The Integrity of Creation in Light of the Resurrection
The term integrity is derived from the Latin integritas, which means “wholeness, completeness, purity.”1 A person of integrity is honest. An object with integrity is complete and intact. The integrity of Creation defines the wholeness, noncontingency (unconditionality, certainty), and value or “goodness” of the created order (cf. Genesis 1:31).
From the perspective of science, the integrity of Creation is grounded in natural law. However, while the universe is sustained by law, it is finally destined by law for annihilation through either cosmic explosion or collapse. Nonexistence is thus the apparent destiny of Creation under law. In this situation, man (male and female) remains a helpless observer and hapless victim.
In the eyes of humanism, the integrity of Creation finally rests upon man himself. As the Greek philosopher Protagoras (485-410 BCE) contended, “Man is the measure of all things.”2 Likewise, the modern enlightenment regards man himself as the fountain of ultimate reality, defined as consciousness, reason and self-evident knowledge.
From the perspective of many religions and those ancient Greek philosophies adopted by religion, the integrity of Creation rests in the hands of God. To Plato (427?-347 BCE),
God is the measure of reality. A primary reason why early Christians regard Plato as the best of philosophers was precisely this respect for the divine as absolute, and his view was taken as axiomatic for the long centuries of Christendom.3
In this view God alone sustains the universe but finally abandons Creation and allows reality to return to the self-existent cosmic oneness of God himself as soul or spirit, idea or form, archetype or power. Traditional Christianity thus assumes that the soul alone — devoid of body — possesses immortality. From this standpoint, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is merely instrumental to the bestowal of the Spirit, which, in turn, assures the soul’s return to Deity.
Therefore, atheistic, humanistic and theistic views of reality all regard the integrity of the created universe as provisional and transient, with ultimate destiny as either nonexistence or self-existence. However, if Creation is contingent, then finally it is purposeless, meaningless, valueless. It cannot be “good.”
In the face of these traditional assumptions, our purpose is to declare that the embodied resurrection of Jesus from the dead fulfills God’s commitment to the eternal — rather than provisional — integrity of the created order.
The Co-Integrity of the Creator with Creation
Let us then begin with God — the one Ultimate, Supreme Being. “In the beginning” (Genesis 1:1) he existed alone. There was no “other.” Nothing preceded him. No one accompanied him. Nobody competed with him. No “other” related to him. He “was” — before, apart from, and independent of all reality.
Nevertheless, also from the “beginning,” God determined not to be self-existent (Being). He determined not to be nonexistent (Nonbeing). He determined not to possess, dominate and control reality alone (Deus Praedatorius). Rather, from the “beginning” God determined to exist only with the “other” (Being-With).4 The integrity of the Creator with Creation is the ultimate truth of all reality.
This co-integrity of the Creator with Creation began when God first created the universe and observed that it was “good” (cf. Genesis 1:10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). This observed “goodness” of Creation was reinforced by God’s subsequent presence to Creation and his covenantal or contractual relationship with the created order (cf. Genesis 12:3; 17:3-5). The “goodness” of Creation was further advanced when God acted as the incarnate Jesus to adopt Creation as his own reality and recapitulate the entire experience of Creation through the womb of Mary, through birth, growth and development, through life and ministry, suffering and death. However, the full disclosure of ultimate reality as Being-With the “other” is the embodied resurrection of Jesus.
At his bodily resurrection Jesus Christ fulfilled his own declaration as the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End (see Revelation 22:13). The embodied resurrection is the inaugural event of all reality, so that no prior event can ever take precedence over it. Furthermore, the embodied resurrection is the consummative event of all reality, so that no subsequent event can ever supersede it. The embodied resurrection and presence of Jesus Christ eternally and universally defines reality. Because of the resurrection, the created order is no longer contingent (conditional, uncertain), no longer subject to extinction through either nonexistence or self-existence.
The Resurrection as the Full Disclosure of Ultimate Reality
But let us be more explicit.
1. The Integrity of Time and Space.
When Christ arose from the dead, he rose to time and space. He rose on the morning of the first day. He rose from Joseph’s tomb near Golgotha. That same day he appeared to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary in the garden (Matthew 28:9; Mark 16:9), to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Mark 16:12; Luke 24:13-32), to Simon Peter (Luke 24:34), and then to the disciples in the upper room (Luke 24:36-49). Later, he appeared to 500 followers in Galilee (1 Corinthians 15:6). After 40 days he ascended from the summit of the Mount of Olives in the presence of his disciples (Mark 16:19; Acts 1:9-12). By his resurrection Jesus Christ forever defined time and space. Time will never cease; space will never vanish. The integrity of time and space are assured, for Jesus is present as Creator.
2. The Integrity of Physical Reality.
At his resurrection Christ rose with observable physical form and substance. To the doubting Thomas he said, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing” (John 20:27, RSV; cf. John 21:4-14). Because of Christ’s embodied resurrection, physical reality no longer is problematic or provisional. Because of the resurrection, the integrity of physical reality is forever assured.
3. The Integrity of Biological Life.
At his resurrection God, as Christ, retained that unfathomable phenomenon and mystery called biological life. At his incarnation he adopted that life. He grew and developed as an egg, an embryo, a fetus, an infant, a child, an adolescent and an adult. He ate and drank. He walked and talked. He slept and awoke. He worked and played. In his resurrection he showed that biological existence was no longer constrained by death. Because of the Risen Christ, the integrity of biological reality is fully assured — even beyond death.
4. The Integrity of Mind/Body Co-Existence.
By his embodied resurrection Christ confirmed the eternal integrity of mind/body co-existence. In the resurrection the disciples did not commune with an apparition — a specter, ghost or fantasy — but with a living, sentient, knowing Person (Luke 24:39). Christ’s consciousness and reason, his thoughts and reflection, his knowledge and understanding, his speech, communication and interaction all were part of the discrete personhood of his embodied resurrection.
5. The Integrity of Human Culture and Society.
The resurrection assures the eternal integrity of human culture and society. God as Christ became incarnate in a recognized human community and society with a remembered and recounted history, with cultural rules and regulations, with accepted social mores. He lived and ministered in that same setting. He died in and by that same culture. He rose again to the community of his followers and their culture. He walked and talked with them. He spoke of the past and the future with them. He engaged with them in the accepted commonalities of social life and culture. By this, Christ conveyed the eternal integrity of human community with him.
6. The Integrity of the “Other.”
God as Christ rose to the “other.” He was temporally, spatially, physically, biologically, psychologically and socially present to and with the “other.” Furthermore, he declared that he would be with his “others” always — even “to the close of the age” (Matthew 28:20, RSV). However, the problem is this: God as primal God is self-existent, and self-existence is wholly apart from and independent of all others. The supreme, uncreated God alone cannot have an “other,” nor can he be an “Other.” The resurrection is therefore the disclosure of God’s own transformation. By his embodied resurrection God fully and finally abandoned his own self-existence.5 By his resurrection as the Christ, God fully accepted, finally adopted, and eternally participated in Creation so that he might have an “other” and be an “Other.”
The Meaning of Resurrectional “Otherness”
What does such resurrectional “otherness” mean? What significance does it convey? Let us explore this matter of “otherness” with a few examples.
“Otherness” and Caring.
One of the characteristics of mankind that makes one human is “caring.” You love and care for your spouse, children, parents, neighbors and friends. In turn, you are loved and cared for by your “others.” Such caring is not possible without an “other.” Caring demands an “other.”
“Otherness” and Freedom and Responsibility.
Another example involves the historic issues of human freedom and responsibility. There can be no freedom without reference to an “other.” Freedom demands an “other” to be free “from,” free “to,” free “for,” or free “with.” Likewise, there could be no responsibility without respect to an “other.” Again, in the absence of an “other,” there could be no freedom or responsibility. Freedom and responsibility are both grounded in the relationship of one with an “other.”
“Otherness” and Meaning.
One of the most fundamental aspects of human existence is the search for meaning. Life without meaning is not worth living. But what is “meaning”? Meaning is conveyed by one’s perception of and response to the purpose of an “other.” If I should ask, ”What do you mean by that?” I am simply inquiring, “What is your purpose with that?” There is thus no meaning to life without the “other” and the purposes of that “other” with respect to you.
“Otherness” and Experience, Knowing, Value, Future and Destiny.
We could pursue this matter of “otherness” further. For example, there is no real experience without an “other” to experience and be experienced. There is no real “knowing” without both a “knower” and a “known.” There is no “value” without a “valuer” and a valued “other.” There is no future and no destiny without a future and destined “other.” From eternity unto eternity, God has designed reality to involve both the Creator and his created “other.” Creation only exists through the relationality of one and the “other” — of the one between and among all “others.”
“Otherness” and Alienation and Reconciliation.
Alienation is separation from all “others.” Reconciliation is the restoration of relationship with “others.” Resurrection is the eternal, irreversible, immutable reconciliation of the Creator with Creation and of Creation with its Creator. As the Spanish poet Octavio Paz (1914-1998) wrote:
Solitude lies at the lowest depth of the human condition. Man is the only being who feels himself to be alone and the only one who is searching for the Other.6
Similarly, the British poet John Donne (1572-1631) recognized the ultimate and universal principle of relationality when he earlier wrote:
No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.7
The embodied resurrection of Jesus is therefore the disclosure that God from eternity purposed to abandon self-existence for himself and all Creation. He would co-exist with “others.” “Others” would co-exist with each other and with him. Such relationality is the fundamental ground and nature of all reality. All freedom, responsibility, purpose, meaning and value find their origin and destiny in the resurrection. The resurrection is the inauguration, definition and consummation of the integrity of Creation — of “Being-With.”
This integrity is not static, immobile or impassible but dynamic. It is open to freedom, change, progression, transformation and the infinite possibilities of creativity. We are included in this dynamic integrity of Creation, with all the freedom, responsibility, meaning, purpose and value that attend the Creator/Creation. By his resurrection Christ has chosen us. He has called us. He has included us. He longs to transform us. However, we have the freedom to reject our inclusion in resurrectional reality. We have the freedom to elect the phantom of self-existence and its consequent nonexistence. But we also have the freedom — as did the doubting disciple, Thomas — to affirm the Risen Christ and the infinite possibilities that reside with him.
Christ therefore says to us, as he said to his doubting disciple, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing” (John 20:27, RSV). “Finger” is a biblical metaphor for judgment. To us has been given the freedom and responsibility of final judgment — to be included or excluded from the integrity of Creation. “These [therefore] are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31, RSV).
- American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, s.v. “integrity.” (go back)
- John Bartlett, “Protagoras,” Familiar Quotations (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1980), p. 78. (go back)
- Luke Timothy Johnson, The Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospels (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996), p. 59. (go back)
- See Douglas John Hall, “Creation in Crisis,” Dianoia 2, no. 2 (1992); quoted in Tom Christenson, “The Theo-Centric Two-Step,” The Cresset 59, no. 5 (Pentecost [May) 1996): 10-15. (go back)
- See “Good and Evil in Light of the Resurrection,” Outlook (Prequel 1996.5). (go back)
- Bartlett, “Octavio Paz,” Familiar Quotations, p. 885. (go back)
- Bartlett, “John Donne,” Familiar Quotations, p. 254. (go back)
This article was originally published August 1996 under the Destiny imprint.