Monday, April 6, 2009

Comments to Ona, part 7

This is a big one now. (Big in terms of long -- sorry -- and big in terms of importance -- no apologies.) I previously mentioned my spiritual crash I experienced, right before becoming a mommy. As I rebuilt my faith, one of the big questions I had to deal with was, did this Jesus really die and come back to life again? I mean, how radical a belief is that?

As I indicated before, I'm a pretty thorough scholar, when I have time and motivation (which I had then -- this was pre-mommy, remember). I won't go into all the details of my study right now. But there was ample historical evidence that a man named Jesus lived, preached in the area, and was killed by the Romans. And that his followers soon after started proclaiming that he had risen from the dead and began a movement that became a religion that swept the Western world in the centuries to follow. Now, how to account for all those historical facts? Namely, if Jesus didn't rise from the dead, what did happen (Alternate Belief "B")?

Well, there's the wrong tomb theory -- Lots of problems with that one. For one, who comes up missing a corpse and just assumes it came back to life? Also, in the very unlikely event that the disciples forgot where the grave was, there were most certainly OTHER people who knew where the body was buried. There were guards posted there, in fact, to prevent the body being stolen. (A side-note: the only reason the guards were there was because the temple priests heard that Jesus had said he would be killed and rise again -- scratch any nonsense about Jesus never making such claims.) When this resurrected Christ movement started getting out of hand, all the powers-that-be had to do was display the body. End of movement. They didn't do that, because they couldn't. There was no body. So, is this theory possible? Well, I suppose . . . but is it likely? No.

Then there's the stolen body theory -- A few historical facts render this one quite implausible. For one, there was a huge boulder in front of the tomb that took several men to roll away. For another, recall that the tomb was being watched all night by a Roman guard -- which is not a single man, but a 12-man group taking shifts staying up, each of whom is under penalty of death if they fail to succeed at their mission. But even if you don't know or refuse to accept the historical reliability of these obstacles to such a feat: you're saying that these men who ran away like wimps the night Jesus was arrested . . all but one of whom were too afraid to even show up for the actual crucifixion . . they stole the body (and stopped in the process to take off the graveclothes that were found in the tomb later) . . . hid it somewhere that nobody found . . . and then suddenly found the chutzpah to tell the world he was alive again . . . and preached that message consistently and faithfully in the face of violent persecution, never one of them cracking and giving up the truth? And with NOTHING for any of them to gain personally? Who dies a violent death promoting a belief he knows is a lie? Is it possible? Yes. But is it likely? No. Not at all.

And then there's the "swoon" theory -- Jesus didn't actually die. He just passed out or something, fooling the Romans guards -- who, you recall, were professional killers and who stabbed him in the side with their sword to prove he was dead (the mixture of blood and water coming out being the proof of that). Then, after lying in a cold, sealed tomb, with little oxygen and no food or water for three days, he suddenly revives himself to the point that he is able to move the aforementioned monster stone, beat off the 12-man Roman guard, and then appear to his followers as a glorious resurrected Lord for whom they are willing to suffer tremendous persecution and violent death. Is it possible? I suppose. But is it likely? NO.

And then there are those who think the "rising from the dead" business was all just legendary or symbolic -- made up years after the fact, or misinterpreted by later believers. But the gospel accounts (and the earlier written letters which discuss details of Christ's death and resurrection) were written too soon after the events to allow for mythologizing about the event. The writers make it clear that their purpose in writing is to communicate historical facts, facts that they (and many of their contemporary readers) were witness to. They include specific names, places, and so forth that can be readily verified by the 1st century skeptic. (I have more I'll be saying about this point of view later . . .)

I won't go through all the theories people have put up trying to account for the historical evidence of the event. Some of them are truly bizarre (Jesus had a twin brother? Puh-leeze). Suffice it to say that I couldn't see any reason for an intelligent person to give serious consideration to these theories except that they simply refused to accept the possibility of a bodily resurrection. They insisted on a natural explanation. By this point in my spiritual search, I had to acknowledge the existence of a God and of the supernatural, so I was willing to accept a bodily resurrection of Jesus as a legitimate possibility.

And when I lay that option out next to the others, considering them all as equally viable, the supernatural option was by far the most likely. Again, the only possible reason to reject it is if you simply refuse to accept the idea that the supernatural may have occurred. And if you're coming to the table with that pre-conceived notion about it, I don't think you're coming to the table with any real intellectual honesty. You're just looking for a certain kind of answer to fit your preferred worldview.

Like the scientists who insist life evolved by random chance.

Like me believing education has to happen in a school building.

The resurrection may sound like the flying elephant theory, but the Bible indicates there were 500 witnesses to a risen Jesus (and why would Paul mention them if they weren't available to his readers to verify it all?), witnesses who stood by their story through intense persecution and ultimately changed the world.

In the end, when I considered all this . . combined with the prophecies about the Messiah that Jesus fulfilled . . combined with the fact that the gospels say Jesus TOLD them he would be killed and rise again . . combined with the evidence of the changes in the disciples . . combined with the evidence I'd seen in people around me that there is something to this Christianity business . . . I decided that it made much more sense to believe the story than to disbelieve.

I serve a RISEN savior!

But I have more I need to say to my dear friend Ona . . .

1 comment:

Phillip Henry said...

Great summary of the different non-resurrection theories. Thank you!!