Monday, March 25, 2013

What on Earth Do You Do With the Resurrection? (Musings for a Skeptic)

I have often speculated about what kind of person I'd be had I not been raised in a Christian home. Here's what I'm pretty sure of:

I'd live by the Golden Rule. Kindness and respect would be my religion.

I wouldn't go to church; I don't need a pastor or priest to tell me what I already know: to treat others the way I want to be treated.

My gods would be nature and knowledge. Give me a book and put me outdoors; that's all the heaven I'd need.

There you have it. That's what a faithless Faith would look like.

But there's one thing I'm not sure of. What would I do with the Resurrection?

As a logic-loving, (mostly) rational thinker who pities victims of religious conditioning and those who succumb to the power of suggestion, what would I make of the historical evidence seemingly pointing to the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead?

Would I ignore the simple questions that ought not to be ignored by those who claim to want to know the truth? Questions such as:

Why did no one dispute the reports and records of the New Testament writers? Many enemies of Christ who were eye witnesses to His life and death were still alive when the apostles' written work came into circulation (Paul wrote as early as 15 AD*)

If the Jews wanted so desperately to stop the spread of Christianity, why didn't they simply produce the body of Jesus? It's location was no secret: he was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea.

If the disciples wanted to save their heads rather than face torture, imprisonment and martyrdom, why didn't they produce the body of Jesus? Why would they have died for something they knew to be a lie?

How could someone else have possibly stolen the body of Jesus when it was guarded by Roman officers and sealed with a two-ton stone?

What was it that caused a cowardly group of disciples to go from hiding in fear to boldly proclaiming the Resurrection on city streets at the threat of death? What had they seen that so dramatically changed them over night?

Was it the same thing that caused their message to explode beyond its localized European roots and defy geographical, cultural and socio-economic boundaries, and spread like a worldwide wildfire to eventually saturate entire continents, like South America and Africa, and permeate places like China and India today?

Why is it that Christianity is so boundless? It is no respecter of persons, times or places. (And this is what I most wonder if I would wonder) Why are so many truly intelligent people, including the brightest, modern scientific minds, choosing to believe in this God Who claims to have risen from the dead?

These questions are only the beginning of a long list of questions I hope that I would ask. I don't know--can't know--if I would. But I hope one question would haunt me and hunt me down until I had no choice but to answer it: what plausible explanation for the empty tomb is there besides the Resurrection? I hope I wouldn't be stubborn enough or foolish enough to stuff the question away and leave it unanswered for myself. I hope I'd take the intellectual responsibility to  realize the implications for my life by whatever I chose to do with the question.

(Speaking of kindness and respect, I do not presume that nonbelievers don't likewise have thought-provoking questions for me. Questions that would challenge my thinking. Bring it. Call me up with an invitation for spiritual conversation and I'm there like an antique dealer at a rummage sale.)

But these are only the "head" questions. There are matters of the heart I hope would drive me to seek what science and history cannot answer. There is knowledge and intelligence, yes, but there is also wisdom. I hope I'd be wise enough to seek and find wisdom.

And that is cause for doubt about where I'd be today. I might be kind and respectful, but I am also headstrong. Proud. In control. Independent. I'm pretty sure I'd want to be the master of my own destiny, thank you very much. I'll decide what's true and what's good, and I'll base it on... well, I guess I'd base it on what everyone else bases truth and goodness on and hope I come out more Mother Theresa than Adolf Hitler.

But as one thinker wrote, "By the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain." (I Cor. 15:10). This Easter I celebrate the sovereign grace of God that came to me as a child and rescued me when I didn't fully know how much I needed rescuing. Because I'm almost sure I wouldn't know it now.

Except for the grace of God.

(*These questions hardly begin to address the issues surrounding the Resurrection. In addition to the empty tomb, there were the hundreds who claimed to have seen Jesus resurrected in bodily form. Both elements are important. I recommend this book for anyone curious about examining the common arguments against these claims:)

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