Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Defining Question

Happy Resurrection Sunday.

Happy death is conquered, sins forgiven Sunday.

No – I don’t believe it happened on this particular day, the first full moon after the vernal equinox, two thousand some years ago. Yet, tied as the story is to the Passover feast, the date probably comes close.

Gregorian calendar; Julian calendar. I don’t believe the exact date matters. 

What matters is that it happened: the literal physical resurrection of the man called Jesus who healed the sick and claimed to be the son of God.

I believe it. Yes.

It’s the defining question, isn’t it?

Thinking about resurrection I came across two interviews with U2’s Bono.  In one, recorded in 2013 for an Irish TV broadcast, The Meaning of Life with Gay Bryne, Byrne asked Bono, after a series of questions about prayer, “so then, what or who was Jesus as far as you’re concerned?”

Bono: I think it’s a defining question - for a Christian – is who was Christ, and I don’t think you’re let off easily by saying a great thinker or great philosopher. Because, actually, HE went round saying he was the Messiah. That’s why he was crucified. He was crucified because he said he was the Son of God. So, he either, in my view, was the Son of God or he was

Byrne: Not

Bono: No no - nuts. Forget rock-and-roll messianic complexes. This is I mean Charlie Manson-type delirium. And I find it hard to accept that whole millions and millions of lives, half the Earth, for two thousand years have been touched, have felt their lives touched and inspired by some nutter. I just don’t believe it.

Byrne: Therefore it follows that you believe he was divine.

Bono: Yes.

Byrne: And therefore it follows that you believe he rose physically from the dead.

Bono: Yes. I have no problem with miracles. I’m living around them. I am one.

Byrne: So when you pray then you pray to Jesus. The risen Jesus.

Bono: Yes.

Byrne: And you believe that he made promises that will come true.

Bono: Yes. I do.

That interview echoed his conversation a decade earlier recorded in Bono in Conversation with Mishka Assayas

Bono: I love the idea of the Sacrificial Lamb. I love the idea that God says: Look, you cretins, there are certain results to the way we are, to selfishness, and there’s a mortality as part of your very sinful nature, and, let’s face it, you’re not living a very good life, are you? There are consequences to actions. The point of the death of Christ is that Christ took on the sins of the world, so that what we put out did not come back to us, and that our sinful nature does not reap the obvious death. That’s the point. It should keep us humbled. It’s not our own good works that get us through the gates of heaven.

Michka: That’s a great idea, no denying it. Such great hope is wonderful, even though it’s close to lunacy, in my view. Christ has his rank among the world’s great thinkers. But Son of God, isn’t that farfetched?

Bono: No, it’s not farfetched to me. Look, the secular response to the Christ story always goes like this: he was a great prophet, obviously a very interesting guy, had a lot to say along the lines of other great prophets, be they Elijah, Muhammad, Buddha, or Confucius. But actually Christ doesn’t allow you that. He doesn’t let you off that hook. Christ says: No. I’m not saying I’m a teacher, don’t call me teacher. I’m not saying I’m a prophet. I’m saying: “I’m the Messiah.” I’m saying: “I am God incarnate.” . . .   So what you’re left with is: either Christ was who He said He was, the Messiah, or a complete nutcase. . . The idea that the entire course of civilization for over half of the globe could have its fate changed and turned upside-down by a nutcase, for me, that’s farfetched.

Today, around the globe, Christians will sing of resurrection. In ancient chapels, dusty storefronts, modern cathedrals, gatherings under baobab trees, in city parks, prison cells, people whose lives were changed, rescued, restored will gather to sing of the moment in history when history itself was reclaimed and made new.

In places of hardship and persecution, hunger and poverty, cynicism and doubt, anger and fear, Christians will celebrate with joy and hope: because they believe that death has been conquered. This life is not the end. The individual story doesn’t end with cancer or overdose or an accidental shooting or a suicide bomb. The story - for us, our loved ones, this battered, groaning globe - is larger, grander, more glorious than we know. 

It continues past the grave, past whatever grim scenarios we humans set in motion.

There are many avenues to faith.

Some of us are blessed to grow up in families that live and breath faith so faithfully that we want to live and breathe it too.

Some of us, like the prodigal son, grow up in love’s embrace then wander in search of a greater reality, only to come to our senses and hurry home to a waiting father.

Some of us grow up in other traditions, other religions, and when we hear the good news of Christ recognize the fulfillment of all we’ve been told and all we’ve been waiting for.

Some come through miracles, through revelations. Some come through the patient witness of loving friends. Some in a moment of crisis hear the Word and believe.

Some through books. Study. Science. Beauty.

blog post I’ve been revisiting describes some of these paths, and another I’ve sometimes suggested to friends who insist they have no faith: honest, unbelieving prayer.

Determined atheist sci-fi writer John C. Wright prayed:

Dear God, I know… that you do not exist. Nonetheless, as a scholar, I am forced to entertain the hypothetical possibility that I am mistaken. So just in case I am mistaken, please reveal yourself to me in some fashion that will prove your case. If you do not answer, I can safely assume that either you do not care whether I believe in you, or that you have no power to produce evidence to persuade me…If you do not exist, this prayer is merely words in the air, and I lose nothing but a bit of my dignity. Thanking you in advance for your kind cooperation in this matter, John Wright.

In his own blog Wright describes in detail the response to his prayer: a heart attack, visions, miracles, and a strange journey to a deeply committed faith:

I would say my snide little prayer was answered with much more than I had asked, and I was given not just evidence, and not just overwhelming evidence, but joy unspeakable and life eternal. 
. . . In hindsight, if only I had not been so arrogant, I could have glanced around at the earth and sky, and seen the intricacy, wonder, and beauty of nature, regarded the unanswerable authority of the conscience within me, and known that I was a created being inside a created cosmos, not  a random sandheap blown for a season into a meaningless shape by blind winds. . . 

To me, the universe was death row, and I was a condemned prisoner who believed everything outside death row was delusion and wishful nonsense — and then I got a call from the governor of the universe, commuting my sentence. I will live forever. As will we all. This was my repayment for a life spent in blasphemy and hatred and slander against God. Instead of smiting me as I damned well deserved, He spared me, and exulted me, and showered me with grace.

I was converted. . . .

I then discovered that the Christian world view makes sense of much that the atheistic or agnostic worldview cannot make sense of, and even on its own philosophical terms, is a more robust explanation of the cosmos and man’s place in it, answering many questions successfully that atheists both claim cannot be answered, and then, without admitting it, act in their lives as if the question were answered, such as how to account for the rational faculties of man, the universality of moral principles, the order of the cosmos, how best to live, etc.

Across centuries and continents,many thoughtful men and women have probed questions of meaning, morality, order, beauty, and that one defining question: was Jesus who he said he was?

And many have found themselves singing Hallelujah with joy on Easter morning.

Do you believe he was divine?


And therefore it follows that you believe he rose physically from the dead.

Yes. I have no problem with miracles. I’m living around them. I am one.

So when you pray then you pray to Jesus. The risen Jesus.


And you believe that he made promises that will come true.

Yes. I do.