We just finished celebrating what is, in my opinion, the most important season in the Christian calendar: Easter. It’s the climax of the Christian story. Jesus suffered and, after being falsely accused, chose not to fight back. Instead, He went to the cross, all the while forgiving those who put him there. He knew this was His path. He even told His disciples it would happen but that His death would not be the end.
And so, although Jesus died, He didn’t stay dead. He rose from the dead, displaying God’s ultimate victory over the one thing all of us are bound to experience. Death has been humanity’s destiny since Genesis 3, so when Jesus’ friends found the tomb empty there was no question that something amazing had happened.
And this is where we stop.
For anyone hearing Jesus’ story for the first time, and even for those who have grown up in the church, the life of Jesus poses a significant problem. It’s not only the death and resurrection of Jesus, but even from the start the life of Jesus is, at least from the rational Western perspective, highly improbable, if not impossible.
We all know that you can't just have a child without sex (or I guess we should say, in our age of technology, without a sperm and an egg joining together). So are we supposed to believe that Jesus was born to the virgin Mary, conceived in her by the Holy Spirit? We know how evil we can be at times, so are we supposed to believe that Jesus never did anything wrong? We know how hard it is for us to do anything extraordinary, so are we supposed to believe that Jesus performed miracles? Healing the sick, raising the dead, making food appear from nothing, walking on water, and changing the lives of the lost and forgotten? And on top of all of that, are we supposed to believe that three days after Jesus was killed, He got up and lived again, talking, walking, eating, cooking, all before ascending into the heavenly realm?
It would seem that the life of Jesus, from the virgin womb to the empty tomb, almost falls into the category of superhero lore or fantasy fiction. In that case, it’s a great story. We learn some great morals, pick up some life lessons, discover something about love, and we’re good to go.
Many people, including Christians, have taken this route. For some, it’s just too difficult to believe this could really happen. For others, scientific evidence would prove that it can’t happen. And so we try to reconcile this story by filtering Jesus’ life and taking only those things that we can believe. Jesus becomes a good teacher, whose story, while not considered history, teaches us about love and forgiveness. Because of it, we can become better people.
The problem with this reasoning is that Jesus never gives us this option. As compelling as the stories of Captain America, Superman, or Wonder-Woman are, we are never meant to take them as fact or history. We can immerse ourselves in these stories because we know they aren’t real. But neither Jesus, nor those who recorded His life, suggest this in the slightest.
Even if we tried to filter the life of Jesus and only take His morals and teachings for our lives, we would be foolish, as C.S. Lewis pointed out, to call Him a good teacher. He wasn’t. A good teacher doesn’t claim to be God and ask us to follow Him for the rest of our lives. The kinds of things He taught were revolutionary and life-changing, especially because of who He claimed to be.
So we are left with two choices. Either we disregard Jesus completely, or we choose to believe He is who He claims to be. But how can we start to make a decision?
I think the first step is for us to wrestle with different ways of knowing. The scientific method is valid in so far as it can teach us about things we can observe. But science, as a way of knowing, doesn’t apply to all aspects of life. Are there things in life that we know are true that can’t be proven scientifically? Of course there are. You can’t prove love, forgiveness, friendship, or answer larger questions like, “What is the meaning of life?” with science.
Once we can accept that there is more to life than observable science, we can begin to wrestle with what, of the many life experiences, may be true. The possibility of the divine, the supernatural, and the miraculous begin to increase. We may become open to the possibility that the life of Jesus deserves some attention at the very least.
Then the questions change. Can we put our trust in the accounts recorded in the Bible as an accurate history of who Jesus was? Do we believe the eye-witness accounts of over 500 people who saw the risen Jesus and the 2,000 years of tradition that continues to claim this to be true? With all we know about the stories themselves, who the witnesses were, the oral traditions, and the many manuscripts of biblical writings, we can investigate Christianity's claims on a deeper level.
When it comes down to it, we all put our faith in something. Maybe it's what we can observe by using the scientific method to inform our beliefs. Or maybe we put our trust in society and its institutions to guide us into living good and moral lives. Or perhaps we simply conclude that the only one we can really trust is ourselves, and so we become the masters of our own domain. Whatever the case, no one believes in nothing; everyone has faith.
Although I often still struggle with my faith, I just can’t believe that all of this happened by chance, that we are here without a purpose, that we can decide together what is moral, or that we can figure out life on our own. All of that seems much more impossible than to believe that there is a divine being who created this universe and put humanity here for a reason, that our selfishness causes so much of the evil in this world, and that God came to this world to show us the extent of His love. With what I’ve seen, studied, and experienced, a virgin birth and resurrection are the most plausible realities, and so I chose to join the tradition that claims Jesus to be Lord.
Do you know the story of Jesus Christ of Nazareth? Have you investigated it for yourself? What is your conclusion? Who is Jesus to you?