ that we are able to understand anything it all. It is Christ who enlightens are eyes and quickens our understanding. As the Sun gives light to the Earth and is the source of all life on Earth, so He is the light that is in all things and governs all things. It is the light of Christ that enables us to see anything at all. As the Earth orbits around the Sun, so all things are derived from Christ and are sustained and governed by Him.

Elder Christofferson and the other prophets before him have produced a kind of Copernican revolution. Rather than seek to establish the truthfulness of Christ and His Resurrection upon other foundational truths, they declare Christ Himself to be the foundation of all truth. Christ is the very foundation, the reference to which all things are to be judged. Given the fact of His Resurrection all doubts concerning Christ and His gospel are groundless and unfounded precisely because Christ is Himself the ground and foundation by which we know all things. The locus of all truth is Christ Himself.

What proceeds from this foundation? Everything that is important. “If Jesus was in fact literally resurrected, it necessarily follows that He is a divine being. No mere mortal has the power in himself to come to life again after dying. Because He was resurrected, Jesus cannot have been only a carpenter, a teacher, a rabbi, or a prophet. Because He was resurrected, Jesus had to have been a God, even the Only Begotten Son of the Father. Therefore, what He taught is true; God cannot lie. Therefore, He was the Creator of the earth, as He said. Therefore, heaven and hell are real, as He taught. Therefore, there is a world of spirits, which He visited after His death. Therefore, He will come again, as the angels said, and ‘reign personally upon the earth.’ Therefore, there is a resurrection and a final judgment for all.” [4] The gospel of Jesus Christ encompasses the most important truths that we need to know, “all that follows from the fact of His Resurrection.” And through Christ we can know these things with a “perfect knowledge”. Christ is the sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall. (Helaman 5:12)

1. Elder D. Todd Christofferson. “The Resurrection of Jesus Christ”. April 2014 General Conference
2. Plantinga, Alvin and Wolterstorff, Nicholas. Faith and Rationality: Reason and Belief in God. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1983.
4. Elder D. Todd Christofferson. “The Resurrection of Jesus Christ”. April 2014 General Conference


  1. Who wrote the Gospels? For what purpose were the Gospels written? Is there any evidence to support the belief that these four 1st century books were written as eyewitness, historical accounts?

    If it turns out that we do not know who wrote these books, and we do not know for what purpose these books were written (for all we know, they could be historical fictions, such as Homer's Iliad, written for entertainment purposes only), then doesn’t the entire foundation of the “evidence” argument for the Resurrection fall to pieces?

    1. Sorry for the belated reply. I guess I need to check the comments section more. I wrote this a while ago but I think I can recover the raw thought that I tried to put into words.

      You're right that the four canonized gospels are probably not eyewitness accounts. And those documents are not sufficient to prove the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus. The historical Jesus is an interesting field but what I'm considering here is the theology of resurrection. That operates on two levels, the literal and the metaphorical (supraliteral). In the Gospels Jesus almost always speaks in metaphor.

      As I see it, resurrection is about life and death. This is existentially most basic. In scripture the difference between life and death is not only binary but comes in degrees. Jesus spoke of having life more abundantly and of people who were metaphorically dead though literally alive (let the dead bury their dead). Eternal life can be understood both extensively and intensively. It can last through an infinite duration of time or infuse a finite moment with vibrancy. Resurrection is both a literal restoration of physical life and a metaphorical (though very real) awakening to a newness of life in a way of being, the way taught by Jesus. This is the way Paul described baptism, as metaphorical resurrection.

      The object of my Christocentric epistemology is not to prove the resurrection but to evaluate other things in life through the lens of the resurrection. Things appear differently through this lens. People who were enemies become people we love. People who were despised, like prostitutes and tax collectors (think soulless bureaucrats), become beloved brothers and sisters. Every person is an infinite being with infinite life. The belief in literal resurrection serves to bolster this metaphorical conviction.

      This may all seem quite touchy-feely in comparison to the hard methods of science. But after reflecting on it I think the resurrection touches on what is our most basic concern. Albert Camus said that whether life is or is not worth living is the most fundamental question and I think that's right. Resurrection is the reclaiming of life from death. Death can come in the form of despair or just ennui. Resurrection reinvigorates life and makes it more abundant.