Why I Am a Christian III

Continued from (Why I Am a Christian II) But this brings me now to another level of belief, if you will. Even if there is a creator God who has a rational, creative, and moral aspect to his being, there are many alternative takes on who or what this God is like, and what, if any, his or its relationship with the created order is like.  Once again, when I look around me, when I sense and feel (as much as I can bear to) the reality of human experience, the story of the Bible rings true as to its explanatory power. For when I look around I see this incredible mix of good and of evil, of beauty and of ugliness, of courage and of cowardice, of faithfulness and faithlessness, of love and of hatred, of honor and of dishonor. It seems that every person is a mix of all of these attributes. Most of us feel this mix within ourselves as well as see it around us. Yes, it is possible that we have evolved in ways that seem mutually contradictory, that the selection out of certain attributes for advantage in one area of life brings disadvantage in another. But the story of Genesis 1-3 rings more powerfully true to me, a story of noble creatures created in the image of a good and holy God, who have themselves fallen into rebellion and been cursed with an inability to regain or reclaim that which has been lost. This story explains both our nobility and our pettiness, our capacity for love and for hatred, our love for life and disregard for it, all at the same time. We know how hard-wired we are, not just for good, but also for evil. Most of us know, and fear, what lurks inside. And so the basic story-line of “creation and fall” squares with our common experience of the human race and the workings of our own inner person. It rings true. The world, it seems to me, is very much like a world created and fallen according to the story-line of the book of Genesis. 

But several faiths claim these chapters as their own –the Jewish first of all, the Christian, and the Muslim. So why am I a Christian rather than a Muslim or a Jew? The answer to this question rises or falls on the question of the validity of the New Testament account of Jesus of Nazareth. For, if this account is accurate and true, and particularly if it is the case that this Jesus of Nazareth was raised bodily from the dead, then it is most likely also the case that what Jesus is reported to have said about himself and about the kingdom of God is also true. As a Christian I am struck, even stunned, by the many ways that the life and story of Jesus seem to be fulfillments of ancient Jewish prophecies. I could name many of these. But this is nowhere more the case that in the accounting in Isaiah 53 of the “Suffering Servant,” who, it says, “bore our iniquities and carried our sorrows.” When I read the gospel accounts of the arrest and trial and crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth, and then read Isaiah 53, it is as if I am reading the very same story. The detailed similarities are stunning. In fact, did I not know better, I would be tempted to wonder if perhaps the gospels came first and Isaiah 53 came after. Or, I would be tempted to think that the story of the last day of Jesus’ life, and his death and resurrection, was part of a vast conspiracy to make people believe that Jesus was the one spoken about hundreds of years earlier in Isaiah 53. Can you imagine who would have to have been involved to pull off that conspiracy? Had the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day themselves accepted Jesus as the fulfillment of Isaiah 53, and if they were of ignoble character, one can almost imagine such a conspiracy succeeding. But they didn’t believe that to be the case about Jesus, and they were not of ignoble character. It just seems credible to me that the arrest and trial and suffering and death and resurrection of Jesus looks like fulfillment of the suffering servant passage of Isaiah 53, because, well, it is the fulfillment, and that Jesus was in fact the one foreseen in Isaiah 53. And I am drawn to the suffering servant of Isaiah 53, and to the suffering Jesus, and yes, I do believe that He bore my iniquities and carried my sorrows.  

But none of that suffering would have mattered if Jesus had stayed dead. Yes, it would still be a story filled with pathos that would draw people into it who had themselves experienced suffering as part of the human condition. But the suffering as a suffering in the place of others, a suffering which bore iniquity and sin for others, that part of the story would have had no objective reality or meaning unless the subsequent resurrection were true. For, historically speaking, the same accounts which have Jesus telling the disciples that he would die as a ransom for many also have him telling them that he would rise from the dead. So how could one accept the notion of Jesus suffering in the place of others without accepting the notion of him seeing life and the light of day on the other side of that suffering, as both are part of the prophecy in Isaiah 53 and both are prophesied by Jesus himself. Ultimately, there is no way to separate out the Jesus who said he would rise from the dead from the Jesus who said he would die as a ransom for many or the Jesus who told his followers to love one another. Those that try to pick and choose from the New Testament accounts those specific things that they think Jesus may have actually said, or those events which they think are more likely than the other events, well, these are on a fool’s errand and are revealing more about themselves than about Jesus. There is no historically credible way to “get behind” the gospel accounts, as it were, to find the real Jesus back there somewhere. To believe, for example, that Jesus likely said something like “love one another” but did not say “and on the third day I will rise again” is simply to believe what one wants to believe.   It is honorable and fair for the Jewish person to believe outright that Jesus did not rise from the dead and that the New Testament accounts of his rising are fictional. It is honorable and fair for the Jewish person to disbelieve what Jesus said about himself as the promised Messiah. It is perfectly reasonable at several levels and for several good reasons that the Jewish leaders would want to get rid of such a person if they believed him to be bogus. But is neither honorable nor fair nor reasonable for the pseudo-Christian New Testament scholar simply to create his own personal Jesus by picking and choosing what he or she thinks Jesus is likely to have said or done. As to the Muslim view of Jesus, as much as I understand it, it does not seem credible to me to believe that Jesus was a good prophet and important messenger of the one God but not to believe in his bodily resurrection. For then one has to conclude that either Jesus was just plain wrong about himself, or that he was as a complete lunatic, or that he never said such things about himself at all (which is problematic as mentioned above), and that the accounts of his being raised from the dead were fictional, the latter raising its own set of historical problems as I will explain below.  Again, to me, what we think of as the historic Christian understanding of Jesus (in all its aspects) ultimately depends on the truth of his resurrection from the dead. Did it happen? Is there any corroborating evidence outside of the accounts of Jesus’ early followers that it did in fact happen? Well, as I look at it, there is such evidence, and it is powerful and almost irrefutable. For that, next time…

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4 Responses to Why I Am a Christian III

  1. Why settle for being a christian? why not christ? every disciplehood is ordinary!. We need more christs than christians,We need more Mohammads than Muslims, We need more Buddha’s than Buddhists.

    I like your blog. You have a lot of passion and honsety behind this blog. thanks for sharing your thoughts!!

  2. […] Continued from Why I Am a Christian III   […]

  3. Antibush says:

    Bush and the Republicans were not protecting us on 9-11, and we aren’t a lot safer now. We may be more afraid due to george bush, but are we safer? Being fearful does not necessarily make one safer. Fear can cause people to hide and cower. What do you think? Why has bush turned our country from a country of hope and prosperity to a country of belligerence and fear.
    Our country is in debt until forever, we don’t have jobs, and we live in fear. We have invaded a country and been responsible for thousands of deaths.
    The more people that the government puts in jails, the safer we are told to think we are. The real terrorists are wherever they are, but they aren’t living in a country with bars on the windows. We are.

  4. Joelblog says:

    So, what does this have to do with Why I Am a Christian?

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