From the outset, I will readily admit that I have no more hard evidence to accept the resurrection of Christ than I do for any other supernatural happening in antiquity (e.g. the Mi’raj of Muhammad).
I have seen some Christians make the (strange) argument that the success of the early Christian movement is evidence in itself regarding the veracity of Christ’s resurrection! I find that to be complete nonsense. On the other hand, I have seen atheists and non-Christians argue that the resurrection could not have possibly occurred due to the fact that Jesus didn’t prove it to the world by flying through the air over the Empire, but instead only disclosed the fact to a handful of disciples (and another 500 people if you accept the tradition found in 1 Cor. 15). This too is a very strange and silly argument.
The resurrection of Christ is presuppositional and foundational to early Christianity. If it were not for the belief in the resurrection of Christ by a handful of his followers, then Christianity would have never arisen to the heights that it did, and Jesus would have merely been relegated to a footnote in history as just another first-century itinerant Jewish preacher who purportedly healed the sick. Naturally, though, the significance of Christ’s resurrection to the subject of Christian origins does not have any bearing as to whether it actually occurred.
At one end of the spectrum you have Christians who uncritically accept everything in the resurrection accounts found in the four canonical gospels, making every attempt to reconcile the conflicting accounts of the events that happened on Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. At the other end of the spectrum are those who relegate the entire resurrection account to a syncretism with surrounding religions or to being the figment of someone’s imaginative mind. Most inquirers, however, who have a scintilla of knowledge of the history of religions find themselves between these two fundamentalist extremes.
For it is hardly doubtable that some of Jesus’ followers experienced visions of him after his death. These visions were then in turn interpreted as evidence that God had vindicated Jesus by resurrecting and exalting him as Lord. The question remains as to whether these convictions were the result of an actual resurrection, or if they were borne out of grief-stricken hallucinations or perhaps even deliberate deceptions. Many people will gladly accept the view that was held by the majority of Jews who were alive in Jesus’ time, that God did not resurrect Jesus from the dead. Others, however, will embrace the view espused by a handful of Jesus’ followers, that death did not have the final say in the matter.
Either God resurrected Jesus from the dead or his followers got the job done in their imaginations. If it was the former, then the Deity thought that something about Jesus demanded a different ending than death by crucifixion. Conversely, if the disciples, whether through deliberate deceptions or grief-stricken self-delusions, were the ones who raised Jesus into the heavens through their imaginations, they too felt the same way about him. So whether it was God or the disciples, death by crucifixion was reckoned to be the wrong denouement; resurrection was needed.
So why do I believe in the resurrection of Christ? Why not dismiss it as a fable, as the vast majority of people do? As I said at the beginning, I do not believe in Christ’s resurrection due to some conclusive evidence that I have encountered. It is not an objective reason but rather a subjective one. I choose to believe in the resurrection of Christ because I really like the new way of understanding God, life, and the cosmos, that it brings. If Jesus was indeed resurrected from the dead as Lord, it changes everything.
I like what the resurrection says about God, for in light of the teachings of Jesus and the way that he lived (climaxing in the cross), that God chose to resurrect him from the dead says a lot about God and the type of life that is pleasing to God. Additionally, the dialectic to be found in the cross and the resurrection presents the best response to the question of theodicy that I have encountered (or the “open wound of life” as Moltmann called it). In the cross, Christ is an innocent person being executed, a man abandoned by his friends and utterly forsaken by God. But the resurrection is God’s response. Christ is vindicated by God and installed as lord and judge over all. It instills hope for the future regarding the open wound of life. The resurrection of Christ was not an arbitrary display of how powerful God can be; it was the inauguration of God’s kingdom, bringing with it a great hope for the future of this world and for those who cry out from the ground for justice.