Jessica lives among the poorest of the poor just north of Lima, Peru. As a very young child she fell ill, languished for a few days, and died. In her neighborhood there were no telephones--no electricity, no running water. Her mother gathered the women in the neighborhood and began to pray. She sent others to find her husband, and still others to find the elders of the church, who showed up within a couple of hours and joined in prayer. After hours more of prayer, Jessica came back to life.
I met Jessica when she was about eight years old. Her mother told me how Jesus had raised her daughter from the dead. I suggested that perhaps her daughter had been very sick, but not dead. With typical North American smugness, I reasoned with the woman that God most certainly had healed the girl, but remained skeptical of outright resurrection. The woman became incensed and told me she knew very well that her daughter had died, and that Jesus brought her back. Mom was pretty angry with me.
Now, every semester I tell my students of the day I met a little girl raised from the dead. Then I watch them process the story--as I did when I first met Jessica. Then we talk about why North American Christians don’t raise the dead.
- North American Christians don’t raise the dead because we don’t ask. Death has the final word in our society: call the doctor, call the coroner, call the funeral home. Let them make the pronouncement and carry the dead away. Affluent societies are insulated from the dead. The dead are whisked away, cleaned, dressed and embalmed by professionals while we weep and mourn at home. It doesn’t occur to us to stay by their side and ask God to intervene. When a woman named Tabitha died in Joppa, the believers asked Peter to come help. (Acts 9) They didn’t accept death as the final word.
- North American Christians don’t raise the dead because we don’t see death as an enemy. We attribute every death with God’s sovereign plan, and comfort ourselves with superstitions like “everything happens for a reason.” Yet the Apostle Paul makes it clear that death is indeed the enemy of humankind, “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1 Corinthians 15: 25-26) Death is real, and inevitable, but we have forgotten it is also our foe.
- North American Christians don’t raise the dead because because we have not learned from Jesus. Jesus taught by his actions as well as his words. Bill Johnson, pastor of Bethel Church in Redding, CA, reminds us that Jesus ruined every funeral he attended. True, his actions spoke of his own coming resurrection, but perhaps there was something else to learn from his example. Perhaps Jesus raised the dead because not everyone dies in God’s perfect timing. A quick study of those raised from the dead in the gospels and Acts reveal that Jesus and his disciples intervened in the deaths of those who were young, or who died accidentally.
- North American Christians don’t raise the dead because we have pushed all resurrections into a single event at the end of time. It is a day to be desired: the grave will give up its dead, we will meet him in the clouds. But our faith is about more than the End Times. An illustration: when a local college-aged girl died of a mysterious illness a few years ago we sent a team to pray over her body. One local minister snorted--why would anyone want to bring her back from the dead? She’s happier with Jesus, isn’t she?” The minister could think of no compelling reason for resurrection apart from the Last Day.
Jesus himself gave these instructions to his disciples: “As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.” (Matthew 10: 7-8) The scripture presents the example of Jesus, Peter, and Paul, all involved in resurrection ministry. It’s true that we will all taste death eventually, but it’s not true that all death is for us to taste. The Kingdom of God message should be met with Kingdom of God demonstration. Forgiveness, justice, mercy, community, healing, and yes, resurrections are all signs of the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom.
Four bullet points aren’t enough to change anyone’s mind. But they should be enough to open the discussion: why don’t North American Christians raise the dead? Believers in Asia, Africa, and South America do. We cannot dismiss their experiences. In many respects believers on those continents are more familiar with death than we are. And more familiar with resurrection.
This is no academic exercise. This discussion is important to individual followers of Jesus. We need to embrace all possibilities of life in Christ, especially, perhaps, the ones that blow our minds.
What do you think? Should we raise the dead? Can we raise the dead? Why are North American and Europeans Christians the exception?