Update: Marcus has posted a very well thought and reasoned response over at his place, titled simply Truth, that deserves your attention. Head on over. Check it out. Maybe even drop him a comment giving your two cents.
Note: This post came out of a comment thread from the other day. Marcus took issue with what I had to say about the Source of Wisdom. Marcus has been a regular commenter here at CREEations and really challenges me to refine and better understand my own views. Yesterday he brought up some good points and, since my reply started to get rather long winded I decided to bring it out in a whole post. (I hope that’s OK, Marcus.)
If I sound pissed, I again apologize. It is definitely not the case, and I know it does nothing to detract from the stereotype of the “angry Christian”. I have a tendency to express my opinions strongly and can come across as angry when it is just the New York in me and the strength of my convictions coming out. My wife will attest that this phenomenon is much more pronounced in person! (“Its not so much what you say, Chris. It’s the tone.”) Really I’m not angry. I’m working on that. Sorry if I come across that way.
And I certainly agree as you mentioned that the followers of various religions all believe they have found the truth. And I really do respect differing beliefs, even though I disagree with them. It is one thing for various individuals or groups to believe they have found the truth. But there is no way we can stand on the outside, look at these different beliefs and say, “They are all true.”
Jesus, Confucius, Buddha, Zoroaster, Lao Tzu, Muhammad, Joseph Smith, and L. Ron Hubbard (to name only a few) all said different things from each other that they each claimed to be true and have adherents that also claim that what they said is true. They each have given vastly different “instructions” on what it takes to have a fulfilled life and to be prepared for the afterlife.
But, Marcus, you and I appear to have a fundamentally different understanding of what truth is. Either that or maybe we place an entirely different value on truth.
I look at a diverse declaration of truth like that and say, “Because they make differing claims, they can’t all be right. Let me do my best to find the one who actually has the truth.” For me, my path to religion was a rocky search for truth. I wanted to know God no matter how much it challenged my understanding. And I looked at a lot of options before I landed on Jesus.
I’m not sure whether you are coming from a place where you see that they could all be right or if you are trying to say that it doesn’t matter what folks believe, because if it works for them it must be true.
When you boil it down to their essence, most all belief systems out there at their core are some flavor of “do the best you can (or follow this code) and hope it works out OK in the end.”
Then there’s Jesus. What he said was radically different in part because he said there is no way your best can possibly be good enough. He said that the standard for pleasing God is simple: absolute perfection. In order to please God we have to be just as perfect as God himself. Because there is no way any of us could possibly measure up to that perfect standard we are all doomed.
But, just as in any great epic story, after he hits us hard with the idea that it is impossible for us to ever measure up, Jesus says there is another way.
And this is where it gets really nutty because Jesus says some totally outrageous stuff. Basically he says that we’re in luck because it just so happens that he himself is God incarnate and if we follow him we’ll be OK because his God perfection can substitute for our impossibly flawed imperfection.
I mean, Marcus, here’s a guy that looks just like you and me (only more Jewish) who flat out says that he is God and we should follow him. It is totally preposterous, goofy, insane, and not much different than the leaders of most cults. Downright evil, really.
Unless it is true.
So after years of dismissing Jesus’ claims (mostly because people I knew who were Christians were so messed up and treated me poorly) and looking at many other options, I eventually decided to take a closer look at him. The evidence I found was really surprising.
Jesus validated his claims by performing a variety of different miracles including changing the nature of matter (turning water into wine), controlling the weather (calming a storm at sea), healing people of numerous infirmities and even raising people from the dead.
Impressive for sure, but the written record of miracles performed two thousand years ago by some guy was not enough for me.
But then, after he says all those crazy things about being God, he dies in a way that is pretty much beyond his control and that is accurately predicted in Bible passages from the Old Testament hundreds of years before. Interesting. But maybe it was luck? Perhaps. But looking at his life I found there are several things about him that were accurately predicted which he could not possibly have controlled, even things like where and when he was born, who his parents were, and the circumstances of his birth.
That’s even more impressive, but it’s still not enough for me.
Then Jesus takes the whole “I’m God” thing to a whole other level by refusing to stay dead after he is horribly executed. Even his enemies acknowledged that he was no longer dead in their bumbling attempts to cover it up. If he really was still dead, all they had to do was produce his body and the whole thing ends right there.
But he wasn’t dead any more. Hundreds of folks saw him alive after thousands saw him executed. It was no clever parlor trick or deception on the part of his followers. He really was alive.
This one fact of history is what sets Jesus completely apart from all the others. There is no cult leader yet who has raised himself back to life after he’s died.
I used to think that, well his followers made the whole thing up and then wrote about it a hundred years or more later and put down the stories in such a way as to make it seem true. The trouble is that modern archeology has put some of the New Testament writings to within 30 years of Jesus’ death. That means there were still people alive at the time who lived through the events and would have refuted them if they were not true.
Then there’s the lives of his followers. Would they have all gone to gruesome deaths, almost to a man, and hold to something if they knew it not to be true? I mean we are talking about horrific things like crucifixion (even upside down), beheading, being boiled or burned alive – no “humane” lethal injections for that group. No way they’d all face that horrible an end for something they knew not to be true.
Anyway I bring all this up, simply to point out why Jesus’ claims are different than the claims of others, before and after him. I don’t expect to convince you that Jesus is right. I just felt I should explain where I am coming from and why I believe his outrageous claims about himself.
But that brings up another interesting question. Should a person share with someone else information that he understands will vastly improve that other persons life, even if it conflicts with what the other person is currently believing?
Let’s say I see that you have some problem. It doesn’t matter what that problem is, a cocaine addiction, you eat too much and are obese, you spend money like a drunken sailor and are drowning in debt, or maybe you just drive without a seatbelt and are at a higher risk for getting smeared on the highway. It doesn’t matter.
If I see that there is a simple solution to your problem (and yes even something as overpowering as addiction has a simple solution. Abstinence may not be easy, but it is simple.) am I a better friend if I point out the problem you are having and offer up a solution? Or am I a better friend if I just let you wallow in your issue and eventually cause serious harm to your own life?
I would say the better friend is the one who speaks up and offers to help his fellow man.
Now that offer of help may be rejected outright. And it might even make the fellow angry. “How dare you say that I have an addiction! I can quit any time I want.”
But the rejection of that help doesn’t make the helper any less caring. And it certainly doesn’t make him hurtful or judgmental of his friend heading for trouble.
That’s the same way followers of Jesus perceive the issue of truth. Only it is even more urgent than a life and death issue. We are talking not only about a better life here (along the lines of a life free from addiction) but we are talking about the hereafter, which goes on for all of eternity. And forever is a long time. Too long to be wrong.
So when I get a little passionate about sharing what I understand to be true, Marcus, please understand how urgent I see the issue to be. As a former military guy I understand the importance of life and death issues. Eternity is the one issue that make life and death stuff look like choosing what clothes to wear to a party by comparison. Compared to forever, to me, life and death is small potatoes.
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