Sunday, January 10, 2010
I believe in God, but why should I believe in Jesus?
Dear Rev. Know it all,
I am a believer in God. Not the Christian God, but my own personal God with which I've had my spiritual experiences. My question is this; why do SO many people automatically assume that to believe in God, one believes in Christ. I do not believe in Christ. I personally think that Jesus' story is shrouded in myth, fiction, and human intervention. Why are these two ideas (God & Jesus) so inherently connected? My belief in God is so strong that for me to take the leap of Christian faith is to take a giant leap in a very strange direction.
Dear Mr. Fidel,
Let us be a little more precise. Perhaps I am misinterpreting your remarks, but I would venture that you don’t believe in God. “Believe” or “to have faith” originally means “to trust in.” I don’t’ know whether or not you trust in your personal god. I suspect that when you say you believe God exists you are really saying that you think God exists. I would agree. God most certainly exists. God exists by definition. “God is that being greater than which nothing exists.” God is the Supreme Being. More simply put God is the greatest reality that is, and there is most certainly a greatest reality. The question is, “What is the nature of God?” A lot of people think that somehow the universe is self-creating. In that case, the universe is god, an unfeeling, unperceiving, uncaring hunk of impersonal rocks swirling meaninglessly through an unbroken, silent, eternal monotony. There is nothing there to trust. Others have decided that god is personal, a kind of nice guy who minds his own business. He/she made all things and then went on an eternal lunch break leaving us to do pretty much what we please because he/she isn’t terribly interested in the current state of his/her creation. These people are called Deists. Not much to trust there either. You’ve got nature lovers and wiccans who believe that the universe or nature is somehow personal and benign except when he/she throws up the occasional tsunami or volcano and needs to be placated by some ritual or sacrifice because balance has been upset and he/she is perfectly right to be in a cosmic snit.
Hinduism is a lovely religion that has lots of gods that ancient invaders brought to the subcontinent and all those gods are somehow manifestations of the “One.” Buddhism is a development of Hinduism in which God is optional. It’s purpose seems to be to escape the cycle of suffering by right living that leads to personal oblivion. Then you’ve got Islam which teaches an arbitrary, unknowable god who has chosen some for eternal happiness and others for eternal hell-fire. There are a lot of other religions that are variations on these themes. And then there’s you, who have created a god for yourself based on some spiritual experiences you’ve had.
My question is this: “Why do you think your god is God?” There are only two kinds of religion as far as I can tell. A sort of pantheism claiming that nature is God, personal or impersonal. The great bulk of human religions from the cavemen to Carl Sagan fit into this first group. They rely on human reason or ancient myths. Then there are the Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, which derive from Abraham’s encounter with God about four thousand years ago. Judaism relies on a long and consistent process of revelation over the course of a thousand years.
Islam claims its authority from Mohammed to whom God spoke while he was in a cave in the desert. The revelations he claims to have received in his private spiritual experiences are thought by Muslims to be the definitive and only truly authoritative word of God, one book, the Koran, dictated to one man, Muhammad over the course of 23 years of one life, 610 to 632 AD. He never actually wrote anything down, His friends wrote it down for him and compiled it after his death. So you are in good company. You’ve had private spiritual revelations, so did Muhammad. Myself, I’m not so sure about private revelations. If there are lots of spiritual beings out there and some of them are not so nice, like the devil and his angels, who knows who you’ve been spiritually schmoozing with? Even Muhammad had his doubts until his wife convinced him that his revelations were the real thing. Christianity however is uniquely unique in all of this.
Christianity makes a really outlandish claim. It claims that the Creator of the universe once visited his creation. When He did so, He appeared not as a theologian or priest, not as a general, king, or hero. He appeared as a Jewish carpenter, born in a barn, executed for treason. The reason we believe this is that something very amazing happened. He rose from the dead. You say that you “personally think that Jesus' story is shrouded in myth, fiction, and human intervention.” Quite the opposite is true. Christianity flows from a precise and public event that happened in a precise time in an exact place.
The earliest documents that we have attesting to this amazing fact were written about 50 AD. St. Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians were written about 20 years after the event by a man who gladly allowed himself to be executed by the government for his belief that the Carpenter had risen from the dead. If St. Paul was the only one who believed this, I would just chalk it up to personal lunacy, but almost all of those who were witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus had so little fear of death that they likewise gave themselves up for execution when it would have been easy to avoid it, just by saying, “Well, maybe I was mistaken...”
This is quite different from the Islamic revelation. The followers of Muhammad who compiled his revelations in the Koran were happy to execute others for the sake of their “truth.” From its beginning, Islam has been a warrior faith. Christianity is quite the opposite. Christians believed so strongly in the resurrection that they were willing, not to kill for the truth, but to be killed. I can hear you now, “What about the Crusades and other religious wars?” Can I help it if some idiots decided to kill in the name of Christ? Perhaps they too had their private revelations. The Prince of Peace, the murdered Carpenter of Nazareth, never asked anyone to kill in His name. Muhammad, on the other hand, demanded it.
If you really think that the basic Christian revelation is shrouded in “myth and fiction and human intervention,” I would like to challenge you to read a book, “The DaVinci Hoax” by Carl E. Olson and Sandra Miesel published by Ignatius Press, 2004, ISBN 1-58617-034-1. I would also invite you to read C.S. Lewis “Surprised by Joy.” He deals with the same issue. I could go on endlessly about the miracles and wonders of the Christian tradition that have re-enforced the power of God made visible in the resurrection of Jesus, but you would probably write them off.
Better than all this however, there is one more thing that I would suggest. Find a very quiet Catholic Church where there is a tabernacle containing the Blessed Sacrament, (the remaining consecrated communion wafers). Sit there, take a deep breath and say, “Jesus, if you really are God-in-the-flesh, I would like to know you, and if you are who you say you are, I will give you my life.” Not only do we believe that God once visited His creation, but we believe that He has chosen to remain here because He loves you. That you can trust!