We say that someone ‘rises’ when he gets up from a seating or laying position by himself. When that happens from a bed or a chair, we simple call it ‘to rise’, when it happens from a situation of subjection, we call it ‘rise against’, and when it happens from death, we speak of ‘resurrection’. And for this last and most mysterious word we have to follow the most complicated trains of thoughts to comprehend it a little. All metaphors of rising have to be called in, those of sleep from which we rise, those of rising against and those of resurrection from death. In waking up we deny sleep, in rising against we deny subjection, and in the thought of resurrection death is denied. And because death seems to be the most definitive of all those horizontal situations, denying it is our toughest job and the rising from the dead is for us the most incomprehensible miracle. We can think for a long time about the old analogy of death with sleep, and we can, like Pascal did, consider that rising from the dead is no greater miracle than birth, but we can’t get so far as to think of it as self-evident.
Why do we for the length of history deny death or compare it to the sleep from which we rise again every morning? We apparently have a compelling motif for it that doesn’t exactly coincide with the attachment to our own existence. Shall we call it love? When we love someone, do we do anything else than to confirm the existence of that person so absolutely that we can’t think of our own existence without them? ‘To love someone’, said Gabriel Marcel, ‘is to say: you shall not die.’ And when the impossible happens still and we see that person laying there, cold and powerless, we can’t just revoke that absolute statement. When we love someone, they have to stay. When it has all appearances that they have left, they will have to return sooner or later and death can at most be a provisional state. The thought of the resurrection and the return seems to have been prompted by hopelessness or hope against all odds. But what do we know of death and what reasons do we have not to rise against it?
We rise from sleep by ourselves, when we wake or are awoken by someone else. From what we think we know of death in any case is that it is a total powerlessness and that the deceased, crushed by an ascendancy, won’t wake up and rise by their own powers. We can try to keep them alive in our memories, but in doing so we give them a vague and shadowy existence which depends on us and after at most a generation of loving remembering is doomed to sink into oblivion. We would like to perform the miracle of resurrection and rising from the dead, but we are as powerless against death as the dead themselves. And whether we are deeply religious, skeptic or agnostic, as the biggest miracle we can think of the resurrection is never a self-evident matter. The thought of it or the believe in it is more a resistance against against every form of self-evidence. If it concerns a dogma here, it is about time that this dogma too rises from the dead as an object of thought. Any belief that becomes an automatism, is a disbelief.
*Translators note: ‘to rise’, as in to get up, is ‘opstaan’ in dutch; to rise against, as in to revolt, is ‘opstand’; and the resurrection, rising from the dead, is ‘opstanding’. The three words are in Dutch more connected than they are in English, but I think the thread and theme are strong enough to warrant translation.
“You are sweet, papa, you have to stay alive”