Lord > The Reality > The Evidence
Having gone through the last section, you can probably see that the concept of Christianity is capable of making sense. But you might not believe it. If you do, that's great... but if you're anything like I was, you want some evidence before you start making judgments about how the universe is put together.
It takes faith. Obviously, there's a point where we have to put our "faith" in some sort of authority when it comes to believing in religion. And some people have a problem with "having faith" in something like this.
But we use "faith" all the time. You've got faith right now that the chair you're sitting in won't collapse. When you drive over a bridge or step into a building you've never entered before, you've got faith that the architects who designed it put together something that will hold you up. Have you ever been to Antarctica? Personally, I mean? Do you believe in the trustworthy sources who tell you that it exists? What about the existence of little tiny elemental particles (which aren't even "particles" but weird things like "probability smears" and empty space) that make up everything around you? Do you believe what your science teacher taught you? How about your history teacher's words about Napoleon or the Roman Empire?
Faith can be based in evidence. It doesn't have to be, I suppose... but it usually is, and that usually makes the most sense. And much of what we know as "real" boils down to putting our faith in the evidence for it.
There's lots of evidence about Jesus. From that evidence, we can draw some logical conclusions about Jesus himself...
A guy named Jesus lived about 2000 years ago. A tiny number of people claim that he didn't, but scholars are pretty much in agreement that Jesus wasn't a figment of everyone's imagination or a conglomeration of different stories or such. (And we're not just talking about "Christian scholars" - even ardent non-Christians acknowledge the fact that the stories about Jesus are about a real person.)
The Bible's history matches other sources. There are some other ancient historians who talk about Jesus and early Christians. Most of "the good stuff" that was floating around got incorporated into what we call "The Bible," so if you throw the Bible out you're throwing out a lot of history.
We can safely assume that:
- there was a guy named Jesus,
- he wandered around preaching,
- he was crucified,
- his followers thought he rose from the dead
- his followers still believed in him,
- and other folks (like Paul) became followers after his death.
So, what kind of guy was Jesus?
Jesus was a Jew. This is important to remember. All his teachings, sayings, conversation, etc., point to the fact that he came from a Jewish background and, rather than rejecting it and saying that it was wrong, honored it.
The Jews believed in one God. They understood that strange "Trinitarian" concept from the last section, where you can't claim to be a part/Son/whatever of God without claiming that you're God Himself. There's one God. That's it.
Jesus said that he and God were really close. Jesus talked about having a special relationship with "his Father", and that his Father had given him special authority. Whether or not you believe every single quote in the Bible came out of Jesus' mouth the way it's recorded, the overall picture is pretty clear.
This means Jesus claimed to be God. Whoa! How can I make that leap? Because Jesus was a Jew operating in the Jewish tradition. There's no sign that He was trying to explain the mystical concept that "we're all one with God". If that's what he was after -- if he was a "great teacher" who was trying to lead us to enlightenment -- then he was actually a pretty lousy teacher, because nobody got that message. At all. Instead, folks got really upset that this carpenter's son was running around claiming to be God.
So, we can add to the list of things we know about Jesus that "He claimed he was God".
Who claims they're God? Well, more than a handful of people have claimed that through the years. But when you boil it down, there are only a few options.
Crazy people claim they're God. That's because they're crazy. They need "treatment". They're usually seen as crazy by most folks. They're rarely honored as "great teachers". They might get a few followers, but not thousands and thousands. Based on what we know about Jesus and how impressed people were with him, he probably wasn't nuts.
Evil people claim they're God. The Roman Caesars said they were gods -- it's a good way to gain power. But they knew they weren't, and that makes them bad. (Or maybe they were so messed up that the didn't know they weren't... but then they'd fall into the "crazy" category.) If there are folks out there saying they're God when they know they're not... they'd be pretty evil. Evil people show their true colors pretty quickly and, once again, that doesn't fit into the picture we have of Jesus. Everything we know about him says that folks thought he was pretty nice. (Except for the people who thought he was evil for the very fact he was claiming to be God... But that's based on what he claimed, not based on what he did or what his character showed him to be.)
So, maybe Jesus was right. Maybe he really was God.
If you disagree with that conclusion, that's fine. But, before you stop reading or "agree to disagree" with me, figure out why you don't agree:
If you don't want to have "faith", ask yourself how the faith in historical record and a couple thousand years of analysis by really intelligent people is less valid than the faith that the reality of the things you've never seen and have no "proof" for.
If you don't think there's enough evidence for Jesus having lived, figure out how much evidence is enough to put your faith in something and then live your life accordingly. Most City Halls will have architectural plans on file (usually in their Zoning Department) so you can research the structural details of the various buildings you might want to walk into -- you don't want them to collapse on you while you're on there! While there, you might be able to make friends with the Notary Public, who can notarize any affidavits by witnesses who can vouch for the fact that the buildings were build to those specs. Stupid? Yes. But why not draw the line there? Why put an additional burden of "historicity" on Jesus than you would for any other historical fact or figure?
If you think Jesus was just a great teacher who never claimed to be God, consider how great he was if nobody got his message right. You could opt for "Jesus was a mediocre teacher with bad delivery of his message", but there's something about what Jesus said that seems to rise above the mediocre.
If you think Jesus was just some crazy guy running around in the desert telling people, "Guess what? God's my Dad!", take a good look at what he said and figure out if he sounds like a crazy person. And if you can't make that judgment on your own (because, after all, you can't talk to him personally and just his sanity for yourself), take a look at the behavior of the people who did know him and see what they thought.
If you think Jesus was lying -- maybe on a power trip to gain some followers -- ask yourself if that fits what we know about his character. It's the same notion of whether he was crazy. But if he was a liar, that's even more stupid; look what it got him! "Wow! I can lie my way to the top... of an executioner's cross". Probably not. He at least would have given up the charade before that point!
All you're left with is "Jesus was God". And, once you believe that, you have to start looking at how you should live your life.
If you've read this far, you must have comments. Send 'em my way (at email@example.com) and I'd love to talk to you about them.
If you want to know where to go from here, keep reading...
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