It’s a huge pain in the rear to be as curious and logical as I am sometimes. I haven’t fully decided whether it’s good or bad that my smartphone is right there for whenever a curiosity strikes. The ability to look up how something works or when something started has transformed me into a ninja-master of useless fact trivia.
There is a less-nerdy aspect to this, though. Google has consistently helped turn up answers that satisfy my wondering doubts about Christianity. Contrary to what many might want to believe, doubts shouldn’t be ignored. That’s called “ignorance.” We cannot be afraid of what the truth might do to our “Christian faith” because, ultimately, it’s the truth we are seeking, not Christianity. Besides, what’s the point of professing a religion if you don’t actually think its fundamental teachings are rock solid reality? Faith and fantasy don’t mix.
If you look carefully in his letters and in the book of Acts, even the Apostle Paul’s evangelism methods to the gentiles are plastered with logical explanations that address completely reasonable doubts. He never expected people to believe simply because he told them to. And he seemed to know that openly inviting and addressing their doubts was essential to their faith becoming real and meaningful to them.
Jesus claimed to teach truth, and whatever is true will withstand our questions and research. This is where Christianity is very different from every other religion of the world. Not to say it doesn’t still require faith, but you can explore outside of Christianity’s holy books and still find confirmation of its truth claims. That is something we should expect from something that is… true. Given its due diligence, doubt can lead us to a firmer, more confident and genuine faith that what we profess is actually real!
Overall, I think each person has doubts and questions that are unique to them. Personally, I’ve never been sidelined about whether we have a Creator. Who He is and what He wants? Sure. But to me, the evidence of His basic existence is seen all over creation. My life in itself offers all the evidence I need. If I have a conscious identity, then God must exist.
My toughest doubts can be summed up, rather, as a combination of Jesus’ credibility as fully God and fully man, whether or not He really rose from the dead, and all the other outlandish things the Bible says about Him. My doubts went far beyond just wanting a Bible verse to tell me what happened, and even beyond wanting a scholar’s opinion about the significance and implications of those events. Instead, my ever-skeptical mind has always gone straight to wondering if Jesus and His disciples could have just worked over the crowd and made them believe a lie. Rumors, slight of hand, or whatever it might have been, I’ve always wondered if it was all just misdirection, confusion and lies. Maybe Jesus and His disciples were just malignant lunatics.
I bet you didn’t know a pastor could have such thoughts, did you?
For those of you who were raised with church doctrine spoken around the dinner table or taught to never question the Bible, this may be something you haven’t wondered much about. The gospel presentation is probably second-nature to you, and that’s really great. But let me remind you, not everyone hears about Jesus and naturally thinks “God in the flesh!” At least not right away. For a deep thinker like me, that was confusing and, honestly, pretty weird. Because, if we’re being honest, it really doesn’t make sense.
For a long time, I didn’t allow myself to ask these questions for fear of what the answer might expose. I wanted to believe, therefore I feared what I might find if I pulled back the curtain. I didn’t see my doubt as an opportunity to strengthen my faith, however, I eventually reached a point where I wanted truth more than comfort. I started asking all the tough questions, knowing that God’s truth, even if that wasn’t “Christianity,” was worth knowing.
As I said before, I believed in God, and I was even honest enough to admit that my jacked-up self didn’t deserve to live in community with such a Perfect Creator. Unlike some people in our relativistic culture, you won’t hear me arguing that I’m “good enough just the way I am.” But the question remained: Who was Jesus? Every culture has their own name for Him. In Hebrew, He’s Yeshua. In Arabic, He’s Isa. No one in the world credibly denies that the man at least existed. But who was He, really?
Based on the message Jesus is said to have taught, what we genuinely believe about this question is the most important answer we will ever give. If what He said was somehow true, then the implications have the power to completely change the world, and our lives in the process. After all, what we genuinely believe is naturally illustrated by what we do. So needless to say, for those who embrace the gospel, it’s a total game changer.
When it comes to this message of credibility, it’s actually not about trusting Jesus– at first, anyway. Jesus didn’t write the gospels. So before we can trust Jesus, it’s important to know we can trust 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.
I knew these guys lived during a time when oral teaching was extraordinarily accurate, but I figured they still could have just made the whole thing up. Then I realized that it really doesn’t seem like a great prank– some “HA! We sure fooled them!” escapade to post on YouTube and rack up a few million views and a sponsorship deal. They had zero benefit in doing that.
This message they wrote about doesn’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 someone’s imagination. Their message was based on real events and witnesses– lots and lots of witnesses. It called for faith in a real person, whom they all lived with, heard teach, and saw perform miracles. And based on those experiences, three years of careful observations, they unanimously agreed that Jesus had the authority of God in the flesh. That seems like a pretty easy thing to reject if Jesus didn’t seriously amaze every single one of them. One slip up, one word out of place while walking miles of dusty roads together, and their confidence in Him would have vanished. The whole thing would have fallen apart.
Also, it’s important to recognize that the message they said Jesus delivered, one that centered on loving others and required selfless servanthood and a willingness to endure persecution, was in no way 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 worshiped, get the girl, or be kings. That wasn’t the case. In fact, several elements would have been flat out embarrassing for them to admit and, by cultural standards, would have hurt their case. Think about this: if they were lying, why would they admit to be bumbling, faithless idiots at times? Why would they admit that the first witnesses to the risen Jesus were a couple of women, who in that day were not seen as credible witnesses? Logic demands that these guys were totally and completely committed to telling the simple truth.
Based on the quantity and age of identical copies of New Testament writings 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 a basement somewhere and came up with this epic prank. Personally, I just couldn’t accept that these guys were such brilliant, meticulous planners, especially considering Jesus left them in the charge of a brash fisherman who had little theological training. The incredible consistency of the apostles’ teachings despite being sent to different corners of the known world only adds to the legitimacy of their message.
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 (especially since Jesus happened to predict the entire thing). They spread the news that He was the Son of God so intensely, they were eventually warned to keep quiet by the unnerved governments of their own and surrounding countries. They persisted, which led to being captured and one by one, each of those mighty men of the Christian faith was killed (except for 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 today. This is persecution to the point of being torn apart by hungry wild animals as a form of entertainment for a crowd. Caesar Nero was famous for impaling Christians and then lighting them on fire to use as night lights around the city. It’s hard to call that a self-help, motivational movement. Keep in mind, too, these were often first generation believers. It was brand new for them– not something they just grew up with– and they still chose to die before abandoning what they believed to be true. So despite the worst marketing campaign in the history of the world, 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. And the most amazing thing is that this is still happening today! I’ve read stories of people who had put their trust in Jesus only a few weeks before they were martyred for their faith, despite being given every opportunity to recant in their last moments. As horrible as these stories are, they are also profoundly encouraging to think of how real this is.
To think of all of this, making this story up wasn’t a very solid argument anymore for me. People don’t die for a hoax that never promised them power in the first place. The threat of being sawed in half, burned alive, 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? Was He being serious that He and the Father are one? 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 and the blood flowing through our veins– the stuff we consider the baseline of “normal” and “expected”– is equally absurd.
If Jesus really did rise from the dead, the conclusion is ironically simple. That makes Him the most credible teacher who ever lived. It means that what He taught warrants a very close look and deserves the highest form of respect and obedience.