It’s a huge pain in the rear to be as curious and logical as I am sometimes. For me, having a smartphone is like having an awesomely-addictive Krazy Straw dipped into a neverending supply of the best chai tea on the planet. (I really like chai.) My pocket Google gadget is right there for whenever a curiosity strikes about how something works or when something started. This has, in turn, transformed me into a ninja-master of useless fact trivia.
There’s one main topic where Google consistently fails to turn up search results to fully satisfy my curiosity. That is this rather large and important topic of Christianity. When I search, all I find are Bible verses. That’s great, but all they do is tell me what happened. They don’t provide the labeled diagram of how it happened, or why it works.
For those of you who were raised in church or have no problem accepting abstract ideas, it’s probably something you haven’t questioned much. The gospel presentation is probably just second-nature to you by now. It might make total “sense” to you because it’s either all you know or you just have zero trouble with things that make no sense. Because it really doesn’t make “sense” at all. I’m sorry, but to act like it does is absurd. Someone else dying for the sake of everyone else’s imperfections and wrongdoing? Why and how does that take care of the problem? How does that payment process work?
I’ve met plenty of fellow thinkers who are so perplexed by this issue and equally dissatisfied by the biblical explanation of how the process of salvation actually works that they cannot get themselves to accept the message of Christianity. Those are the ones who can listen to someone quote the entire Bible, who might even exclaim how great that message of salvation and the forgiveness of sin sounds, but are still held back with this single question: “Yeah, but how does that work?”
Many of these “thinkers” either pridefully or ignorantly proclaim that, in order to be a Christian, you must not be allowed to ever think for yourself or ask any logical questions. Clearly, they’ve never listened to me (or read any of C.S. Lewis or Lee Strobel, for that matter).
The bare bones version of the gospel goes like this: God, the Creator, is perfect and dwells in a perfect place, which I don’t deserve access to because of my imperfections and wrongdoing. So, because God desires to be in community with me and to have me live with Him, He sent a perfect and innocent sacrifice to take the punishment that my sins deserve. If I have faith in that sacrifice, a payment made by Jesus, then my sins will not be counted against me. This faith is illustrated by the rest of my life, which is lived with increasing acknowledgement and obedience to what Jesus taught and how loving God is for sending Him.
I know the story. My problem isn’t that I haven’t heard it yet, like some. I even know the implications of that story. My problem is that my brain wants to wrestle with how Jesus being killed could somehow justify all of the heart-centered imperfections of everyone who believes that He was, in fact, the “Son of God.” How and why does someone’s blood help my spirit, as explained in Leviticus 17:11?
Just like most people, I have a crazy sense that something serious happens when my life is over. But is that really what it’s all dependent upon? (The simple belief that someone’s death gave me what I needed to be forgiven for being a self-worshiping little punk?) That’s pretty absurd.
I know I don’t deserve to live in community with my Creator. You won’t hear me arguing that. But how can simply believing something to be true change an outcome? We are taught that outcomes are determined by our own deserving actions. Isaac Newton even named one of his laws of nature after it, which is why I think it’s so natural for us to treat salvation as something we earn with a piggy bank full of talents and gold stars. But Jesus taught against that notion. He said it’s by our faith in Him that we are given eternal life, which takes us right back to this question of “…yeah but how?”
And the cycle continues.
But then an entirely different Source of logic might start to trickle in. This is the kind of logic that allows me to keep my sanity.
I say the concept of having the simple and genuine belief in a certain idea couldn’t possibly contain the power to influence all eternity. It seems impossible. But is it really? After all, more and more emphasis is being put on the power of the mind. Who we believe ourselves to be and what we believe our own value and future holds is, I would (ironically) argue, more powerful than the worldly earnings of how much money we have or what we’re born with. Our intangible thoughts have the genuine power to influence and even predict what tangible things will happen and who our tangible bodies will become. Our worries and anxieties have the physical capability to put us in the hospital from a heart attack. They can literally send us to our graves, so is it really so absurd that our thoughts and beliefs would also play a major role in what happens to us after we die?
We act like the physical world is the baseline of normality–probably because it’s all we’ve ever known. Things like light, gravity, and even our own bodily processes are not questioned in the least bit. But no one can explain how or why any of these work, either. They can be observed, mapped out, predicted, and tested. But no one knows why or how light exists. Same thing for gravity. We can look through a microscope or some other contraption and observe the process of our body breathing, pumping blood, sending electrical impulses, and processing fuel… but the explanation for how it’s gained the knowledge and intelligence to do such miracles on a second-to-second basis, no one will ever have.
The Big Bang is a similar topic. Scientists get jazzed up in making models of what it looked like and what resulted from the energy. But without the idea of intelligent design as their so-called “crutch,” they’re undone with the same, simple question: “Yeah but how did it start?” A purely scientific approach would uphold that nothing happens unless it’s a reaction to something else. So how could it all start with nothing, and just by chance?
The truth is that reality isn’t persuaded by its own unlikelihood or lack of sense. Absurdity very clearly exists despite being absurd. I’m sitting on it, breathing it, drinking it, and tapping it with my finger tips.
Maybe I’ve already lost you with all of this apologetics stuff.
It essentially comes down to this: The world exists, along with myself, therefore any process or thing that is beyond me is also possible. The mind is extremely powerful. We observe this through our own imagination. Likewise, we will never know why any molecule in existence does what it does, nor how it exists in the first place.
So then who is Jesus? Suddenly, anything is possible, right? He could have existed– but are the reports of His existence credible? Reliable? Truthful? Or is He a result of man’s imagination? A hoax? Fantasy? Wishful thinking?
Forget every other question you’ve ever answered because, based on the message Jesus is said to have taught, our answer to this question of who He is and what happened to Him is the most important answer we will ever believe. If He was somehow telling the truth, then the implications of who He is have the power to completely change the world, and our lives in the process.
When it comes to this message of credibility, it’s actually not really about trusting Jesus–at first, anyway. Before we can get to that, it’s more about trusting His disciples. Either they wrote a true account of what they saw, heard, and experienced themselves, or they sensationalized and fabricated the story for some unknown reason.
Suppose they made the whole thing up. What benefit did they have in doing this? It really doesn’t seem like a great prank–some “HA! We sure fooled them!” escapade to post on YouTube later and rack up a million or more views. A spoonful of cinnamon would’ve been better, I think. Besides, this message they wrote about didn’t call for us to have faith in some abstract idea that one of them had in the shower–something that seemed to make sense based on our own imagination. Their message called for faith in a real person, whom they all lived with, heard teach, and saw perform miracles. And based on those experiences–three straight years of daily, careful observations– they unanimously agreed that Jesus had the authority to change the world. That seems like a pretty easy thing to reject if the person didn’t seriously amaze every single one of them. One slip up, one word out of place while they were walking miles of dusty roads together every day, and their confidence in Him would have vanished. The whole thing would have fallen apart.
Also, the message they said that Jesus taught, one that centered on loving others and required selfless servanthood and a willingness to endure persecution, didn’t seem very beneficial for them. You would think if they made it all up, or even altered it to fit their liking, they would set themselves up to be worshipped, get the girl, or be kings. That wasn’t the case. So what motive is left other than that they were telling the simple truth?
It’s important to point out that, based on the quantity and age of identical copies of the New Testament writings we’ve found as well as the short time that passed between Jesus’ death and when they were first written, these documents are considered some of the most reliably-preserved historical documents in history. To argue that the story wasn’t written at the direction of Jesus’ original disciples is one of the weakest arguments you can make. You’d really be better off trying to convince people that every disciple of Jesus just met in some basement somewhere and came up with this epic prank. Their brilliant, meticulous planning (masterminded by Peter, a brash fisherman with little theological training) led them to stay incredibly consistent with each other despite being sent to different corners of the known world.
Each of those guys were instrumental in spreading the news that they saw Jesus raised from the dead along with the implications of that event (since Jesus happened to predict the entire thing). They spread the news that He was the Son of God so intensely that they were eventually warned to keep quiet by the unnerved governments of their own and surrounding countries. They refused, which led to being captured and told to publicly denounce who they had been teaching Jesus to be. Again, they refused. One by one, each of those mighty men of the Christian faith was killed (except for Judas, who committed suicide from the guilt of betraying an innocent and holy Jesus, and John, who died of old age but still lived a martyr’s life by being exiled). Talk about a rough start, and a terrible way to convince new believers to convert. But for some reason, they still did–and by the thousands.
State-sponsored persecution by the Romans couldn’t even put a cap on the growth of people choosing to follow this guy named Jesus. And this isn’t persecution like we probably think of it today. This is persecution to the point of (first generation believers) being torn apart by hungry wild animals as a form of entertainment for a crowd. Yet more and more people accepted this crazy development to the already-ancient faith of Judaism as singular truth that could be trusted with their lives.
Making it all up isn’t a very solid argument anymore, is it? People don’t die for a hoax that never gave them power in the first place. If you still don’t want to accept that Jesus did, in fact, exist, teach, die, and rise from the dead as the New Testament explains, you’re running out of arguments. Your best bet now would probably be that the original disciples were each just suicidal and craved prolonged imprisonment and torture before finally being executed by some of the most gruesome tactics known to mankind.
Something tells me you’re still going to have some trouble convincing anyone else of that, though. Being sawed in half, nailed to a cross upside down, or strapped to a chopping block will make a truth teller out of me every time.
Did Jesus really do all that stuff the Bible says He did? Did He rise from the dead, promising to go and prepare a place for us in His Father’s house? The logic behind it is absurd. I freely admit that. But the historical and even the scientific evidence in support of the story is suspiciously convincing. And it just so happens that the very ground we walk on, the stuff we consider the baseline of “normal” and “expected,” is equally as absurd.
After all the hoopla, the conclusion is ironically simple. If Jesus did rise from the dead, that makes Him the most credible teacher who ever lived. It means that what He taught deserves a very close look.
Do I know how it all works? Unfortunately, no. God and all the ways He works is a great mystery to us. His ways are a mystery, as they frustratingly should be, but they are most definitely still possible. The notion of Christianity may be absurd, but it’s no more absurd than the very blood flowing through my veins. Therefore, if one can be undeniable, so can the other.