With apologies to the great French mathematician and philosopher, Descartes: “Cognito ergo sum” translated “I think, therefore I am.” So though my existence is not in question, there is a lot about this existence that is.
I doubt that the Bible is true. I doubt that there is a Creator. I doubt that we live after this body dies. I doubt that there is anything beyond what we see and experience in this life. Perhaps we are only creatures of an eternal evolution; everything is continuing as it has for all time and there is no purpose, only existence.
How does one handle these kinds of thoughts that enter the mind uninvited? When they come in as you feel discouraged or disconnected? When life has handed you lemons and your attempt to make lemonade winds up a broken pitcher and a puddle on the ground?
To come out of this downward spiral you have to return to the basics of what you know to be true:
First, that you exist.
Second, that you are not the only one to exist; there are lots of others around you.
Third, that this existence is not new; we were not born in this minute.
Fourth, that the world has been around for a long time.
Fifth, that some of those others have recorded what happened to them.
Sixth, that not all of them are liars.
Seventh, this downward spiral will lead to disillusionment and hopelessness.
Eighth, there is a better way: listening to those honest recorders before you.
This takes us back to the crux of history, that event that overshadowed all others when it occurred and changed all of history. The Resurrection of Jesus, called the Christ or the Anointed One. Paul must have experienced something of this disconnect to have penned “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:19) There have been times this statement confused me.
We who follow Jesus have mostly good lives. Many of us, especially here in the West, have little persecution (yet). We enjoy each other’s companionship and share worship experiences and many of us even “hear God speak to our hearts.” Not that many claim to actually hear a voice, but such strong impressions that seem to come from somewhere outside ourselves invade out thinking. To the one that has experienced this, there is no question in his or her mind, God has spoken! And we are filled with joy and “peace that passes understanding” (Philippians 4:7) regardless of external circumstances.
So how does Paul conclude that if we are wrong, we are of all people most to be pitied? Consider the insane man who thinks he is living in a palace with sumptuous banquets and lavish comforts when in reality his trailer home is overrun with mice and cockroaches nibbling at his droppings of crackers and cheese. Would we not pity this man? In this same way, if the resurrection of Jesus did not occur, we are certainly crazy people, believing in angels and demons and a Creator who loves us and will provide eternal comforts for us. We are to be pitied.
But Paul does not leave us in this pitiable state! In the next sentence he points out the reason: “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Corinthians 15:20) So it all hinges on this: did Jesus arise from the dead or are his remains rotting away in some forgotten Judean grave outside Jerusalem?
Someone once said, “There is more historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ than for the truth of George Washington being our first president.” I am not sure how this speaker evaluated the evidence, but Jesus’ resurrection is one of the most authenticated events of history. This is not true of any other religious figure’s miraculous events.
Gautama Buddha’s miraculous walking that produced lotus blossoms under every footstep reads more like a fairy tale than real events. That he lived around 500BC and the earliest mention of him shows up around 300 years later suggests a long time for legends to develop, especially given the often differing and conflicting narratives about him. His oldest “biographies” are dated between 300 and 500AD, 800 to 1000 years after his life.
Examine each of the other figures of major religions and you will find gaping holes in historical validation, especially of major events marking the initiation of their teaching. Even in the 19th century, the stories of Joseph Smith and his experiences with Moroni, the angel who gave him special glasses to enable his understanding of the “reformed Egyptian hieroglyphics” are conveniently uncorroborated by anyone else.
Jesus resurrection falls into a whole other category with its historical evidence and validation by eyewitnesses who lived with him and wrote what they heard and saw. “We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” (2 Peter 1:16) And not just Peter, but many women, James, His brother, and all of the apostles and then more than 500 others who were most likely present at His ascension saw the risen Jesus.
Do not take my word for the historicity of these events. Read them for yourself in the biographies of Jesus, called the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Read Paul’s exposition of the good news that Jesus arose from the dead in 1 Corinthians 15. Then look at the skeptics who doubted but became Christ-followers: Josh McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict and He Walked Among Us. Read Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ in which he details how he thought the resurrection was a fairy tale that any good reporter could debunk . . . until he tried and became a follower. Look at C.S. Lewis’ Surprised by Joy and Mere Christianity that describes his logical process of not believing in God and being angry at God for not existing, until he found Jesus was really present in his life. Consider Who Moved the Stone? by Frank Morrison, a British lawyer annoyed that his wife was becoming “one of those religious fanatics.” He attempted to show how a legal mind could not accept the resurrection and it would be laughed out of an English court. Instead he found the evidence clear and convincing that Jesus was alive. And this list could go on of authors and seekers who attempted to shut down the silliness of believing in the resurrection and wound up following the One they at first disdained.
Beyond these intellectual analyses, there are the experiences of millions whose lives have been transformed by encounters with Jesus, through prayer, involvement with miracles, comfort for unbelievable suffering, revelations by visions or dreams, all consistent with the teachings of the Bible.
So when we begin to doubt, as often happens when life does not go the way we hope, we must come back to what we know. “I told you the most important truths: that Christ died for our sins, as the Scriptures say; that he was buried and was raised to life on the third day, as the Scriptures say.” (1 Corinthian 15:3-4)
I leave you with this quote from Chuck Colson, who was one of the most powerful and feared men in the Nixon administration in the 1970s, involved in what became known as Watergate. “I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned or put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world-and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.”