This is part of my series on doubt. You can see the whole series here.
"But what does any of that have to do with Jesus?" This question comes up every time I tell my story, or how I understand God. By the time someone asks it, I've explained that faith does good in our world, that our Universe inspires reverence and mysticism, and that belief in a loving God is good for your brain.
That's the question, isn't it? Not only for my particular way of understanding God, but for life today. What impact and relevance does the life of a Jewish Rabbi who lived more than 2,000 years ago have today? We live in an era of rapid travel, instant global communications, and even space travel. Surely we have bigger fish to fry, right?
I've even had a skeptic or two ask me why I'm not instead a deist or pantheist, as those positions are much easier to defend than Christianity. They're right. Up to this point in this series, I'm comfortable I can make a credible scientific defense for any claim that I've made. I can't do the same for Jesus. But, I'm still a Christian.
Let's start by considering the secular academic understanding of Jesus. Many skeptics will claim that there is no evidence that Jesus was a real person at all. These mythicists were cast into the limelight by Richard Dawkins, and an interesting thing happened in response: historians got mad.
History may not be a hard science like biology, but it has it's own rigorous methodology. The consensus among historians is that Jesus was, in fact, a real person (or possibly a few people). It turns out that the existence of Jesus as a person isn't all that controversial among historians.
Jesus was probably a real person who walked the Earth and inspired a large following. Roman authorities probably crucified him.
Case dismissed, right?
Not so fast. The life and death of Jesus isn't controversial among historians, but his resurrection is. That's a big deal for Christians, because our faith isn't based on Jesus being a real Rabbi who taught new ideas about God. Our faith is based on God incarnate in a man, who died, was buried, and rose again.
I can't prove any of those things scientifically. I can't find adequate evidence to support such extraordinary claims. You may point me to the gospels, but our Holy Book is not the only one in the world that makes supernatural claims, nor is it the only one that claims eyewitnesses to those events. The Gospels are beautiful and compelling, but they aren't enough to verify that a man rose from the dead, at least not scientifically.
I've spent a long time reading the works of scholars, both religious and secular, about Jesus. I haven't even scratched the surface. I could devote my life to studying this topic and I'd never cover it all. There's too much. This debate has been going on for too long.
Let me be clear. As far as I can tell, there is no one, living or dead, who has proved that Jesus rose from the dead.
That's why we have faith, right? Well, there is a problem with basing your beliefs on faith alone: it produces conflicting claims about reality that can't be reconciled. One person may take it on faith, through personal revelation that Jesus was resurrected. Another may take it on faith, through personal revelation that the prophet Muhammad rode a winged horse into the sky.
How do you decide which claim is right? Evidence. You'd look for something in the world that could verify their claims. Both Christians and Muslims claim eyewitnesses. Both will take you to places on Earth where they claim these events happened.
This is why skeptics dismiss both claims, and why I dismissed them as an atheist.
I can't prove Jesus rose from the dead, but all my experiences with God have happened through my understanding of and relationship with Jesus Christ. I've studied world religions. I'm familiar with the major sects of the world's largest religions. There are teachings in all the world's faiths that interest me.
But it's Jesus who takes me to God. It's Jesus that woke me to God when I was 7, and Jesus who was with me when I was bullied as a kid. It was Jesus who renewed my belief in God, reminding me of our long road together when I no longer believed.
Belief in a loving God may be good for me, but the only way I can get to that belief is through Jesus.
This isn't as crazy as it sounds. First of all, I was raised in the church. I've got significant neurological real estate tied up in the teachings and practices of the Christian church. I've read the Bible so much and for so long that its pages speak to me every time I read them.
I can't prove that a supernatural God exists, but I can prove that spiritual experiences are real. The largest spiritual movement in human history is Christianity. Thanks to that scope, there is immense expertise on spiritual practices. The diverse denominations of the Christian faith offer me insight into worship, prayer, and meditation.
I am a Christian for the simple reason that I have decided to follow Jesus. I have made a personal commitment to be one of his followers, and to learn from his teachings. I am part of a vast community that does the work he told us to do.
My belief in the resurrection of Jesus is not an empirical, scientific belief. I can't defend it that way. I don't try. My belief in resurrection is a personal assumption, and I make it because it alters my life in ways that I appreciate.
I can't tell you that Jesus is the savior of the world, but I can tell you that Jesus is the savior of my life. My faith is a simple trust. I trust this story of a man who is God, who loves us, and suffers with us. I trust it to challenge me and to comfort me. I trust it to help me grow as a person. I trust it to guide me in community with other people who trust the story.
Not everyone trusts this story, and I understand why. Really, I do. If the idea of following a man who lived so long ago seems silly and absurd to you, I understand. I won't ask you to take the leap. My faith is a working hypothesis, completely unproven.
When I look at the people who followed Jesus in the Gospel stories, they didn’t have it all worked out either. They thought they were following a teacher, or maybe a political leader. Some of them were after fame, or power. Others wanted a revolution. But they all stopped what they were doing when Jesus said, “Come, follow me.”
That’s all it takes. To be a part of this Jesus movement, you just have to answer that call. You don’t have to know what you think about his claims. You don’t have to work out a bunch of theology. All you have to do is walk along with the others on this road, and allow the teachings of Jesus to challenge you and grow you. To follow Jesus is to be broken and poured out for others, just as he was.
The only proof I have for Christ's resurrection is my own life. I am working to make that proof better every day.
Next up: why I go to church.