Monday, April 10, 2006

What I said Friday night

Friday night, our church had an international fellowship evening. This is for internationals who come to our church, and for Americans who want to meet them. We have dinner and some presentations. In February, the lovely Carol talked about Valentine's Day and about God's love. Friday, Johan talked about April Fool's Day, and in contrast to that, about the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Vip presented the Jesus Institute website and told us about an upcoming short course. And I had a chance to talk about what the resurrection means to me, and how I came to that. In case you're interested, the following is basically what I said that evening.

Before describing what the resurrection means to me, I'll share a bit about my background. I was raised in a church-going household, but I didn't believe in God, Bible, resurrection, etc.

I had an encounter with the concept of the resurrection on a very special Easter -- I was about 21, and I had been talking with some friends about the whole concept -- of this Jesus, so full of love that he would die for me. How good it felt to think someone could love me that much! "I only wish I could believe it," I said.

What stopped me from believing it? It was not a lack of evidence. There was plenty of evidence. Johan mentioned some of it earlier, and it seems whenever someone tries to write a book disproving the resurrection, he ends up believing in it instead!

So it wasn't a lack of evidence; rather, at the bottom of it was my stubbornness. I wanted to think I alone was master of my life. I did not like to think that there was someone that could judge me. It was bad enough that God had the power to judge me; he also had the right to judge me. And I didn't like to think that. Therefore, since I didn't want to believe it, I convinced myself that I couldn't believe it.

But one day, maybe a year after that, I somehow saw that I really didn't have a sound logical reason to reject Jesus Christ.

Here's how it happened. I was driving to see some friends, some christians who were wanting me to believe in Jesus and all that stuff. I remember looking at my gas gauge and thinking I should get some gas, but then deciding I was in a hurry and I'd get it on the way back. Yet when I got to the corner, I forgot that decision and turned toward the gas station. As a result of that, I went to a different freeway entrance than I normally would have, and there was a hitch-hiker. I usually don't pick up hitch-hikers, but for some reason I didn't know, I picked this one up. We were both going to Santa Cruz, so that was great, and on the way there, he asked me if I had a relationship with Jesus Christ. I didn't, so he said, "I really hope you come to know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior."

I thought this an odd coincidence. I made a "wrong" turn, got on the "wrong" on-ramp, and on the way to visit some christians, picked up a hitch-hiker who turned out to be a rabid evangelical! That weekend, one of my friends asked me why I didn't believe in God, pointing out the resurrection as a key supporting fact. Since I didn't believe in God, though, I thought the resurrection impossible.

Circular reasoning! I assumed there was no God, so I was sure there was no resurrection, so that justified my disbelief in God. I had been relying on that circular reasoning for many years, but hadn't seen it until I was in my 20s.

Something else occurred to me. When I took physics, we measured the length of a pendulum and timed its period. Behind all this was the assumption that there were laws of physics. The pendulum didn't just "happen" to have a period that matched a certain formula; there was something underlying the way the measurements lined up.

I was able to see that apparent "coincidences" in the laboratory of life weren't coincidences. Rather, they were indications that something, or Some One, was influencing the events in my particular history. (By the way, there were more apparent "coincidences" that I don't have time to tell you about tonight.)

So at that point, I was so to speak at the crossroads. I saw Jesus standing at the corner, indicating he wanted to go the way of life with me. The requirement, and the sticking point for me, was that he would do the driving. And so I stalled.

Then I got involved with a woman, and I did not want to think about God for several weeks. Eventually I came to my senses. Today, I believe God was pursuing me, and that he opened my eyes, and that, not my own intelligence, was what let me see what was really going on.

So what does the resurrection mean to me today? I have two answers.
  1. Before I describe the first one, I would like to recount something from the history of Israel. Some of you know the events I'm thinking of -- the children of Israel were slaves in Egypt for 400 years. When the time was right, God delivered them from slavery and sent them into the desert, where he led them for 40 years with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. He miraculously provided them with food and water.

    For the first few days, maybe the first few weeks, the Israelites were probably astonished and amazed to see these signs of God's presence with them. But after a few years, after a few decades, these miraculous signs became commonplace. They were constant, integral parts of their environment. For some Israelites, they became ordinary. But whenever they stopped to think about their deliverance, about God's provision of food and water in the desert, about the guidance in that miraculous way, I think they must have had a sense of wonder.

    The resurrection is like that for me. Whenever I think about my failings (and I have failings every day), whenever I open my Bible or pray or go to church, the resurrection is there, lending power and meaning and authority to all these things.

    But often, if I don't think about it, the resurrection seems ordinary, no more miraculous than the sunrise. Which come to think of it is pretty exciting in itself.

  2. The resurrection is the anchor for my faith. I didn't come here by facts and logic, but they help me to keep my faith alive. Here's what I mean.

    Jesus Christ said a lot of things. Even skeptical historians agree that the gospels provide a reasonable representation of what Jesus said and did. So we see Jesus saying he would be killed and would rise from the dead. This really happened. So everything else he said was probably true, too.

    Of course there are a lot of details missing but that's basically how the resurrection connects to my faith, particularly in times when I'm in doubt.
Thinking about my own history, it seemed to me that evidence was never the problem. There was evidence enough if I had been open-minded, but since I was closed-minded, all the evidence in the world wasn't enough. I suspect that I am like most people in this way -- that if they are analygical and want to know, they can find out, but if they don't want to know, they can't be told.

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