In the early 1920s William Butler Yeats wrote a poem entitled, The Second Coming. Its message is strong, adult, and ultimately quite depressing. Yeats sees a certain dissolution of civilization as he has known it, things are falling apart. What is at the root of this falling apart? He gives his answer in a single line: Things fall apart; the center cannot hold.”
The center cannot hold. That’s a powerful statement, but it is somewhat of an anti-creed, a negation of the heart of faith, for what it expresses is the very opposite of what lies at the centre of the Christian credo: “I believe in the resurrection.”
What Yeats is expressing, either as an expression of his ultimate feeling about things or simply as a more superficial and emotional bewailing of the fact that chaos seems to be triumphing over order, is the belief that at the deepest centre of things no God in charge. If the center does not hold then nothing in the end guarantees love, life, and goodness. Nothing really underwrites us. Good things may well occur within history and within our lives, but they are, in the end, accidental constellations, random happenings which are vulnerable to dissolution when the chance forces that produced them die. If the center does not hold then everything that has happened up to now is the product of chance not providence.
To believe that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, the Christian creed in a single line, is to believe the opposite. It is to believe that at the center of things there is a power who is Lord of the universe and fully in charge, irrespective of falling civilizations, the apparent triumph of chaos over order, and the presence of death itself. The earliest Christians used to have only a single line to their creed: Jesus is Lord. For them, that said enough. It said everything. It said that at the center of all things there is a gracious, personal God, and that this God is powerful enough and loving enough to underwrite everything.
Jesus already had a sense of this, even before his resurrection. In the Garden of Gethsemane, when everything was crumpling into chaos and darkness and his whole life and message seemed a lie, he prayed: “Father, all things are possible for you.” In a darkness, anarchy, and hatred as bad as this world has ever known, when the world had gone mad and things were truly out of control, and when his own death was imminent and certain, Jesus said words to this effect: “God, I know that you are still solidly in command!” Things were falling apart but he sensed, and this is the very essence of faith, that there was still a centre that held. The world seemed to be collapsing, but God was still firmly in charge: “All things are possible for you.”
We believe in the resurrection of Christ, precisely, to the degree that we believe that the center holds or does not hold, namely, to the degree that we can, in any circumstance of life, say, and mean: “Lord, all things are possible for you.”
And, in the end, this is not a theoretical thing, a matter of orthodoxy or raw intellectual commitment: Do I believe in God or not? Do I believe in the empty tomb? Can I say the creed and mean it? Notwithstanding that these are important, faith in the resurrection of Jesus is something more down-to-earth and ordinary. It is a practical thing, an every-day trust, a feeling, a sense, however inchoate but real, that, in the end, there is a deep anchor that is holding everything together and that we, for our part, can get on with the business of living and can live in trust, knowing that our inadequacies, failings, and even our deaths, are not the final answer. Faith in the resurrection is a lived sense that God is still in charge.
“Father, all things are possible for you.” To be able to say that when everything seems to be in contradiction to it, is to truly pray the creed. It does us little good to go to church and publicly recite the words: “I believe in the resurrection” but then go out and live haunted by the fear that things are falling apart, that chaos is taking over, that the center is not holding, and that we have no choice but to live in either distrust, disillusionment, or cynicism. To say the creed is to live with the sense that, in the end, Someone is in charge and that Someone is stronger than death and is a gracious and loving presence, even when we are sweating blood.
Faith is a practical thing. It is to trust that God is in charge, nothing more and nothing less. To believe in the resurrection, the essence of faith, is to look at everything, including death, and believe that the center will hold.