Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Thomas R. Yoder Neufeld, in his book Recovering Jesus, wrote, “THE GOSPEL ACCOUNTS were all written ‘on this side of Easter.’ That is to say, early followers of Jesus, including the authors of the Gospels, had the benefit of looking back on an event and seeing in it the working of God.”

This statement hit me in the face like a bucket of wet cement: ‘the benefit of looking back on an event and seeing in it the working of God.’ It is always easy to ‘get it’ when we look back. 20/20 hindsight does not do much good, however, when your hind end is in the midst of unimaginable crucifixion tragedy. Like Job we ask, “God? Where are you?”


Imagine the thoughts and feelings of Jesus’ family and disciples before the resurrection miracle took place. Most of us have experienced an excruciating (a word derived from crucifixion) loss, where a few seconds felt like hours or days, our sleepless minds were wracked with despair, our emotions a tornado of loneliness, fear, grief and confusion. The only thing that sustained Jesus’ followers, and us in such times, is fellowship and the development of faith.

Faith was not needed after the resurrection. Faith was needed when the cold, bloody, decomposing corpse of Jesus was pried from the cross and laid in a tomb. When we are in the midst of such tragedies, it is nearly impossible to see the ‘working of God’.

There are two beneficial approaches to a dilemma when unspeakable tragedy arrives:

1. An instantaneous, miraculous change of external circumstances.
2. An abiding trust that somehow the devastation makes sense beyond my current agony.


The point of the resurrection story is not to guarantee that a specific external solution will materialize three days after the disaster. The point of the story is to help suffering people see that we can tap into a psycho-spiritual reservoir of trust which exists in all of us. This trust or faith does not tell us HOW or WHEN the tragedy will end, but that there is a Power greater than ourselves somehow purposefully superintending the circumstances. Ancient Greek philosophers and Christian mystics used the word teleios which meant meaningful completion. The resurrection story gives no guarantee of a specific outcome at a certain time. There is, however, a guarantee of Divine Presence and some sort of completion {teleios}apart from any human understanding, strategizing or timing. To realize this kind of trust may take years, or lifetimes. Soul-making is not limited by time.


Some comedian once said, “If you lined up all of the positive thinkers in the world today, that would be a really good place to leave them.” What masquerades as positive thinking today is sometimes really just magical thinking and fearful denial which seeks to avoid or postpone developing real faith and surrender. Some so called positive preachers seem to be well meaning spiritual co-dependents who are addicted to fixing people’s pain by jacking them up with anecdotal success stories and rare vignettes of hope. I once heard a positive thinking preacher say, “I was once a pimple-faced loser, women hated me, I was broke and homeless – but when I applied (Success System X), my pimples went away, I became a successful millionaire, found my ideal wife and family and now own vacation homes around the world.” I have no reason to doubt his story, but it is not the way tragedy is transformed to faith.

These relative anecdotal prosperity stories may motivate in the short term, but they do not create abiding faith and in fact often leave the hearer more despondent when it doesn’t ‘work out’ for him the same way. Just because one man experiences the healing of his body, finances or love life does not mean that everyone will. This is not the primary meaning or significance of the resurrection story.


Real positive thinking and resurrection faith can be seen in the life of Viktor Frankl. In his mid thirties, Frankl was a successful doctor and a happily married man. One day he was arrested for being a Jew and taken to a series of Nazi concentration camp where he would spend four horrific years. He was stripped naked and his head was shaved. His wife and parents were executed and he suffered indescribable heartbreak. Frankl miraculously survived and went on to remarry, write best selling ‘self-help’ books, achieve financial success and international fame. But he never forgot that over 10 million people died in those concentration camps and that he could just as easily have been one of them. Frankl could not write an anecdotal self help book promising worldly abundance and wealth if you applied his secrets to success. He wrote to teach people the same three lessons found in the resurrection story:

1. Meaning may be found in and through every situation, especially tragedies.
2. Meaning is not dependent on physical conditions or outcomes, but on faith.
3. You vastly increase your opportunities for physical survival and material success if you find meaning and have faith in the times of abject tragedy, but this does NOT guarantee such an outcome.


In the Gospels, the resurrected Jesus did not marry the perfect woman, make a million dollars and become a successful author and speaker. He did not hang out on earth long enough to get on Oprah or Larry King. He did not hobnob with celebrities and presidents. He did not have a gorgeous summer home on the Mediterranean or take expensive vacations around the world. Neither he nor his early disciples made a single nickel off of his Secret to Resurrection Living. Jesus almost immediately ascended into Heaven. Let’s drop our western propensity to literalism and get the symbol in this ascension image. Partly it meant that the resurrection success solution is not primarily played out on the earth stage.

The story about Jesus’ post-resurrection ascension tells us that the ‘results’ of the resurrection miracle were primarily experienced in another Realm, the Realm of Soul rather than the physical world. This is true for most of us. It is in the Realm of Soul or Spirit that we see the real fruit of a life lived by faith. It is in the ascension, or in the invisible realm of soul that we will experience the real solutions to our earthly tragedies.


Of course we can and should affirm and intend to become materially successful, wealthy and healthy if that is our desire. We ought to learn spiritual principles and work hard to achieve our full potentials on this planet. We ought to write that best selling book, record that CD, find the ideal partner and raise a nice family – but the post-resurrection ascension story reminds us that God-Reality is much more concerned about the development of our character than our bank accounts. Most of us will live average lives on this planet, or maybe even below average. But resurrection faith, developed through difficulties, makes sense of the hackneyed metaphor which says, “Your reward is in heaven.” Take heart, even though you may not see it right now, God is ‘working’ in every event in your life.


Anonymous said...

Hi Michael, thank you for this article. I've heard you teach and speak before, and really appreciate how you help keep New Thought communities 'honest'.

I have attended a New Thought church for over five yrs, but the past couple years I've experienced some strong doubts at times about New Thought philosophies.

I found myself annoyed and bored by the now familiar cheerleading of the prosperity gospel. I was tired of the "Live your best life!", "The abundance of the entire Universe is yours!" "You create your own reality!" exhortations. It was all starting to sound hollow, as if some heft or underlying substance was missing.

The hoopla of "The Secret" contributed even further to my sense that something was missing. It was like eating alot of cotton candy, which looked pretty and tasted great initially, but left me still feeling hungry afterwards.

I've felt that God is missing from all this, something that's higher than the human mind trying to orchestrate an "abundant, easeful" life. True faith, awe, humility,surrender,and devotion in the face of the vastness of God is missing sometimes from much of the pop-culture version of New Thought principles. It has felt at times like there's been an undue emphasis on using tricks and strategies of the mind in order to have some kind of iron control over your life, so nothing (or very little) will go wrong or upset you. Mysticism gets treated as an afterthought.

I agree, to a certain extent, with the concept that "consciousness is cause", yet some people seem to take it to ridiculous heights, acting as if their consciousness is responsible for every traffic jam they find themselves in, or every snowstorm that ruins their plans, or other people's behaviour, or any circumstance that they find unpleasant and don't know how to handle. It seems narcissistic at times.

Where do miracles and divine grace fit into "You create your own reality?" It seems there is little acknowledgement of this. It's almost like we think we can control God, or our Soul, instead of opening up to what's already there. Knowing the "science" behind metaphysics is great, but it only goes so far in feeding me.

It feels like a relief then, to see you address the darkness and light that everyone encounters in life. Some try to deny that the dark exists, while some seem to get too mesmerized by it, and can't appreciate the light in themselves.

Our teaching is that evil and hell are illusions, yet I have heard people in my New Thought community refer to each other as "beings of light". If there are "beings of light", wouldn't the opposite also exist, "beings of dark"? Yet it wouldn't be politically correct to call anyone that, and besides, we supposedly don't believe in evil anyway.

It makes more sense to me that each of us deals with this dark/light ratio in our own way, as we grow in our understanding of God, and the meaning of our lives.

Having said all this, I still find New Thought principles valuable. I am still at my church, because being a part of a spiritual community remains important to me. I also have great respect for my minister, who I've always sensed has a genuine appreciation and awe for the mystery and power that I call God. This minister is aware of other depths.

Your article reminded me of something I heard from a Carolyn Myss CD on archetypes. She said, "You have to ask yourself, is life about creating a comfort zone, or is it about walking into your mysteries? Not SOLVING your mysteries. It's about EMBRACING your mysteries. It's not about perfection. it's about practice. "

Thanks for your articles, I'm looking forward to reading more of them (and maybe a book some day?)

Anonymous said...

Name: Mike
Oprah's 4 interviews with Jill Bolte Taylor were the first that Oprah did after Eckhart Tolle and they take everything Tolle talks about to another level. Oprah's copy of Jill's book, MY STROKE OF INSIGHT, was dog-eared and all marked up and kept reading from it the way she read from A New Earth and recommended it highly.

Oprah's recommendation was enough for me. I read My Stroke of Insight and I loved it too. This story is as inspiring as The Last Lecture or Tuesdays with Morrie - and even better, it has a Happy Ending!

I bought the book on Amazon because they have it for 40% off retail and they also had an amazing interview with Dr Taylor that I haven't seen anywhere else - Here is the Amazon link: http://www.amazon.com/My-Stroke-Insight-Scientists-Personal/dp/0670020745/ref=pd_bbs_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1211471755&sr=1-2

Anonymous said...

I read "My Stroke of Insight" in one sitting - I couldn't put it down. I laughed. I cried. It was a fantastic book (I heard it's a NYTimes Bestseller and I can see why!), but I also think it will be the start of a new, transformative Movement! No one wants to have a stroke as Jill Bolte Taylor did, but her experience can teach us all how to live better lives. Her TED.com speech was one of the most incredibly moving, stimulating, wonderful videos I've ever seen. Her Oprah Soul Series interviews were fascinating. They should make a movie of her life so everyone sees it. This is the Real Deal and gives me hope for humanity.