Resurrection – A Reality or a Pious Dream? Part IV: The Surprise Found in Mark, the Earliest Biblical Narrative of Easter

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 14 May 2015 0 Comments
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I discovered your Internet talks in the fall of 2011. For the preceding 50 years I gritted my teeth all the way through the Christmas season, feeling angry, frustrated and guilty simultaneously. Suddenly a burden was lifted from my psyche. Through your scholarly talks, I was able to leave old baggage behind. Thank you.

Have you ever considered how many elements had to come together at the right time in the right place with the right people and the right geopolitical chess board for the Christian belief system to be born and to endure?

In one of your talks, you spoke about a religion of guilt and control. Christianity was born under the boot and sword of the Roman Empire. Had the Roman Empire not been created, Pilate would not have been there to judge. The management position of the Pope would not have been created. The Roman roads and networks would not have been available, the Roman soldiers who spread the Christian message would not have been present, etc…was this God’s plan?


Dear John,

I find it a waste of time to occupy myself with trying to discern God’s plan. In my life I find it difficult enough just to discern my own plan. Every day is altered by forces over which I have no control. Events transpire, emergencies arise, sickness occurs, death surprises, accidents happen and blessings seem to fall from heaven. I am very disciplined in my life. I plan for daily exercise, for daily study and writing time, for regular duties like grocery shopping, cooking, and handling the mail that this column creates as well as personal mail, keeping medical appointments, reading the New York Times and a thousand other things that fill up each day (like watching the New York Yankees play baseball). No matter how organized I think I am, however, no day ever goes as planned.

When I look back over the whole course of my life, I can see a bigger picture. The individual events fade and a pattern seems to emerge. Is it, however, a plan? Is it God’s plan? Has this plan been imposed on my life unknowingly? Or is it all chance? Is it pre-destined?

For example, in 1976 when I moved to New Jersey, we looked for a home somewhere in the diocese I was to serve as bishop. We narrowed our choice to two houses, one in Morristown and one in Maplewood. Maplewood was closer to my office, but the priest who was assisting in the house search lobbied hard for Morristown. It was a tough call.

The thing that proved to be the deciding factor was that beautiful, lush new carpeting had been recently installed in the Maplewood house. It was far too elegant for me to change, but the color was “ice blue.” I am drawn to earth colors, reds, oranges, yellows, browns, and rust. I do not believe I could have lived happily in a house surrounded by “ice blue,” so we chose Morristown. That decision determined so much of my life that I cannot overestimate it. My community of friends was a gift to me from Morristown. My church, St. Peter's, is in Morristown. My first wife died in Morristown in 1988 and that church sustained me. I would not have met Christine to whom I have now been married for 25 years, had I not chosen to live in Morristown. I cannot imagine another path through life than the one I have walked and it all hung on my distaste for the “ice blue” carpet.

I feel a tremendous sense of destiny about my life. I cannot imagine being married to anyone other than Christine. I cannot imagine being apart from my church or my friends in Morristown. Was it a divine plan? Luck? Predestination? No, I think we all make routine decisions and then we live with and into these decisions, transforming them in the process.

Was Jesus born, as St. Paul suggested, “in the fullness of time?” Was the mission of the Christian Church prepared for by the universal nature of the Greek language and the Roman roads? Or do we live with and make decisions in the moment and then in retrospect see meaning unfolding inside those decisions? Is there such as thing as God’s plan? I don’t think so. What I believe is that every moment of life is filled with choice and meaning. If we choose life over death, love over hatred, peace over war, reconciliation over hurt and acceptance over prejudice often enough and long enough, then meaning emerges and our lives are transfigured. God, I believe, is in that memory and in that transfiguration.

So I worry not about discerning God’s plan for history, the church, the world or my life. I worry only about making the right decisions in every moment of life and then living into those decisions with integrity.

So live well, John, live well and meet whatever comes your way with grace and hope. If you do that faithfully, you will have no time to speculate on whatever you think God’s plan might be.

John Shelby Spong




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