December 24, 2009
by Patrick Lafferty
...and His name shall be called...Everlasting Father...
From a soldier in Prizzi’s Honor to an executive in The Devil Wears Prada, to the husband of Julia Child in this year’s Julie and Julia, Stanley Tucci has demonstrated the versatility that sustains a twenty-year acting career. His most recent, and perhaps ghastliest, role as George Harvey in the adaptation of Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones has already earned him widespread acclaim.
Seven months ago, Tucci lost his wife of 14 years, Kate, to cancer. He and their three children will spend their first Christmas without her this year.
In a recent interview in the Wall Street Journal, Tucci was asked how he’s responded to his wife’s passing. With great candor he said, “My wife passed away seven months ago and I don’t want to think about the afterlife. I don’t believe in that sort of thing. It’d be nice, if it were there. Woody Allen has that great quote where he says he doesn’t believe in an afterlife, although he’s bringing a change of underwear. That’s how I feel.”
For three weeks now we’ve ambled toward Christmas, pausing along the way to ponder each name of the one Isaiah anticipated. This one who would lead and guide Israel, who would come with power and reign as David had, would be an “everlasting father.” Unlike all other kings—even the good ones—there would be no conclusion to his reign.
The Jewish mind would’ve likely interpreted Isaiah’s words to mean an everlasting procession of holy and wise leadership. But, apart from God, they would have no category for a king who was, himself, everlasting—as Jesus, who fulfilled supremely what Isaiah foretold, was. That’s why Jesus’ words of suffering, death, and rising again were so cryptic to all his listeners. The theological left of the day dismissed resurrection entirely. The theological right anticipated an eventual resurrection, but certainly not inaugurated by the death of one who was both God and man.
And yet, He rose. Then “He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then He appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles” (1 Cor. 15:6–7). Such is the testimony of those who gave up much to follow the risen One who heralded eternal life and then validated His claim.
In all probability, Stanley Tucci finds that an admirable yet quaint belief. Perhaps even a fantastic projection of wish fulfillment. It just couldn’t possibly be true.
N. T. Wright is a learned, winsome, and eloquent theologian. His understanding of the doctrine of justification has provoked much controversy. Many have roundly (and rightly) criticized his revision of the well-established understanding of this central doctrine of the Reformation. But Wright has written what many consider to be the most comprehensive and compelling case for the veracity of the resurrection accounts in his book The Resurrection of the Son of God. He concludes that the most reasonable explanation for the existence of the church and the emergence of the faith is that it held to an actual bodily resurrection of the One who Isaiah said would be an everlasting father. Hallucinations, metaphorical projections, political conspiracies—all these alternative theories for the rise of the church require more intellectual artifice than the simple notion that the church formed because it believed Jesus rose and still lives. Even while Stanley Tucci’s grief is still tender, would it not do to for him to consider the simplest reason that belief persists?
Our faith can’t be proven, but it is not irrational. It indeed resonates with our deepest desires, but to ascribe wish-fulfillment to its essence is to ignore the events that prompted its proliferation among rich and poor, learned and unlearned, Jew and Gentile. And all this without Jesus so much as establishing a single trust fund, massing the slightest army, or founding even an incipient political-action committee.
Why speak of these things during Advent? Are they not more suited to Lent? In this wintry season, we traffic in categories that depart from our experience: virgin births, angelic annunciations, astrologers bowing before an infant. We’re therefore tempted to categorize it as the stuff of pure, irrelevant mystery. When, however, we work backward from the resurrection, a notion just as extraordinary as a virgin birth, we find our reasons for reveling in the nativity to be well-founded.
And when we work forward from the resurrection, we find our reasons for believing in the afterlife equally so.
I think I will write Mr. Tucci a letter, enclosing a copy of Wright’s book. Not to lambaste his wry wistfulness, but to suggest his disparagement of the afterlife is perhaps less enlightened than he assumes.
Who in your sphere might stand to hear why all those nativity scenes scattered across the landscape are more than a quaint throwback to an obsolete belief?
Do you need to hear again why it was fitting that the Magi, when they found the child, “fell down and worshipped” (Matt. 2:11)?