Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/
When I covertly brought up the idea that maybe I couldn’t believe in Christianity because the idea of someone dying, resurrecting, and going up to heaven seemed like it couldn’t be true, my youth group pastor told me, “Maybe that’s why the story can be believed- because it’s just so unbelievable.”
Somehow this just couldn’t cut it for me. I discussed it with a friend, and he pointed out that a lot of God stories were unbelievable (he jokingly brought up the story of Cthulu) but that didn’t make them true.
I remember watching a history channel program, where they poised the question- “Why would so many people risk their lives in defense of a lie?” The question was based off of the fact that if the disciples really just hid the body of Jesus- as I must point out that many Jews already believe- why would they face persecution and death in defense of a ruse?
I guess I could pose the same question to the many radical Islamic suicide bombers, who, having never been given any evidence of the paradise that Muhammed wrote about, forfeited their lives for it without a second thought.
One could argue, “But see, they really believed that seventy-two virgins and endless feasting awaited them in the skies. If Jesus’ disciples knew that they were defending a lie, how could they still risk their lives for it?”
Maybe the answer is more complicated than we might believe. Maybe they loved their teacher so much, that rather than have the world accept the facts of his untimely and shameful death as the end of his legacy, they wanted his promise of resurrection to live on and be accepted as literal fact.
That being said, a lot has changed about Christianity since its inception in the early A.D. The council of Nicene ruled on the answer to the question of Christ’s deity. It would be decided that yes, indeed, he was divine, the literal son of God, but he was also human- “fully God and fully man.” One cannot help but wonder what Christianity would be mostly like today if the vote had swung in the other direction- yes, Jesus was the Messiah, but he wasn’t a deity. Such seemingly small differences have been the basis for denominational splits, debates, and controversies.
Some have proposed the idea that one can accept Jesus as being a savior, a role model, and the foundation of one’s life without accepting him as born of a virgin, divine, or awaiting in heaven for a triumphant return. The first of these that I ever encountered was Bishop John Shelby Spong, whose writing has forever changed the way I view my faith.
Even after being exposed to such writing, I had to question whether or not I could still call myself a Christian if I rejected the so-called “foundations” of Christian faith, like the virgin birth, the deity of Christ, and his literal physical resurrection. I thought of the Apostle Paul’s words: “If Christ is not raised, your faith is vain- you are yet in your sins”, “There are some who have a form of godliness but deny its power- from such, turn away.”
Yet, Bishop John Shelby Spong points out that if we accept as literal all of the stories in the Bible, then we have to push aside a lot of our intelligence and scientific knowledge. If these fantastical things really happened, why did they suddenly stop happening in the modern age? We don’t see any partings of the Red Sea today, we don’t see virgins giving birth with unfertilized eggs, we don’t have many verifiable, documented miracles. Clinically dead people might come back to life after a few minutes or hours (with the aid of considerable medical resuscitation), but never after three or four days.
We are, however, at an impasse. As Jesus said, “With God, all things are possible”. It is very possible that in order to change the course of history forever, God came down, bent all of his “rules” and did something truly miraculous.
In order to believe that though, I would have to believe that for some unknown reason, God decided to wait to do this for thousands of years, and after doing it, still left more than half of the world startlingly ignorant of this fact. If the angels appeared to serenade the shepherds at Jesus’ birth, why didn’t they go to America as well- a land that the Eastern world was unaware of- and likewise spread the good news of the birth of the Son of God? No, instead each tribe and nation is characterized by its own traditions and unique beliefs about creation, life and death, and modern day Evangelicals have saddled themselves with the responsibility to bring “light” into this “darkness”.
The apostle John stated, “We are of God, and the whole world lies in wickedness.” These are bold claims. Not so bold, however, considering that the Master was quoted as saying, “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters.”
So what can we take from the stories about Jesus’ life, death, and ascension to the skies as found in the New Testament of the Bible? Can we accept these as literal facts, and ignore all of the seeming impossibilities, or is there maybe another lesson that we are to learn from his teachings?
To be honest, I haven’t found the answer to that yet myself, but I’m definitely going to be searching with my eyes wide open, even if what I do find might prove unsatisfactory in the light of everything I’ve been taught so far.
A friend suggested to me that maybe it doesn’t matter whether or not Jesus is alive in heaven, or even if he ever lived on this earth at all, but rather its more important what we learn about life through his recorded teachings. We learn to be kind, forgiving, and just. We learn to be self-sacrificing and put others needs before our own. Even if he never walked on water or opened blind eyes, these stories teach us about compassion and love.
We may never know the whole truth about what happened over 2000 years ago, but we find truth in the fragments. Jesus Christ- divine or not- forever changed the course of human history with his life, death, and teachings. His influence is timeless, but the religion that he is the center of has gone through many splits, many growing pains, many changes. Everyone has a different view of the “right” way to lead the Christian life, and it seems we’re moving further and further away from a unified consensus. With that in mind, I think I will allow myself to pursue my faith in God in the way that is most sensible to me, even if it may raise questions in more traditionalist parties.
Who are you to judge another man’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Yeah, he shall be held up, because God is able to make him stand.