Here we are, not even a week into Lent, and we are already being faced with the mysterious reality of resurrection, faith and doubt. This is what ABC led many to with the Sunday premiere of “Resurrection.” Based on the debut novel “The Returned” by Jason Mott, Resurrection is about the dead returning to life. This is no, “And on the third day he rose again,” story though. The people on Resurrection, such as 8-year-old Jacob—the first to be resurrected, have been gone for a long time. Jacob was dead for 32 years before coming back to life in a rice paddy in China and finding his way to his aging parents doorstep with the help of immigration office J. Martin Bellamy—played by Omar Epps. The locus of these resurrection stories is Arcadia, Missouri, a town that at once seems small and sleepy but is really full of secrets and sadness. We don’t know why Jacob and others are coming back to life—rest assured this is also not a zombie apocalypse story—nor do we know who is responsible for these resurrections—there is no hint that it’s a God thing, but what we discover is resurrection changes everything and creates questions.
A moment of contemplating the possibility of resurrection is shattered when loved ones are faced with the full-bodied presence of their loved ones. Existential questions may remain but empirical evidence requires their full attention. When the un-aged Jacob lands on his parent’s doorstep and asks his father Henry Langston, “What’s red and green and goes a million miles an hour?” “A frog in a blender,” his father answers without a second thought and in an instant he is hit by the realization that this could really be his son standing before him. Yet and still the question of whether this is truly possibly is thick in the air. One of the most emotional moments of the show was when Jacob’s mother reached out to touch her son for the first time. With slightly trembling hands hovering over Jacob’s head, Lucille Langston stood as one in disbelief until she touched him. She was an embodiment of Thomas the disciple who didn’t want to believe Jesus had risen unless, “I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side” (John 20:25). My comparing Jacob’s mother to doubting Thomas is probably just the occupational hazard of a former seminarian and forever theology nerd but the show offers up other moments of explicit theological and philosophical reflections.
Jacob’s story connects to several people in Arcadia including Pastor Tom Hale who was his childhood friend. As you can imagine, Jacob’s appearance sends Pastor Hale into a sort of crisis of faith and he begins to wonder how he can go from preaching the miracles of God to believing in the miracle as manifested through Jacob. Pastor Hale’s wife gives him wise counsel by telling him that his job is not to have all of the answers but to be there to comfort people who have questions. As a resurrected Jacob walks into the church, Pastor Hale invokes his wife’s words of wisdom and the spirit of Anselm’s “faith seeking understanding” by telling his congregation that faith is in asking questions not knowing answers. This is how resurrection changes everything.
During my last semester of theology school in a class on Howard Thurman, my professor polled the class and on what we believe is essential to the Christian faith. Some of the essentials we listed as a class: belief in Christ, incarnation of Christ, acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, faith, and, of course, the bodily resurrection. After this non-comprehensive list was formed my professor went back through and polled the class on each essential asking by a show of hands to respond to whether or not these were indeed essentials. Once he got to the question of the bodily resurrection, I was one of six students—in a class of 20 or so—to affirm that belief in the bodily resurrection is essential to the Christian faith. For this my professor put me in the hot seat. “Why do you think belief in the bodily resurrection is essential to the Christian faith?” My professor asked me in front of my fellow students. I was nervous and I spouted a bunch of answers of why it makes sense to me, until he asked me if it is a requirement for everyone to believe. I was asked this question about this time last year, we were also in the midst of Lent already talking about resurrection and I ended my response with a question, “Why wouldn’t you believe in the bodily resurrection if you are acknowledging this liturgical season?” I couldn’t see how most of my classmates would give up in believing in the bodily resurrection that fulfills Jesus’ own words of, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). But the basis of our entire “essentials of Christian faith” discussion was about people coming together to question what it is they believe and even to formulate answers that produce more questions. There was power in the questions and even in some of the answers.
Most of us, if we are willing to admit it, live in a space somewhere between faith and doubt but we shrug doubt off. We’ve been taught that to doubt is to border on unbelief. But to doubt, from time to time, is a part of faith. Theologian Paul Tillich said, “If doubt appears, it should not be considered as the negation of faith, but as an element which was always and will always be present in the act of faith. Existential doubt and faith are poles of the same reality, the state of ultimate concern.” To put it plainly, and in the context of the show Resurrection, to doubt while holding on to your belief in the God of miracles or in the miracle itself is not to withdraw from faith but to exercise faith all the more. It takes a measure of faith to move through doubt. Resurrection, while not a show explicitly about faith, has something to show people of faith about living in the tension of faith and doubt. The characters who are witnessing their loved ones come back to life own the doubt they are experiencing, but they also have enough faith to make the miracle of a resurrection seem more probable than possible.