The Christian belief in the resurrection of Jesus is the lynchpin for the entire religion. But what Christians are often accused of, and sometimes capitulate to, is the claim that this belief is entirely a matter of irrational, unsubstantiated “faith.” On this view, Christians “believe” not based on evidence or testimony, but based on secret, mystical knowledge, unrelated to events in this world. Liberal mysticism retreats in one way, conservative mysticism retreats in another, and all intellectual retreat begets cultural retreat. But we are called upon to believe on the testimony of credible witnesses in order to overcome the darkness and brokenness of this world.
Perhaps one of the most common narratives I hear when speaking to students on the university campus is something like this: “I grew up a Christian, going to church, but then I came to college and found out that Christianity is not compatible with modern science.” It is thought that belief in God/gospel is not supported by sufficient evidence and therefore is not rational. For example, Victor Stenger: “Faith is always foolish and leads to many evils of society… Faith is belief in the absence of supportive evidence.” On the other hand, science is “belief in the presence of supportive evidence. And reason is just the procedure by which humans ensure that their conclusions are consistent with the theory that produced them and with the data that test those conclusions.” Or Sam Harris: “We have names for people who have many beliefs for which there is no rational justification. When their beliefs are extremely common we call them “religious”; otherwise, they are likely to be called ‘mad,’ ‘psychotic,’ or ‘delusional.’ Or Daniel Dennett famously wrote in the New York Times, referring to himself and other athiests as “brights” explaining, “A bright is a person with a naturalist as opposed to supernaturalist world view. We brights don’t believe in ghosts or elves or the Easter Bunny – or God.”
Dealing with Mysticism
Frequently, those who do not want to be thought delusional but who don’t want to relinquish religion altogether, retreat into a form of mysticism: my Christian faith is a personal belief that is not directly related to the material world around us. This way they can pay lip service to both science and faith, and when the gospel claims that a man was God in the flesh, crucified and buried, and three days later came back from the dead, it must be some kind of parable or legend roughly corresponding to the spiritual experience of the first disciples. While most conservative Bible-believing Christians wouldn’t put it quite like that, there is similar form of mysticism that doesn’t want to bother with the evidence and argument because (a) faith really is somewhat irrational and (b) faith is a supernatural gift after all.
There is so much that might be discussed here, but I want to limit myself to just to points this morning. First, the original followers of Jesus were not suggesting that the resurrection of Jesus was a mystical/spiritual event that had to be believed but in no way could be demonstrated to be credible. All of the gospel accounts assume that an event like this must be credibly demonstrated. Evidence/testimony must be given. Second, this evidence is given not so that this event may be considered likely or credible as a purely historical curiosity. John says he has written these things, “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (Jn. 20:31).
Signs & Testimony
What we find in John is the assumption that a claim like the resurrection of Jesus must be demonstrated. Jesus presents His hands and feet to be examined, and it is after this that the disciples are glad (Jn. 20:20). When Thomas misses the first meeting with Jesus, he is just like the other disciples, needing evidence (Jn. 20:24-25). And this time Jesus not only shows Himself to Thomas but invites him to see and touch His hands and side (Jn. 20:27). This section immediately follows John’s narrative of Mary and the women at the empty tomb, and there, despite what Jesus had promised before hand (that He would die and rise the third day), the women are not quick to believe (Jn. 20:1-18). If you’re trying to start a new religion based on an elaborate hoax, the last thing you would want is a bunch of skeptics as the founding members.
Notice that Jesus does not say, “Blessed are those who believe for no reason…” Rather, Jesus says, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Jesus assumes belief will be primarily based on the testimony of witnesses. The whole New Testament is the first record of eye-witnesses (cf. 1 Cor. 15:5-6). And John affirms this explicitly, explaining that his gospel is full of “signs” – evidence pointing to who Jesus is. John tells us that Jesus did many other “signs” through His ministry (Jn. 20:30), but John has recorded these in particular that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and have life in His name (Jn. 20:31). It turns out John’s gospel is structured around eight signs, and He wants us to count them and notice (Jn. 2:11, 4:54): (1) Water/wine, (2) nobleman’s son, (3) sick man at the pool, (4) feeding 5000, (5) walking on water, (6) blind man on Sabbath, (7) Lazarus, and (8) the death and resurrection of Jesus (Jn. 20:30).
The Christian view of the world is thoroughly supernatural. But faith in the God of the Bible, faith in the God who raises the dead turns out to be faith in the God who created the world and orders history and time. It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but is the glory of kings to search it out (Pr. 25:2). The Christian gospel is an invitation to touch, to see, to listen to search the Scriptures and search the world to find the truth. The goal of this search is that skeptics may come to faith, that doubting disciples may be strengthened, and that the faithful may become more courageous as witnesses.