Risen a Skeptics Quest and an Eternal Question

The Movie Risen is showing in theaters; it is receiving mixed reviews from the movie critics. And yet, my experience of the film was one of awe and wonder; it is true that my desire for accuracy and detailed careful work was certainly not satisfied, and some of the details are incorrect (it is unlikely that Barabbas was hunted by Roman soldiers before the crucifixion itself, Mary Magdalene was likely not a prostitute, nor does the book of Acts indicate the disciples at this early stage of Church life were open to Gentiles, see Acts 10-11). And yet, the film is clearly misunderstood by many; this is a mystery drama that opens into the eternal Christian question, what will you do with Jesus? Thus, Risen is not theology artistically presented, this is art that is theologically (if not always historically) correct.

As an apologist, I began as an evidentialist; the evidence for the resurrection is overwhelming, and yet so many will not listen or dismiss the evidence out of hand. My growing (or renewed) interest in writers such as Alvin Plantinga, Francis Schaeffer and C S Lewis is rooted in this problem; before someone will listen to the evidence, they must be in a place to take it seriously. As Romans notes, men see the evidence for God, but suppress that knowledge, and the downward decline of nations and men is the consequence of this suppression. C S Lewis’s contribution to this question is to remind us of the power of imagination as a means of communicating our experiences; in part to prepare the soil of the heart (as Aslan tells the first pivotal character in the Chronicles of Narnia, Lucy, in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader she must come to know Him in our world, and that was why she was brought to Narnia in the first place).

We can view Risen best as placing the modern skeptic into the middle of the history, and the narrative provides us with a central figure, a Roman Tribune named Clavius who is, for all intents an investigator in the first half of the movie, and then an observer who is eventually confronted by an enthusiastic Peter, who asks Clavius if he will become a fisherman as well?

Clavius’s struggle begins, as does the modern man’s, with Yeshua of Nazareth dead, hanging on a cross with Romans and Jews both in shock at the events; Clavius under Pilate’s orders places a guard and seals the tomb, thinking that this will make an end of this Yeshua, and it is possible to go about his life and his business, despite the “superstitious” awe he encounters at the cross. Yet, Clavius, like us, is startled to hear that this Jesus body is gone from the tomb, and the disciples are proclaiming Him resurrected. He investigates and interviews witnesses, at first skeptically, until finding the upper room, where he finds Yeshua with his disciples; finding Jesus alive is not the end of the movie (as I expected walking into the theater), it is a turning point (as it is in life), a point where a new question must be answered by the skeptic: will he believe the evidence or will he dismiss the evidence of his own eyes, as he previously had suggested to one of the tomb’s guards?

Leaving a note for his former compatriots, he becomes an observer; removing his Roman armor (being found by Jesus, like us, Clavius must begin to abandon the old life) and becomes a temporary member of the apostolic band, but making little actual contribution to the events after providing some assistance in arriving at Galilee (in this, again, he is like us, as we observe the details of the Lord’s ministry in the gospel accounts). Coming to the end, the night before the ascension, he speaks with Jesus alone, and is asked the pivotal questions of faith, a discussion centering on a version of Pascal’s famous wager. We last see him after this retrospective walking into the Judean hills; leaving his old life, and setting out for the new adventure.

It is not enough for man’s mind to be captured; while the mind is the source for the crucial questions of worldview, these intellectual underpinnings are useless until they are spread throughout the heart, of which the mind is but one part, though an important one. Faith is not a leap in the dark, it is not based in an absence of information, instead it is embracing the difficult truth of our need for redemption, and the sweet release in knowing His grace.  It is giving oneself over to truth despite the hurdles to career and fortune.

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