As a kid, I thought I had a lot of faith. It was easy. I had attended church for as long as I could remember. I went to Sunday School and worship. My parents, grandparents, and all of my friends were Christians. So, for the most part, there was nothing to challenge my faith in any way. Then I remember having a moment when a horrifying thought crossed my mind. What if this whole Christianity thing was just made up?
In the book of Hebrews, we are taught that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1, NRSV). The faith of the people around me was so strong that it was indistinguishable from something that was physically visible. I did not have to possess faith. It was just…there. What if the whole story was fiction? What if the things we have come to believe about Jesus were a pattern of beliefs developed by someone who sought to control people in some way? We know this has happened before! L. Ron Hubbard all but confessed that he was going to start his own religion out of his own fiction. Today, that religion is called Scientology.
A critically thinking person would have to ask themselves, how could we call one religion fiction while maintaining that the Lord of own religion was “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6, NRSV)? Peter once addressed this very concern. He essentially said, “Trust me.” Peter wrote,
“For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain. So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed “(2 Peter 1:16-19, NRSV).
Peter and the the disciples were eyewitnesses to some pretty unbelievable stuff! Peter saw Jesus perform miracles. He heard God’s voice at Jesus’ baptism and at the Transfiguration. He was a witness to the Risen Lord. So why should we trust their stories? Well, he was a member of a group who cowardly hid when Jesus was killed and was activated to brave, public ministry when he came back to them. More than that, Peter was part of a story in which he was often the fool, saying the wrong thing or doing the wrong thing. Yet, Peter stuck by this story to his own death on a cross. Peter is essentially saying that he trusts his own story so much that he is not afraid to die for it.
Jesus once told Thomas (after proving his resurrection to him), “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (John 20:29, NRSV). Yet, we critics do not seem to desire that kind of blessing. I think it would be pretty great to have proof of the resurrection. Peter and John got proof. But what about the people who are haunted by their doubts? Some require careful study of the eyewitnesses of the resurrection to come to believe. I admit, these apologetics make a strong case. Some are moved by the story and do not need reassurance.
But if you are curious about how I got there, I have a different take:
I believe it because it is robustly crazy in its conspiracy to commit grace in the face of violent opposition.
The Gospel story is that God put God’s own self in a state of vulnerability in the form of his son, knowing that people would seek to destroy him. Jesus was good, and everything he taught threatened the way powerful people controlled the world. God allowed it to happen anyway. God would bring his son back into the living, not to bring wrath and payback, but love and grace. Then he taught us that Jesus was in charge now and we should all be like him: full of grace and sacrificial love.
In summary, if we could all be patterned after Jesus then the whole world could be bearers of love and peace. That stuff is bananas! When we go creating religion, it is to create systems of power to lift up people’s own interests, and their own historical reputation, and to protect themselves. The church carried none of these traits until Constantine and company adopted Christianity for their own power and justification.
The Church will always need to be reformed and continually be in the process of reforming according to the Word of God, to be patterned after Christ because if we do not, we can fall into something man-made, a human creation built for the power of a few.
But the original bit, the Jesus bit? You just can’t make that stuff up. Yes, the story contains themes that are common to its contemporary myths, but the Jesus of it all…he is so very compelling! He makes you want to throw down your metaphorical nets and follow him. I believe for this reason: The power of the Gospel story overwhelms me. It is beautiful in its simplicity and in its difficult challenge:
Be like Jesus. Yes, that Jesus, the dude we killed because his way could change everything.
Grace and Peace, Rob