Posted by: gcarkner | September 27, 2017

Gallery 2.0 Dialogue

Answering Your Questions About Faith in a Secular Age

See also Ten Myths about Christianity by Michael Green & Gordon Carkner

Nihilism Fails to Honestly Engage Evil and Suffering   ~Gordon Carkner PhD~

Author of The Great Escape from Nihilism

The problem of evil and suffering is one of the toughest for people of all worldview persuasions. Yet, it can be our teacher in moral growth and discovery of meaning if we dare to dig deeper into the human condition, if we dare to think about it in the proper moral horizon. A bitter response to personal tragedy or an abusive relationship easily emerges: “Trust no one!” If a trusted friend, colleague or relative committed the unseemly act, the hurt individual can opt for retreat and a refusal to ever trust again. We heard a prayer request this week: “Help me to learn to trust that there are some good people out there.” One’s emotions disengage and commitments can become ever so tentative, nervous and cautious. It could also be a strong temptation for  a person who has had a life-altering injury, like a severed spinal cord or serious Iraq War injury. The problem of coping is especially true of someone who was abused as a child in their innocence; the emotional scars are often carried well into adult life and can be debilitating. Tragedy like this can break our narrative and our spirit, dash our hopes and dreams. We die inside.

The Scream by Eduard MunchPeople respond differently to hurt and tragedy as we know from our great works of art such as Victor Hugo’s classic Les Miserables: someone will write a poem or song; others will start a foundation. And yet others will settle for resentment or rage against God, parent, the system or the regime; this person tends to demonize others or institutions. They go inside and stew their hatred, and often become an abuser in their own turn. This is often the crucible in which cynics, rebels, career criminals, dictators and suicide bombers are shaped. Such a response is quite understandable, but it is not a solution, nor is it a direction of healing. We believe that the trauma is much accentuated and intensified if one has nothing transcendent to hold onto, no one to share the pain with, if one espouses Nihilism as a stance on the world. This is to give up on grace itself, a kind of existential death, a death of meaning and human purpose.

Creative writer Robert Farrar Capon speaks about the need in An Offering of Uncles. He notes that we all need someone trustworthy other than our parent to confide in, to help us grow up–an uncle or auntie. Most people begin to see imperfections in their parents in their mid teens, if not before. Cynicism can suddenly blind an adolescent to any good in adults. At its worst, cynicism projects the problems and insecurities of the teenager onto others or the world. Friends often are their only solace in this painful space. Counselling may be required to address the imbalance, but a healthy person cannot reside long in that space of resentment. It is unstable ground.

We are alerted to this danger by brilliant psychiatrist, Dr. Scott Peck famous for his Road Less Travelled; People of the Lie; and A Different Drum. He points out that most human neuroses start with the refusal to face the hard realities of life, to deal with pain and brokenness in healthy ways. Mental health comes from facing reality at all costs. Most mental illness starts with a refusal to accept and go through one’s pain, an escape into fantasy of some sort, a refusal to grapple with the complexity of life and relationships. We need to own our pain and work through it; avoidance leads to counter-productive side effects.  We have to find that deeper honesty about our brokenness, and face the pain and pollution we also contribute to society and the violence we perpetrate upon creation. The cynic, in the quest to avoid more pain, settles for the emotional cancer of  bitterness and resentment. Cynicism is a sickness, a tricky defence mechanism to protect oneself against further and deeper hurt. Worldview author James Sire once wrote: “The strands of epistemological, metaphysical and ethical nihilism weave together to make a rope long enough and strong enough to hang a whole culture.”  Jordan Peterson is a Gateway Drug to Christianity

Evil and suffering need not crush us, but we will need a worldview big enough and sophisticated enough to handle it fruitfully, a proper horizon of meaning to deal with the complexity of our emotions, our ambivalence. Peter Kreeft talks about this in the opening chapter of his profound book Making Sense Out of Suffering. Some worldviews he claims are useless and even harmful. But courage and conviction are required to face off with evil and work through our pain. Psychologist Victor Frankl revealed some profound human insights from his experience at the Auschwitz concentration camp. The survivors were those who were able to find meaning in their suffering and maintain a strong view of the future (hope of a resolution), a bigger purpose or frame to their lives. The others fell victim to the evil games of the guards, lowered themselves to animals and died miserably. One freedom that Frankl observed amidst the misery is this: the survivors held tight to their freedom to choose their attitude to the terrible circumstances, the freedom to remain human inside. Some of them gave their last crust of bread to a friend to maintain their compassion, their humanity. We once visited the Dachau death camp with a group of Waterloo and Windsor students, and took the time to let the tragedy of this terrible Western nightmare sink in, rattle the soul and make us weep over this narrative of Nihilism and will to power, this crushing of the weak and the vulnerable. They often experienced an infinity of meaninglessness.

We have a powerful illustration of choices we face today in the play,Les Miserables, by French playwright Victor Hugo. We recently viewed the movie version. This story depicts the power of forgiveness to transform the tragic, miserable prison life of Jean Val Jean into a productive life where he in turn acts as a redemptive agent for others. He allows himself to be reinvented in the most amazing way, carrying with him a sincere empathy for others who struggle under the machinations of an unjust society in nineteenth century Paris. The rescued prisoner becomes the rescuer. But there was a crucial moment where he had to choose between bitter hatred and resentment, over against redemption into a life of compassion and wholeness. His choice of this stance towards the world is contrasted by the virile vengeance of Policeman Javert who is only concerned to hunt down Jean Val Jean over a decade or more and punish/oppress him once again. In the end, Javert commits suicide because he cannot cope with a world where forgiveness is an option. He has become a true cynic, a consistent Nihilist. His heart died; there is no space for compassion, mercy or forgiveness. He self-destructs, even though given several opportunities to change. The picture painted of these two options are staggering in their implications and their life instruction.

Present Tense: The other day we were talking with the father of a current political science student. He was recalling that his son was becoming disillusioned with the fact that so many fellow humanities students didn’t care about the big life questions anymore. Nihilism can strike hard among the brightest minds in the humanities. They were settling for cynicism. J.I. Packer & Thomas Howard wrote about this in their constructive vision Christianity: the True Humanism: “Cynicism is the disposition to believe that truth-claims cannot ever be trusted, that virtue, however apparent, is never real, and that hopelessness is the only real wisdom. As a state of mind, it is a child of disappointment.” This is all too common in today’s university communities. Is it because we are taught by Nietzsche that we are to give up discernment and embrace good and evil equally as the only intelligent stance? This would entail a bigger tragedy of the soul, a tragedy of culture, a tragedy of the intellect. Even Nietzsche worried that we would become insects or lose all culture, all value in the West. Who has cannibalized these young minds and hearts? Who stole their dreams of a better world, better relations?

We want to protest! Nihilism will not carry the future; it is deaf to our pain and suffering; it has no discernment for good and evil or justice; reason is exploited by will to power; it is a spiritual dead end which ends in an abyss. This is nowhere, no future.  In a terrible, gut wrenching illustration of this, Joseph Goebbels and his wife murdered their own young children with suicide pills in the Berlin bunker as the war was coming to the end; they saw no future outside of their false dream of National Socialism. They along with Hitler committed suicide and had their bodies burned. Ashes was the end product of their vision. They showed us that we had entered a Dark Age of the Enlightenment in the twentieth century.

Christian faith does offer an alternative. According to Anthony Thiselton’s major thesis in New Horizons in Hermeneutics, it is a transformational experience for the individual. Rather than being trapped in or reduced to its situatedness, the self can have a fresh experience of being human. Job can choose God over the nihilist advice of his narrow thinking advisors. The forces of society, economy, and interest-groups are real, but can be transcended. Biblical resurrection offers the possibility of re-centering the self, of re-constituting the self as Jesus was re-constituted at the resurrection after the most terrible brokenness. The Christian is a new creation, a renewed earthling. By this transcendent philosophical turn, the late modern self is thereby set free from its victimization, free to move into the future in a fresh way, by means of God’s grace. There can be healing from damage done in the past. David Kelsey and Frances Young ascribe to biblical texts as Christian Scripture, the capacity to shape a person’s identity so decisively as to transform them ( quoted by A. Thiselton, New Horizons in Hermeneutics, p. 604).

Christian theology agrees with many poststructuralist thinkers that the human self can fall victim to the forces which overwhelm it, damage it, imprison it and manipulate it. Human speech can be distorted and subverted by a manipulative sub-text and lies can be marketed as the truth. But, from the vantage point of Christian revelation and faith, a far wider and larger range of inter-personal relations (a horizon including the transcendent), worlds of language and external forces serve to change, to transform or to reconstitute self than those of social, political and economic forces alone. The game is actually bigger than the here and now immanent frame. These larger spheres provide us with optimism that the self can transcend the circumstances and to recover from the hurt and even to recover the past itself–to experience narrative healing. The re-connection with the past can also provide needed perspective on deeper currents in one’s life and lessons for the future. There is hope for substantial healing at all levels.

Nihilism is extremely pessimistic about possible restoration of the self. There is much ado about playing the victim. This can be a form of escapism from taking responsibility for one’s life or for one’s social responsibilities. It can even become a power-wedge itself to separate people into virulent opposing camps. It is actually quite counter-productive re: healing, renegotiation of trust and true freedom. Nihilists, narcissists, white supremacists, kleptocrats, racists often want others to suffer for them. Lots to ponder here.

~Gordon E. Carkner, PhD, Dissertation: The Search for Identity in Late Modernity: a dialogue or dialectic between two prominent philosophers: Michel Foucault & Charles Taylor

See the new 2016 book by Gordon Carkner which addresses head on our modern day cultural and personal nihilism. Beauty will not save us. The right kind of faith is the answer if we are brave enough and persistent enough to explore it to its depths. This is a book to rock your world: The Great Escape from Nihilism: rediscovering our passion in late modernity. (2016)


See Globe & Mail article on Judy Graves, Vancouver Homeless Advocate, for an alternative to Nihilism, someone who “kicks at the darkness until it bleeds daylight”. It is her faith that is her moral driver. Human suffering inspires her to visit the homeless under the Cambie Street Bridge to see if she can help.

Duke Philosopher Alex Rosenberg offers a good example of how scientism and philosophical naturalism actually leads to nihilism. Nihilism seems to be bad for the mind as well. See his February 1, 2013 debate with William Lane Craig at Purdue:

See also my post on Higher Education, Truth & Power:

Andy Crouch, Playing God: redeeming the gift of power. (IVP, 2013) Major alternative discourse to Nihilism.

Miralsov Volf, Exclusion and Embrace.

Philip Yancey, Reaching for the Invisible God.

Scott Cairns, The End of Suffering: Finding Purpose in Pain.

Antony Flew, There is a God: How the World’s most Famous Atheist Changed His Mind

Peter Kreeft, Making Sense Out of Suffering.  Debate Between Richard Dawkins and Rowan Williams @ Oxford Union

Dr. Ravi Zaccharius on Incoherence within Atheism

Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

Jens Zimmermann, Incarnational Humanism. Read the notes to his his lecture “The Creative Challenge of Christian Humanism” on February 27 at 4 pm in Woodward IRC Room 5 UBC.

Gulag Work Camp Siberia


English: Auschwitz I concentration camp

English: Auschwitz I concentration camp (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Victor Hugo

Victor Hugo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Question #1  The Presence of Evil and Suffering Pushes Us to Deeper Thinking: Is it a barrier to belief in a benevolent/good God?  

Many people think that the problem of evil, with the suffering it brings, is a barrier to belief in God. Let’s face it; this is a big concern, one that leads to much skepticism and troubled waters in one’s faith. Philip Yancey (Finding the Invisible God) thinks it the major apologetic challenge for God and Christian faith, although William Lane Craig claims that philosophers no longer worry about it. The New Atheists have much commentary on the topic; they want the suffering to stop as well. Let’s take it to a bit deeper level because, for most of us, it is a problem or at least a point of confusion. The current conflicts in various parts of the world exemplify the problem. There is much wisdom to be garnered as we grapple with such major human concerns.

Aldous Huxley wrote:

In the form we have posed it, the Riddle of the Universe requires a theological answer. Suffering and enjoying, men [women] want to know why they enjoy and to what end they suffer. They see good things and evil things, beautiful things and ugly, and they want to find a reason–a final and absolute reason–why these things should be as they are.

Here’s how the logic of the discussion often proceeds:

1. A God who is infinitely good and loving would not want evil to exist.

2. A God who is all-powerful could remove all evil, if he so desired.

3. Therefore, if God is both good and all-powerful, there would be no evil. The sounds forceful and convincing on surface.

4. But evil continues in the world. Evidence for this is in the news every day. That bugs everyone, both believer and skeptic!

5. Therefore, God (at least a good and all·powerful God) cannot exist. So atheists like Bertrand Russell conclude.

This argument is superficially convincing. But it has one major flaw. The third point does not follow logically from the first two. All that is required, if God were both good and all-powerful, is that evil would not exist forever. God would at some point have to deal with evil and remove it from his creation. It would require a final reckoning, or settling of the accounts. Those of us who have been hurt want justice.

The argument thus stated does not recognize the grace of a merciful God. It fails to take into account the love, patience and compassion God has extended to us, his creatures, in delaying the removal of evil from the world (and compensating people for their suffering). There would have to be morally sufficient reasons for permitting evil and suffering.

Let’s try a thought experiment: Suppose God were to immediately wipe out all evil. Where would we stand? Would not all humanity be destroyed? For which one of us is free from evil? No one. Do we not all contribute to the evil and suffering of our world at some level? Far from remaining an intellectual problem “out there”, evil is a moral, existential problem within each of us. It is terribly anthropological–finding its way into our hearts, motives, judgments and actions. We are busted. We have tracked down the enemy and it is us. We humans need to own our part in the drama of evil. And if simple eradication were the only answer, we would have no hope. Most of us want a second chance; cold justice would be clean, but devastating.

But the choice may not be quite so stark: i.e. between inescapable evil and immediate eradication. There is a third alternative, and this is the heart of the Christian message: God became man in Jesus Christ and took upon himself the total, cumulative weight of all the world’s evil and suffering. Jesus died to solve the problem of evil and violence, and to break its back, its power over us (Rene Girard, I Saw Satan Fall Like Lightning). And when on the cross he cried in anguish, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46), something happened that is beyond human understanding.

God himself experienced the depths of the problem of evil more intensely than any of us could possibly know or withstand, so that he could free us from the trap, the cycles of evil, war, oppression, malnutrition, destruction of life and property, and self-harm. Os Guinness capture it:

As God became man in Jesus Christ, he was no Whitehall or Pentagon chief, making quick flying inspections of the front line, but one who shared the foxholes, who knew the enemy fire. No other God has wounds.

God was not interested in simply eliminating evil if that meant getting rid of his entire creation in the process; shockingly however, the Bible claims that he did consider it. Instead, he offers us a way out, the way of forgiveness of our guilt, and the renewal and transformation of our broken lives and suffering world. It offers amazing hope, an unexpected turnaround. We are also offered meaning in our suffering.

How evil will finally end is just as mysterious as its origin; perhaps no adequate account can ever be given. Nevertheless, we are set free from the dilemma of hating God and the depression of wallowing in grinding depths of despair. The biblical narrative envisions the ultimate triumph of good (sourced in an infinitely good, loving Father) over evil, because God acts dramatically on our behalf. There is a way of escape from evil’s machinations, its seductions, and our rage against it.

As it turns out, God both desires and is able to solve the problem of evil, to bring  justice to those who are harmed by it. It is a tremendous gift to us that we can also be part of the solution. We can benefit immensely from his grace and patience. We can turn from evil, resist evil in ourselves and embrace the good (Romans 12). So much of the biblical Psalms and the wisdom of Proverbs speak strongly into this situation. But it requires transcendence, because we are incapable of defeating evil in our own strength.

The ball is in our court. We must take stock of ourselves if we are not to further contribute to the problem, and commence joining the cleanup crew of a polluted world. We each need radical change (transformed posture/new outlook), and this is what Christianity offers at its core. God has already acted, and is making a way out of evil, war and violence. He has paved the way for peace and forgiveness and reconciliation. Now it is our turn to step up to the challenge, and step into what Dostoevski called the river of love, and find redemptive meaning in our suffering (Scott Cairns, Peter Kreeft). Mother Teresa was quoted: “The greatest evil is the lack of love and charity, the terrible indifference to one’s neighbour who lives at the roadside assaulted by exploitation, corruption, poverty and disease.”

Rather than walking out on God in the midst of suffering and evil, we recommend leaning hard into God for his wisdom, help and rescue. We need to turn our back on it and get as far away from evil as possible. The we need to set a high goal on the good. This is a deeper and more fruitful approach to life. If we dare to love, we will most certainly suffer. The deeper question is what can we learn from our disappointments and suffering and how can we reduce the suffering and evil in our circle of influence? Kudos to those who turn terrible tragedy into a will to change society for the better: people like Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr..

~Gord Carkner & Richard Middleton

See also Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts: a dare to live fully right where you are.

Globe & Mail Interview: An Atheist’s Defence of Religion  Dr. Alvin Plantinga top philosopher of religion speaks on “Does Evil Disprove God?”

References: Philip Yancey, Reaching for the Invisible God; Peter Kreeft, Making Sense Out of Suffering; Desmond Tutu, Hope and Suffering; Scott Cairns. The End of Suffering: finding purpose in pain.

UBC’s English professor Dr. Dennis Danielson did his PhD on the top of Milton & the Problem of Evil, and wrote the book Milton’s Good God. He is in a dialogue on the topic in the GFCF Archives

See also N.T.Wright’s excellent DVD on Evil; Dostoyevski’s works Brothers Karamazov and The Idiot.

C.S.Lewis, The Problem of Pain.

Paul Copan’s book and talk, Is God a Moral Monster?

GCU Value Note: We include rather than avoid suffering in our discourse–suffering not as a mistake, or a sign of God’s indifference–but as something God deeply identifies with and cares about. God cares deeply about the emotional problem of evil. Clearly Good Friday represents the depth of his concern. Suffering can be used to teach us for our good and help us discover a deeper calling in life; it offers a challenge to our individualistic self-sufficiency, and teaches us compassion for others who suffer.
 Engaging suffering fruitfully adds meaning to our existence. See the discourse on suffering in Kelly Monroe Kullberg, Finding God After Harvard.

See also University of Toronto’s clinical psychologist Jordan B Peterson’s Series on the Bible: He speaks much about the issue of suffering in human experience.

Question #2. Conversion and religious experience are the result of social conditioning?

There is much truth to this statement. No one decides or acts in total isolation. We are all influenced by our parenting and our various academic and personal mentors. Many social factors influence our choices and our practice of religion, secular or nihilist belief. We are continually affected by both our past upbringing and our present environment; this is inescapable. We all need good mentors. Yet this sort of social conditioning does not preclude genuine freedom of choice in religion, philosophical stance or in anything else. We are never simply bound by influences: we live in dynamic interaction, sometimes substantial tension, with them. These things are mulled over in the mind on those long walks on the beach or drives in the countryside, or reflections on top of a mountain.

There are many people, however, who hold to their religion (or irreligion) simply because they were brought up in it, or because they have succumbed to the pressure of a peer group or the academic discipline in which they find themself. Cool is powerful! Others come to a specific faith through manipulative. “mind-bending” techniques that violate personal integrity and choice. There are bullies and propagandists out there. We sympathize with the pain that this causes and the scars it can leave. But these factors do not account for all cases of conversion or religious experience. Not at all. Some people make radical changes in their convictions after much experience, thought and deliberation

Examine Your Position: There are also authentic religious choices. People often consciously and intelligently choose to go with or against their upbringing or peer group out of courage and a growing, deep conviction, within the context of a deeper reflection on life. Many, employing a robust combination of critical faith and critical reason, are personally convinced of the truth of their own religion and have committed themselves wholeheartedly to it, because it animates their life and answers some of the big life questions. In university, it is time to examine and decide the parameters of one’s existence, especially one’s purpose and passion. What we believe and the heroes we follow matter immensely and have a huge impact on us. We should choose wisely and carefully when it comes to such a vital question or set of questions.

Genuine open-minded Christian conversion often happens during one’s university years of growing individuation, whether we have been brought up as a believer or unbeliever. It is possible to move beyond the naive faith of childhood to a more informed and reasoned faith of adulthood. One hopes this happens in the midst of a thousand discussions with peers and professors–discernment is key. It depends neither on the suddenness of the commitment nor on the intensity of accompanying emotion. Authentic faith is as distinct from the passive acceptance of tradition as it is from the eager grasping at passing fads. While it is often initially hesitant and accompanied by doubts, eventually it grows and matures into a sustained, reasoned trust in God, with positive, empowering, life-changing results. The worst thing one can do is check their mind at the door no matter who the presenter or where the presentation.  Healthy skepticism is an asset to discernment. A holistic, deep-structure worldview outlook gives meaning and parameters for a life of growth and discovery–an adventure which opens up the horizons of meaning and the vision for one’s calling and life expectations.

This last point is crucial! Without a transformed life and a new vision, faith is pointless. These are the real spiritual drivers. Religious experience without a growing change in behaviour and growth in character is simply not Christian experience. “By their fruits you shall know them.” said Jesus (Matt. 7:16). He emphasized repentance,  turning from evil to good, a full re-posturing of the self, issuing in a new life trajectory, a new identity rooted in his teaching. This involves renunciation of narcissism, rejection of a false self to embrace new truth and take the moral high road of integrity and compassion for others (Jim Wallis, The (Un)Common Good).

This is not a lazy person’s faith; it entails a stringent demand to think differently, freshly about everything that really matters. By this criterion, many who call themselves Christian would be excluded; they are asleep spiritually, living on brain candy. Socialization and conditioning are simply not enough. In fact, this complacency can produce even a dangerous religion (as we have witnessed in recent religious radicalization). Commitment to a life-giving journey is required–the way of grace, forgiveness, healing of broken relationships, hope, goals that make a difference and contribute value. It can lead to unstoppable good if properly negotiated and mentored. New research on well-being or what makes us happy affirms this.

But commitment cannot stand alone. In the final analysis, Christianity is concerned with the issue of truth. Wait, can we talk this language in late modernity? Yes I think we can (explained in a coming post). This is at bottom the test for every commitment, every conviction; it separates good faith from fantasy, superstition and violent religion. Is God there or is he not? Does he have a demand on our lives? Who is Jesus Christ? What is the significance of his death? Did he rise from the dead? Does the Christian answer to the big questions of life’s meaning really make the best sense of our experience? And there are many other important questions that invite serious investigation. Does it resonate with a robust, mature existence? Will God be there at the bedside of my dying wife or child? Does it have cash out value in the marketplace of life? Will it give me strength of character?

The challenge to each of us, then, is not to passively acquiesce in our own social conditioning, nor our academic cheer leading of one cool professor. Remember that hegemonic cultural atheism is a form of social conditioning as well, riddled with all sorts of unprovable assumptions (David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God; Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies)). We all have our doubts as well. Charles Taylor (A Secular Age) shows that atheism or other forms of scepticism are not a logical projection from science; they entail a meaningful religious stance with respect to the world.  One must take the honest journey forward and examine the evidence and the plausibility of one’s commitments. This is sometimes painful but ultimately rewarding. Some of us will change worldviews and change heroes. See Manhattan’s Tim Keller, The Reason for God and Philip Yancey, Reaching for the Invisible God for a positive, sensitive and respectful discussion that examines evidence and arguments.

~Dr. Gordon Carkner (appreciation to R. Middleton, B. Toombs and H. Gruning and the University of Guelph IVCF)

Related Book about an Oxford Grad Student Conversion Narrative:   Surprised by Oxford: A Memoir by Carolyn Weber.

A deeper analysis and critical reflection is available in Gordon Carkner’s recent publication, The Great Escape from Nihilism: rediscovering our passion in late modernity. (2016)


#3 Under Investigation: Some Allege that the  Resurrection of Jesus was a Hoax

If this statement is true, there is no evidence for the most central Christian belief next to the existence of God. That would be tragic indeed. As the Apostle Paul wrote to one of the first Christian churches, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless, and so is your faith” (1 Corinthians 15:14). Easter becomes pure myth without historical substance. This is a powder keg question.

But a reasonable and responsible person needs solid evidence. It is common historical knowledge that Jesus died on a Roman cross and was buried. And the biblical records indicate both that his tomb was found empty shortly afterwards and that a large number of people claimed to have spoken, walked and eaten with him after his death. These claims are indeed unusual, even  startling! They need explanation. We must decide whether there is a more plausible alternative than an actual physical, bodily resurrection. Much hangs on the answer.

Alternate explanations abound: 1) that thieves stole the body of Jesus; 2) that the Roman or Jewish authorities stole it; 3) that Jesus’ disciples stole it; and 4) that Jesus was not actually dead when buried and left the tomb on his own. Below we deal with each one briefly.

1) We are told (for example in Matthew chapter 27:62 through to chapter 28:4) that the authorities placed a guard at the tomb to prevent the body from being stolen. And when the body was discovered to be missing, it was noted that the grave clothes—loaded with spices to preserve the body—were still present. They would be strange grave robbers who would fight Roman soldiers to steal a naked corpse, when the only thing of value in the tomb would have been the spice-laden grave clothes.

2) The authorities posted the guard to keep the body buried. We must ask why they would subseqently remove it. When Christianity was first proclaimed, it was seen as a threat to the political and religious establishment of the day. Jesus was executed partly as a threat to Rome’s sovereignty. Because the new teaching was explicitly based upon belief in the resurrection, it would have been a simple matter for the authorities to quash the rumour by producing the body of Jesus. The fact that they did not do so indicates that they did not have the body. Why hold back such critical evidence?

3) Because Roman discipline provided punishments ranging from beatings to death for sleeping on duty, we may assume that the soldiers were alert. This means that the disciples (a discouraged, frightened group of fishermen, tax collectors. and one political activist) would have had to fight the soldiers to get the body—a fight they stood a poor chance of winning. But it was not just the disciples who claimed to have seen Jesus alive post-crucifixion. They would, in other words, have had to convince others to join them in their deception—a deception these others would have no motive for maintaining. Furthermore, 11 out of the original 12 disciples were martyred for their belief and their claims that Jesus rose from the dead. Now people might die for what they believe to be true, even if they are wrong. But few will die for a known lie or deception. The fact that the disciples died saying that Jesus was alive, and therefore Lord and God, means that they certainly did not have his dead body hidden away somewhere obscure.

4) If no one stole the body, then perhaps Jesus did not quite die on the cross, but was buried alive and revived in the tomb. This may be. However, this position reduces to absurdity when we are asked to believe that, half dead due to blood loss, a beating and no medical attention after his crucifixion, Jesus struggled free from his shroud, pushed aside a stone that three healthy women were not sure they could move (see Mark 16:3), and walked several miles on wounded feet. Then he met his disciples, claimed to be risen, victorious over the power of death, and was so convincing that Thomas called him “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). After about a month he wandered off and died in solitude. Remember that no one ever found his body, and that there was massive motivation to search for it. This is surely a theory of desperate last resort. A supernatural resurrection is certainly not less probable than this, unless we reject it from the outset by an uncontrollable bias. Perhaps we should rethink our position as skeptical lawyer Frank Morrison was forced to do by the evidence (Who Moved the Stone).

In conclusion, there is considerable weight behind the claim that Jesus rose from the dead. The implications are staggering! It changes everything. We must then ask why it happened. And we must deal with the Christian claim that this is the supreme act of God intervening in history to restore the world to himself through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, called the Christ or Messiah. Hear the profound implications from a modern author Andy Crouch (Culture Making):

The resurrection of Jesus is like a cultural earthquake, its epicenter located in Jerusalem in the early 30s, whose aftershocks are still being felt in the cultural practices of people all over the world, many who have never heard of, and many more who have never believed in, its origins…. The resurrection is the hinge of history—still after two thousand years as far-reaching in its effects as anything that has come since…. The second Adam’s influence on culture comes through the greatest act of dependence, the fulfillment of Israel’s calling to demonstrate faith in the face of the great powers that threatened its existence comes in the willing submission of Jesus to a Roman cross, broken by, but breaking forever its power…. Indeed one of the most dramatic cultural effects of the resurrection is the transformation of that heinous cultural artifact known as a cross. An instrument of domination and condemnation becomes a symbol of the kingdom that Jesus proclaimed: an alternative culture where grace and forgiveness are the last word…. He faces the worst that human powers can do and rises, not just with some merely “spiritual” triumph over those powers, but with a cultural triumph—an answer, right in the midst of human history, to all the fears of Israel in the face of its enemies…. The worst that culture can do, is transformed into a sign of the kingdom of God–the realm of forgiveness, mercy, love and indestructible life.

 Other Resources: N.T.Wright’s excellent DVD video on the Resurrection; and his book The Resurrection of the Son of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God, Volume 3. (academic depth)

Richard Swinburne, The Resurrection of God Incarnate.  Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2003.

Classic Historic Debate between Gary Habermas and Antony Flew: Did jesus Rise from the Dead? The Resurrection Debate. Harper & Row, 1987.  (republished Wipf & Stock 2003) Famous Atheist Philosopher Antony Flew has converted to theism since then. See Antony Flew, There is a god.

The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus
Gary Habermas and Michael Licona Gary Habermas on scholarship re: Resurrection

Eugene Peterson, Practice Resurrection. (exposition of Ephesians)

Michael Green, Christ is Risen: So what? (popular writing) N. T. Wright on Why the Resurrection Matters @ Emory University (Veritas Forum). Resurrection Reflections: William Lane Craig in Southampton, UK

Question #4 Was Jesus just a good moral teacher? Paul’s letter to the Colossians raises serious questions about this common cultural assumption.

What are we to make of this man? The joys and hardships of two thousand years of western history have been pinned on him. Controversy has constantly surrounded his claims. Religious life in the West has been dominated by allusions to his teachings. No self-aware, intelligent person should avoid this intriguing individual and his impact on society, in fact his shaping of history and culture.

Few people doubt any more that Jesus actually existed historically (N.T. Wright). Most people also agree that he was indeed a great moral teacher. Religious and political leaders throughout the world, including many of the great opponents of Christianity, hail the moral superiority of his life. Mohandas Gandhi aspired to the ideals of the Sermon on the Mount, a monument of justice combined with mercy, a trajectory for peace. The philosopher John Stuart Mill thought Jesus a genius and probably the greatest moral reformer who ever existed. Even Napoleon Bonaparte considered him a superior leader of men (although these two men were very different in character and ambition). Islam heralds him as a prophet.

The New Testament documents record the radical servant·like attitude which lent power and credibility to Jesus’ teachings. He has truly led humanity in the expression of compassion and humility , as well as in anger against evil, corruption and hypocrisy. Jesus combined a realistic understanding of human nature with a robust vision for what human beings could become by following him. His words have tested and challenged the minds and hearts of millions for centuries. He is today an international hero, a lighthouse for the good and true.

Of course, this isn’t the whole story. When we begin to consider Jesus’ claims about his identity, the controversy opens up. This is where people (including the world’s religious and political leaders) have problems and begin to back off, or even become aggressive. This is where the label “moral teacher” is put to the test. It begins to sound inadequate and shrill, if not naive.

A thirty year old peasant carpenter turned itinerant teacher/rabbi, Jesus laid claim both by word and action to be much more than a mere man. He operated on the assumption that he was God himself, in the flesh: “Before Abraham was, I am.” How do we know this? From his explicit statements and the very way he lived. His self·disclosed identity is interwoven in the very fabric of the New Testament. He claimed equality with God. He said he had lived before Abraham. He assumed the right to forgive sins. He accepted worship from his followers. There seems to be no escaping the controversy. His claims and his life are cut from one fabric.

Jesus of Nazareth could not be simply a harmless moral teacher or philosopher. He cuts too deep and steps out too far from the crowd of moral teachers and philosophers. We can accuse him of fraud. We might even dissect his mental stability. But the tag of “mere great moral teacher” doesn’t have plausibility or coherence. It was not an option in first century Palestine. Some of his contemporaries thought him quite mad and dangerous; others loved him. He was regarded with disdain and sometimes even hatred by many authorities, or alternately with amazement and adoration. But what stands out is that he never garnered mild approval. In that sense, he was like the Hebrew prophets.

Neither it seems is it an option for today. We have to either silence him or hear him out. What are we to make of this man? What of his moral integrity? His fulfillment of centuries of aspirations? His prediction of death and resurrection? His healings and his compassion for the poor and the marginally Other? What are we to make of his claims to be the one and only God-man (God Incarnate) of history? What are we to do with this very wise moral teacher who makes such tedious, radical and impossible claims? How do we grapple with such a challenging and  unfathomable life?

Paul, in the letter to the young church in Colossae (in ancient Turkey), claims that he is both the Creator and  Apologia of God’s intention to redeem the whole world.

Further Investigation: The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey; Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis; The Challenge of Jesus by N.T. Wright (see Wright on YouTube “Search for the Historical Jesus”); John Dickson DVD “The Life of jesus”; Eugene Peterson, The Jesus Way.

Jesus is the Yes and Amen to it All

“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from becoming ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (II Peter 1: 3-8) Dr. Jordan Peterson, University of Toronto, Clinical Psychology, My Message to Millennials in How to Change the World, Properly.

See also the GCU blog post on how to develop a relationship with Jesus

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