Last Saturday, a 2-year-old named Olive Heiligenthal, of Redding, California, stopped breathing in her sleep. Her mom, Kalley, a worship leader at Bethel Church, a megachurch in Redding California, put out a call to pray to bring her daughter back to life.
And I had to think. The New Testament features stories of people who return to life, Jesus among them. Do Christians have to believe in resurrection?
I thought about that as I followed the Bethel story. Kalley’s original post:
Her time here is not done, and it is our time to believe boldly, and with confidence wield what King Jesus paid for. It’s time for her to come to life.
Days and 149k “likes” later, the post, the prayer, and the hashtag #wakeupolive hasn’t done the trick. Kalley is still keeping watch.
Day 5 is a really good day for resurrection.
I’ve never been more grateful for Jesus. He is endlessly worthy of our love, trust, faith and risk.
Supernatural power might, in fact, exist.
I’ve heard credible stories of ghosts, psychic experiences, past-life regressions. I know people who say they see auras. So I say to myself: strange, occult, supernatural, and divine energies can seem to penetrate this world from time to time? Difficult to use, conflicted, problematic.
It’s not meant to be here, maybe? It can only be here a little while—Jesus does leave in the end, after all. But it bleeds in, maybe.
Maybe it comes from multiple divine sources. Is that possible? I’m 100% sure we don’t understand how this thing works. The Bible is certainly full of highly anomalous information that the Christian tradition doesn’t like—lots and lots of spirit beings, lots of powers with varying motivations.
And humans have powers we may not even know how to control, except unconsciously, in spurts, and typically then for evil. That focuses us more than anything. I believe 100% in the ‘evil eye’, a concept found in the Bible. When a person focuses evil thoughts on a person, I believe “bad things” can happen.
And good things too. We’re just learning about that. I’ve met Reiki people and Hoodoo people. A Tibetan monk told me of demons and exorcisms done by that spiritual tradition, so I know that’s not just a Catholic thing. Lots of spiritual adepts have focused on the problem of ridding this world of evil spirit agents. They cause problems, maybe, like mice in a house, or termites. I’m open to that idea.
I talked to a guy who said he has conversation with dead people and he used to heal people too—until he realized after awhile they were supposed to go through the steps of healing themselves. That made sense to me. Mortal situations like sickness and death can often seem to work, in some difficult-to-understand way, for our insight, and ultimately for our good.
I might believe in zombies?
Zora Neale Hurston, a credible observer, believed in some kind of phenomenon that caught people in some state between life and death. Or as she puts it: “I do know that people have been resurrected in Haiti but I do not believe they were actually dead.”
I’m not used to think that is possible, or at all desirable, but I don’t know what is possible or desirable. I’m not God. Maybe, in some divine economy, the people of Haiti are supposed to have that ability, or just that belief.
I suspect, if I had to guess, that the people of Haiti have kept up a tradition of using “dark prana,” as my Buddhist friend would say. But it’s ugly and evil and when invoked causes a lot of problems. That might be possible.
A grim, horrible but somehow possible situation appears in my mind: say Bethel’s prayers were answered!! Yes, resurrection is a divine ability they have successfully summoned, and Olive is resurrected! . . . as a zombie.
Do you know the effects of your prayers, especially when concerning your own child? I know my own parents did not. I have doubts.
I’m open to the idea of faith healing?
The rock musician Frank Zappa noted, of faith healing in Christian churches, that “in situations where large amounts of sexual energy are released, strange things can happen.”
Christians have a hell of a lot of confined, repressed sexual energy, so it does make sense that releasing it in weird scenes at church can cause unexpected phenomena that could be re-framed as “healing.” More likely, it might be a bit of euphoria that wears off. This is sexual energy, after all.
I’m not going to a church if I get sick, but perhaps frenetic worship services—such as Bethel had when trying to resurrect Olive—might have some ability to change the physical world through, how could I put it . . . unconscious release of human psychic force.
As people at Bethel bounce around, I might say they are summoning a psychic force that just isn’t large enough for this particular task.
Even religion reporter Jonathan Merritt suggested, if we’re cringing, it’s because we’re “envying” them. I don’t envy them, I might just say this is a spiritual practice whose results aren’t at all helpful, which is nothing new to Bethel. They’re that way a lot.
But say Olive did come back to life.
Just pretend for a moment that happened. What happens next? Isn’t she marked the rest of her life as a weirdo? Isn’t she studied, poked, prodded, and known worldwide as the girl that Bethel brought back to life?
Is life possible for her?
And doesn’t every parent of a deceased child in the whole world, then, come to Bethel to try and bring their babies back?
Doesn’t Bethel suddenly become enormously powerful—as the apparent avatars of astonishing divine power?
The Bible, as it happens, does ask you to think about the effects of things, and to see as God does, over long stretches of time. Say Bethel has a resurrected child in their midst! Doesn’t God, in having this power but refusing it to many grieving parents, etc., suddenly seem selfish, evil, cruel in only giving it to Evangelicals in Redding, California?
Do other Evangelicals, even, start to look ridiculous? Why can’t they bring people back to life? What is their problem? The Catholics, Methodists, etc., really start feeling the heat.
Maybe God doesn’t want that. Maybe that causes problems.
These might be thoughts that God is having, when contemplating Olive’s resurrection. Say He agreed—this mortal life of hers, by some calculation, had come to an end. All lives do. But say He was willing to allow a power of resurrection. Does it help that Bethel asked for it so publicly?
Say Bethel becomes known as the church that can really bring people back. They say they do that already with their “dead raising teams”—yes, they’ve been at this gig for awhile.
Vice files a report in 2014:
An Evangelical group called the Dead Raising Team (DRT) wants to resurrect your dead. They claim responsibility for 11 successful resurrections through the power of prayer. Their group showed up in a recent BBC story, which triggered some interest in a documentary about the group called Deadraiser, directed by someone named Johnny Clark. Curiously, they’ve received no attention from the medical community, who would probably want to know if this strategy were working.
So the church is fascinated by resurrection, gets a lot of P.R. and interest from it, and claims to do it—with no authentication. (The Bible is all about authentication and legal witnessing, so don’t let that stop you.)
Then when their own favored daughter, their own little Olive, dies—it must’ve seemed like quite a blow to their claims to bring people back.
It might’ve seemed like God showing them, publicly, that they couldn’t. I’m not saying He did that—I find speculating on divine will really, really tricky. But say He wanted to send a message that Bethel can’t resurrect people, and that His power wasn’t to be associated with charlatans.
How would He do that? Maybe through little Olive? I’m not saying He did that. I’m saying I’m thinking about the possibility.
But power always comes with responsibilities, and if withholding the power of resurrection from Evangelicals, I’m not sure I’d blame God.
I’m sure, in fact, He’s making the wisest choice under unbelievably difficult conditions.
Bethel worship leader Jenn Johnston updates on how the Olive thing all mostly resolved — with a party! “Kalley said we should and that ‘Olive loves parties.’ So this ones for you baby girl.”
So maybe, if God has to choose, maybe letting the Evangelicals party is the best bet.
Jesus, in his narratives, solves these problems in a lot of ways. His miracles seem to be framed as specific “signs” to signal supremacy over various divine agents or actors. All that’s really fuzzy, but it seems like a supernatural logic is at work. He’s not just bringing everyone back from the dead—that has to wait for the Resurrection.
What I know is that Jesus didn’t just stand around bringing people back from the dead. It was a special event. And his logic often seems inscrutable, and his mission involving many strange gifts. He changes his appearance. The “polymorphy of Christ” as scholars call it, is rarely spoken of by Christians.
I don’t look to this mysterious behavior as something I can replicate. The miracles of the Bible are done in highly specific ways, like spiritual surgery.
Divine power isn’t meant to run this world, is the idea I get. Or not now—maybe that’s the “Kingdom” in the future. For now, Jesus is resurrected and then leaves!
It almost feels like the mortal world is meant to be . . . mortal? Wwithout people thinking they can change the rules, whenever they want, for their own personal reasons, and benefit.
I’d have to trust that God gets it right the first time, as hard as His decisions might be to understand. I’d bet on it. And in the Bible, many times, gambling produces a sign of God’s intention (Acts 1:26, etc.)
As if the ultimate meaning is not long life or perceived ‘happiness’ but a divine message that goes something like this: “Hey, you . . . be present for what happens. I’ll show you.”