At a point in history where things seem to be going very badly wrong in so many ways and when God (if he exists) seems to have vanished from the scene, I thought that I would try to explain why – against all the cultural currents – I am a Christian.
Just by way of introduction, let me say a little about myself. If you read my CV, you will see that I am the co-author of a number of papers with titles like “Effects of gibberellic acid on patterns of carbohydrate distribution and acid invertase activity in Phaseolus vulgaris“. I’m not saying this to show off, but just to point out that my background is in science. This doesn’t make me a great authority on anything, but it does show that my Christianity doesn’t stem from some sort of suspicious, anti-science agenda. Equally, it’s worth knowing that my work and career choices have been made on the basis of my faith. This has led to all of our family having numerous bouts of malaria and to us living through some very difficult situations. This doesn’t make me some kind of a hero, but don’t tell me that my religion is a crutch to help me because I can’t cope with the world – life would have been far easier were I not a Christian.
So why do I insist on swimming against the current of western society and holding on to a 2,000-year-old faith? The answer is fairly complex, but I can boil the essence of it down to two main points. I believe that Christianity provides the best explanation of the human condition and that Jesus of Nazareth is a uniquely compelling character.
First one first. The creation story in the Bible says that God created men and women as good creatures who were to care for the earth on God’s behalf. However, they chose to rebel against him and do things their own way and this led to a fracture in the relationship between mankind and God and did deadly harm to the planet that we were created to care for. Don’t get hung up over whether this literally happened or whether it is a story designed to explain a deeper truth. Well motivated Christians disagree about this and this points to something else that is important, rather than being sheep who all believe the same impossible things, Christians actually disagree and argue over details. My point is that this creation story explains human nature in a better way than any other view that I’ve come across. Our news is full of stories of heroic health workers who are sacrificing themselves to help others. This is just what you’d expect from good creatures, created to care for the planet. Equally, there are lots of stories of selfishness, of shoppers barging the vulnerable aside in order to get to the last tin of baked beans – exactly what you’d expect from people who have rejected God and decided to live for themselves. These two characteristics; the ability to do immense good and the tendency to be dreadfully selfish are found in all of us and, if we are honest, we can’t control them. I find the Bible’s explanation for this compulsive.
Then there is Jesus. There is no doubt that someone called Jesus of Nazareth lived and shook up Palestine around the start of the first century. There is too much documentary and historical evidence to doubt this. I readily admit that this does not prove that the Christian account of Jesus is true – it just proves that someone did something. However, reading the accounts of Jesus’ life in the books written by his friends, the Gospels, I find that they ring true. Others might disagree, but don’t do so without actually checking the evidence out. The picture painted of Jesus in the Gospels is of an incredibly empathetic man and a profound moral teacher. He is an incredibly fascinating character who has intrigued people for two thousand years. Part of his intrigue is that he claimed to be God in human form. At this point, you can’t pass him off as a good moral teacher, because claiming to be God makes him dangerously deluded. Unless, of course, he was right.
This takes us to the heart of Christianity. The Bible claims that the God-man, Jesus, was crucified by the Romans, not as the result of some dreadful miscarriage of justice, but as a deliberate self-sacrifice to undo the original human rebellion against God. By dying, Jesus made it possible for people to be forgiven and reconciled to their maker and to find their true purpose on this planet once more. It’s a huge claim and would hardly be worth taking seriously if it wasn’t for the fact on the third day after his execution, Jesus came back from the dead.
Again, this is a huge claim. People simply don’t come back from the dead outside of Zombie films. People in the first century were actually a lot more familiar with death than we are today – life was shorter and nowhere near as sanitized as ours is. They knew that people didn’t rise from the dead, just as much as we do. If just one person came back from the dead it would change everything. However, I believe that the evidence for Jesus resurrection is incontrovertible and that really does change everything. The fact that it was 2,000 years ago does not make it any less remarkable.
I believe that through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, God is slowly and painstakingly at work restoring the mess that we’ve made of our lives and of our planet. Things are far from perfect and, certainly, I’m far from perfect – but I am forgiven and that’s not a bad start.
And so, I’ve decided to trust my life to a set of beliefs that I believe make sense of the world as I observe it and which are based on evidence which anyone can investigate. I keep coming back to that word evidence, but that’s the scientist in me. Make hypotheses and check them out. It just surprises me that people are so quick to reject Christianity without ever doing the groundwork needed to make that decision. Over the next few weeks, if you have time to read, why not dig in to some of the first-hand accounts of Jesus life? I’d suggest reading John’s Gospel, a short biography written by one of his closest friends. You can find it online here.