Is the resurrection really a big deal?

tombChristians often claim that the resurrection of Christ is the piece of evidence that seals the deal- the game-changer. If Christ rose from the dead, then Christianity must be true! But let’s think about this. What’s so special about the resurrection?

It is probably true that Mohammed heard a voice speaking to him. It probably did happen. But is it really special? Lots of people hear voices. Joseph Smith may well have had a vision which started Mormonism. But is it really special and unique that he had a vision? Lots of people have had visions. Lots of people have funny spiritual experiences. Is there anything really special and compelling about the resurrection experience of Christ which compels our allegiance? The resurrection of Jesus is a battle with our greatest enemy- death- and therefore it is a more special experience to consider than most others for that reason alone. But furthermore, Jesus engages our greatest enemy death in a way that is entirely unique from how others have engaged with death. Consider these three factors.

1. Jesus did not just escape death- he confronted death. There are plenty of stories of religious experiences of heroes in history who escaped death by ascending up into Heaven without dying. Enoch and Elijah are two examples of people in the Bible who did that. The Greek god Hercules was said to have done this. There are various figures within Hinduism who are said to have ascended into Heaven without dying. These would all be fairly impressive stories if they were true. Unfortunately, there is no real historical evidence for them. But, even if they were true, Jesus does something more. He doesn’t just escape death. He doesn’t sidestep death. He enters into death, and challenges it head on. He has come to deal with death, not just fly away from it.

2.Jesus did not just survive death- he defeated death. There are many reports of people apparently surviving after death. I’m talking about ghost appearances. We hear the word ghosts- and we say, “ Oh that sounds spooky”. We laugh or even mock people who think they saw a ghost, but the reality is, many people claim to see or hear the spirits of their loved ones after they die. No one likes to talk about it though because people may well say you are crazy. A famous study done in Iceland of 900 people found 30% claimed to have had encounters with the spirit of a deceased person. Even Michael Shermer, the famous atheist and skeptic of all things supernatural recently confessed to having had a supernatural experience of a deceased person which he couldn’t explain. So, some people say that Jesus resurrection is not really special- because he was just appearing as a ghost to his disciples.

There are however a number of problems with that theory. Firstly, it is evident that whatever the appearances were, they were real, they weren’t just hallucinations. They were witnessed by groups of people at the same time, and they occurred to all sorts of people, at all sorts of places. Secondly, there is the problem of the empty tomb. There is a very strong case that can be made that Jesus tomb was found empty on that first Easter Sunday morning, and so, if that is the case, what happened to Jesus’ body? Thirdly, if what the disciples saw was just the ghost of Jesus, well, why didn’t they call it that? Why did they call it a resurrection? From day one- we know that the disciples all came out with what was for them in their day a radical claim, the claim of Jesus being resurrected. They could have used the term ghost. Resurrection meant a body coming back to life. Fourthly, we have reports of Jesus being touched and Jesus even eating meals with his disciples in multiple accounts. Only a body can do that.

You see, Jesus didn’t just survive death in a ghostly existence in the afterlife, and make appearances to us. There’s nothing really special about that. Jesus goes into death, and survives death- yes. But he also conquers death and comes back bodily from it. Death has lost its physical power over Jesus.

3. Jesus did not just return from death- he reversed death. Jesus does not just resuscitate from death. Again, there are plenty of stories of people who die in some sense, and come back to life. Lots of people have near death experiences where they have an accident, they are as good as dead, and they have an experience in which their soul goes up to Heaven, and then told they have to go back, and they come back into their body and survive. There are numerous resurrection stories- like Lazarus in the Bible- who die, and by a miraculous act, they are restored to life. Jesus’ resuscitation is more remarkable than all of these resuscitation stories. For him to be executed by crucifixion, remain dead for at least 36 hours, and then to resuscitate without any medical assistance and convince his followers he was the saviour of the world- that is quite a remarkable resuscitation.

But this is even more than just a physical resuscitation. Jesus transcends death. He reverses death. He comes back in a body which is physical, and which still bears the marks of his wounds, but this new body transcends the merely physical. It’s a body which can operate in the physical world, but it’s also a spiritual body which is not subject to the physical. Jesus’ new body, although it is physical, is also a bit like an angelic body which can appear and disappear. This new body of Jesus has authority over time and space, and is not subject to it. It is a body not just for this world, it’s for a new world, a heavenly world. The resurrection of Jesus is the opening of the doorway for us to have access to that heavenly world in a new creation body as well.

Now if you ask me, all this is pretty impressive. It’s unique. Jesus has just not successfully escaped the Grim Reaper as it were- Jesus has got in the boxing ring with the Grim Reaper, and hit him out of the stadium. That is what Jesus has done- that’s why he’s unique. And when you put that on top of all the other factors which show Jesus uniqueness- well, the claim of Jesus’ uniqueness is out of this world. No one else really comes close.

This is the claim of Easter Sunday, and I think you’ll have to agree- that if it is true- it is huge. He has lived an incredible life, he has died an incredible death, and he’s risen from the dead on top of everything else as well. The claim of the Bible is that someone has entered the world who is absoloutely unique- he is a game-changer. The resurrection is the event which demands our attention, both in its uniqueness in the past and its implications for our future life beyond this world.

Does it really matter what I believe?

One of the most common and  challenging objections to Christianity is the challenge of pluralism. What is pluralism? Pluralism is the idea that there are many ways to God. Pluralism doesn’t really deny that Christianity is true, but what it does deny is the idea that only Christianity is true. So, I’m going to deal with this topic by responding to 7 very common questions that come from a pluralistic point of view.

Question 1: Is there such a thing as objective truth regarding God? Some people say “There is no such thing as objective truth”. Well, is that proposition true? If so, then there is at least one objective truth- that there is no such thing as objective truth! If that statement is not true- well, why should I believe it then? There you go- the statement refutes itself doesn’t it? What we need to understand here is that sure, it is true that no one has an exhaustive understanding of the truth. However, this does not prevent somebody from having a significant understanding of the truth.

All our understanding of truth is influenced by our upbringing, culture, and biases. However, just because our understanding of truth is influenced does not mean that it is entirely relative and socially constructed. It is undoubtedly true that we subtly alter our understanding of the truth, for example, in history to suit ourselves. For example, we may tell the story of European settlement of Australia as a glorious achievement without reference to the treatment of Aborigines who lived in Australia before Europeans. However, this does not mean that I can propose a true history of Australia that proposes that the first Europeans were a race of noble kings who arrived in splendid warships, rather than being a penal colony from England. Truth may have aspects of relativity but it is not completely subject to an individual’s uncontrolled bias and imagination. So, objective truth does exist, although we may not be able to claim to have exhaustive truth of any matter, and although our understanding may be biased through our bias, nevertheless we may have significant and objective understanding of real truth.

Question 2. Aren’t Christians intolerant and judgemental? If Christians say they disagree with another religion or viewpoint, often they are accused of being intolerant of others or judgemental. But the word tolerate means to allow or to permit, to recognize and respect others’ beliefs and practices without sharing them, to bear or put up with someone or something not necessarily liked. It doesn’t mean that agreeing that everybody is right simultaneously. Do we need to respect everybody’s point of view? No, we need to show respect for people, and for their right to have a point of view, but not necessarily for their point of view itself. Tolerance is allowing people to have a view you don’t hold- it doesn’t mean that you’ve got to pretend there is no difference between what you believe. Tolerance is not the key issue! Rather than talking about tolerance, we should talk about loving one another, and part of loving one another involves sharing and helping people find the truth. People have a right to believe whatever they wish, but we would be failing in our duty if we did not share our point of view with people. It is not intolerant or judgemental just to share that you have a different point of view.

Question 3: Is there anything wrong with proselytising? Modern society strongly discourages proselytizing. For example, an editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald put it this way: “It is arrogant and dangerous, however, for anyone to assume a right or duty to convert others. All the blood that has been shed, and continues to be shed, around the world in the name of religion adequately makes this point. In the multicultural, multi-god nation that modern Australia is, proselytising can only needlessly provoke community tensions. In Australia, one’s religion is largely a private matter. It should remain that way.” The assumption here is proselytization is the opposite of tolerance. Asserting the superiority of one’s religious beliefs, in this view, is not merely bad manners; it involves a kind of divisive, offensive judgmentalism.

But, why is it we are allowed to talk about politics, or sex, but not matters of religion? This seems to be arbitrary, and puts religion into a category of irrelevance. Why is it that people are allowed to argue for the reality of climate change, but not religion? Why can people argue for gay marriage but not the existence of God? Surely what is needed is polite and open conversation on important topics, not a silencing of conversation. In the unwritten rule against proselytisation, what really is being done is to marginalize religion and to say that it is not important.

A good way to respond is to contend for the need for people to be open-minded and to learn from one another. Express a genuine interest in other people’s beliefs, and seek to learn from them. You then earn the right to share your beliefs with them. On the appropriateness of seeking to convert somebody, again, compare it with other topics which people passionately contend for: do you think it is right to try to convince someone that climate change is real? Would it be ok for everybody just to say- oh well, everybody is allowed to have a private opinion about climate change, but let’s never try to determine what the facts about it are.

Question 4: Isn’t there truth in all religions? Well undoubtedly this is right. We have been created in the image of God, and so we all have a moral nature, and this moral nature values love and compassion and justice, and so religions all are motivated by our moral nature to create rules and patterns of life which help us to live moral lives. But just because lots of religions seek to help us to live moral lives doesn’t mean they all have been given to us by God, and they are all true. They cannot all have been given to us 100% by God, they cannot all be true because they contradict each other. In Judaism, Islam and Christianity, there is only 1 God. In Hindusim, it is believed there are millions of gods. In Christianity, a core belief is that Jesus is God. In Islam, Jesus is only a prophet, and certainly is not God. In Hinduism and Buddhism, after death comes reincarnation. In Christianity, after death comes resurrection. So they cannot all come from God- they cannot all be true- unless you think God is contradicting himself and saying different things to different people.

But Question 5: Does it really matter what you believe? Isn’t it just sincerity and goodness that matter, not what you believe? One person writes “Beliefs are actually no one’s business but the believer’s. At the deepest level, what we believe surely matters a whole lot less than how we live and, in particular, how we are helping to make the world a better place. So why waste time and energy picking on each other’s religious beliefs?”

Yes, being good is very important. You don’t need religion to tell you that, even atheists want to try to be good. There is no argument there. However, the problem is that we haven’t been good, and that where religion comes in. How do we get forgiveness for the times we haven’t been good?

Is all that matters that you just try to be sincere in believing something- it doesn’t matter what- be sincere and try to be good? Well, sure, it is important that you’re sincere, but really, is it not also important that you are believing in what is true? Shouldn’t we be examining what we believe, and seeking to make sure that it is true? I mean, if Islam is true, then it is important that we all make a pilgrimage to Mecca in our lives. In Hinduism, your present suffering in life is caused by your sins you’ve committed in a previous life. In some religions, you can only receive forgiveness for your sins by punishing yourself in very degrading ways. Surely what you believe is also important, as well as being sincere in your belief. If it is true that there is a personal God who created us and desires to enter into a relationship with us, is it not important that you discover that truth and live in the light of it, rather than say- live under an atheistic view in which you have no relationship with God, but just try to be a nice citizen. Surely your sincerity is not the only thing, but also that you are seeking to follow what is true. Indeed, pursuing after truth is a moral value, so if goodness is what really matters, then you will pursue the truth about religious matters, and not just dismiss it by saying it doesn’t matter what you believe.

But Question 6: Aren’t your beliefs just a result of your culture? I mean, isn’t it the case, that if you grew up in India, you would be a Hindu, if you grew up in Saudi Arabia, you would be a Muslim, if in America, you would be a Christian. Is this true? Well, maybe so, but maybe not. There are plenty of atheists who live in America. There are plenty of Muslims who are becoming Christians. But even if it is generally the case, should it be that way? Should you just believe what everybody around you believes? Surely you should be pursuing truth. Surely people who live in a primitive tribe who trust in a witchdoctor’s remedies for treating sickness should progress to learning from modern medicine? Surely if you grow up in a racist society, you should not remain a racist in your beliefs? If you grew up in a country which believed the earth was flat, and you were a scientist and discovered the world was round, well, surely you should change your view.

Question 7: What about those who have never heard about Jesus? It’s a good question, it’s an interesting question. Christians have different points of view about it. Some people believe that God will judge different people according to different standards- some people believe that only those who have actually responded to the message about Jesus will be in Heaven. Ultimately we can trust God to be just and wise in dealing with those who have never heard about Jesus. Nobody will stand before God on judgement day and be able to say- that’s not fair God. It’s impossible for God to be unjust.

It’s an interesting question, but unfortunately, it’s also an irrelevant question. It’s not really our business to worry about how God will judge those who haven’t heard about Jesus. What is more important to consider is what sort of response which we should make to the truth which we do know.

Question 8: But is it really possible to discover the truth when there are so many opinions? Well, we would argue that there is indeed good evidence for why it makes sense to believe that God exists and that Jesus is the Risen Messiah. I would argue that there is not any religion which can make as good a case as what there is in Christianity. What we need to remember, is that most people in the world don’t follow their religion because they have examined the alternatives and found their religion the most reasonable. Rather, they follow their religion out of tribal loyalty to their culture.

And this point brings us to the crux of the matter in dealing with pluralism. The attraction of pluralism is that we don’t have to ever disagree with anybody. But if we are to pursue truth, disagreeing with different people will be perfectly normal. Pluralism encourages us to follow the crowd. Really, we need to be following and pursuing after the truth, wherever it should lead us. Pursuing truth is the pathway which God calls us to embrace, and unfortunately that means just being sincere about believing something is not enough.