Our Experiences of Euphoria Help Explain the Gospel Resurrection Accounts
I am pretty certain that I will be spending some of my time in purgatory watching, “The Price is Right.”
Now, I don’t mean to totally dis the game show, because as a kid I seemed to watch it a lot, but even then it struck me as odd just how excited people got on that show for winning something. Winning a motorcycle is pretty cool, but do you really want to act that way in front of a national audience? Their responses always struck me as way out of proportion and over the top. We might call it fake euphoria. I have to believe that the producers of the show told the contestants how they were to respond if they were lucky enough to win, but even to a young kid it seemed pretty contrived.
That is fake euphoria, but have you ever experienced real euphoria? A happiness that was so great that you had a hard time containing yourself? Happiness so great that you could not properly articulate your feelings or even explain why you were so happy?
I might be able to count on one hand how often I have felt that. I am pretty sure the first time (and maybe the second time) I met Pope John Paul II I was euphoric. To this day, having met that great saint is still impactful on my life and ministry. The last time I maybe came close to feeling a real euphoria was on April 29, 2015, when I met Pope Francis at the end of a public audience. In that case it wasn’t so much meeting him that was euphoric, but that I got him to sign a baseball. (OK, so I like popes.)
In each of those instances I was over the moon with happiness. That happiness lasted for hours, but even then I don’t think I could have given a truly accurate description of exactly what had just happened. That is the definition of euphoria: an indescribable happiness.
When non-Christians criticize Christianity, sometimes they will target the resurrection accounts in the four Gospels. Everything about Christianity hangs on the hook of the resurrection; if Jesus did not actually rise from the dead, then Christianity is the biggest sham in human history. So critics of Christianity point out a true fact: There are great inconsistencies in the four Gospels’ resurrection accounts. If Christianity as a truth is dependent upon the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, then why don’t the Gospels agree on the details of what happened?
The Gospels, like Jesus, are fully human and fully divine. They were written by human authors inspired by God. In each instance of resurrection accounts, the author is trying to capture an event that was euphoric in the most accurate sense of the term, much more euphoric than meeting a pope. And they are explaining these euphoric experiences 40-60 years after they happened. The stories of the resurrection in the four Gospels are a patchwork of different people’s experiences that are impossible to accurately describe. They are literally impossible to articulate.
All this being said, the resurrection accounts found in the Bible are completely and totally true even if they seem disjointed and can appear somewhat contradictory. They are true because they express God’s supreme act of the resurrection of his Son. Because the authors of the divine texts are fully human, there are limitations. A human author cannot describe an event that is admittedly indescribable, even if they are inspired by the Holy Spirit, because as humans they (and we) have obvious limitations. As human authors they could never capture the true awesomeness of the event. Truth be told, they never even attempt to describe the resurrection itself, because no one else was there to witness it. Instead they are trying to describe people’s encounters with the resurrected Jesus— encounters those people themselves probably would not have been able to articulate after experiencing them.
When I had Pope Francis sign the baseball back in 2015, I remember describing to people what exactly happened and how it went down. Then, about two months later, I was able to obtain a video from Vatican TV of the event, and I quickly realized that even after such a short time lapse, my details were not all accurate. That’s normal, that’s human. When we listen to the stories of Jesus’ resurrection we can know they are absolutely true, because it is the Holy Spirit guiding the authors, even if the event itself is indescribable. It beats being on “The Price is Right” any day of the week.