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Ten Bucks

July 28, 2011

I love being asked good questions.  It makes me happy when people want to know what’s real and won’t settle for less.

I was asked a particularly difficult question, one I can’t really answer, but at least give it a chance.

As crappy as humans are, I’ve always found humanism a respectable position, comparatively.  Every belief system worth its salt begins with, “the world is in a bad state.”  Humanism continues this by saying, “the world is in a bad state, and we did it to ourselves, and we need to be the ones who try to fix it.”

Christianity does a little surgery on this idea.  It sort of goes like this:  the world is in a bad state, and we are in an equally bad state, and we can’t fix it ourselves, so we need help.

So, I was asked what was wrong with the first idea.  Why not just help people and love them and provide for them?  Why bring God into it at all?  Not to mention all the problems with insisting on the existence of a loving God.  After all, the fact of his existence doesn’t change the pain and suffering in the world, it only seems to make it worse.  If we’ve lost someone we loved, the God that supposedly exists had to be fine with that happening, because he didn’t stop it.  These are tough thoughts.

People get uncomfortable when you bring up the name Jesus.  It’s become a buzzword, a hallmark of narrow-mindedness.  Anyone who disputes that doesn’t live in the real world.

But there is a person who has that name.  Actually in his language he was probably known as Yeshua.  He was born about 7 BC.  Far as we can tell, he along with his father was the ancient equivalent of a construction worker.

Hopefully the more details I list, the more it seems strange to judge this man by the actions of other people.  He’s a man who lived his own life, and ought to be judged by his own words and actions.

He lived among the Jews during the Roman occupation and said he was their messiah, which they were waiting for.  These were people who only had the vaguest concept of an afterlife.  They thought this life was it, and that logically their messiah would lead an army to defeat the occupiers and that they would be free again.  But instead he said things like, “if someone forces you to go with him one mile, go with him two miles.”  The only people who had the authority to do that were Roman soldiers.  He said he was their savior, and then said things like, “when these soldiers force you to carry their equipment for a mile, don’t resist.  In fact, go two miles instead.”  He told us to love our enemies and pray for those who hate us.  He said if someone wants to take your shirt, give him your coat too.

He tells people to leave everything behind and follow him, and to anyone who would listen, he said that everyone who ever lived is a sinner and needs to be forgiven.  Then he says he’s the only one who ever existed that has the authority to forgive sins.  Keep in mind, he said all this indiscriminately, to the Romans, to the tax collectors, to the poor, to the religious leaders, to those the religious leaders had shunned, to everyone.

Those are not the words of a man who wants popular support.  He was clearly not working for personal gain.  He was a skilled worker who knew a trade and could have lived a comfortable life.  A man who said the things he said was knowingly putting his life at risk.  The Jews held that anyone who claimed to be equal to God should be executed.  But under Roman occupation they weren’t allowed to execute people, so he was handed over to the Romans and, under the pretense of keeping the peace, they executed him.

Let me stop there and say, there are only two reasons a man like that doesn’t care about his own life above all.  The first possible reason: he was a lunatic.  He didn’t have the mental ability to genuinely weigh risks or connect actions with consequences, or fully believed things about himself and about reality that were not true, which is the definition of psychosis.

The second possible reason is, of course, he is who he says he was.  This is important.  People want to resolve every issue they have with Christianity before they confront the possibility that this is true.  But that’s backwards.  Jesus is the son of God, and he gave his life because he loves us, then he was buried, then he was resurrected.  And, just as important, it makes everything he said true.  If this is true, it’s true, and every other fact in the universe has to be reconciled to this one.

 

“Evangelical” has become sort of a derisive term.  It has come to mean something like ‘Christian control freak.’  Evangelism, translated literally, means ‘I bring a good message,’ and later, colloquially, came to mean ‘good news.’  An evangelist is someone who tells other people good news.  And I hope that’s what I am–someone who brings good news, and acts like it really is good.

Of course, people can choose to believe or not believe anything they are presented with, including this.  And that’s all right!  There’s too much condescension and not enough honesty in the world, I think.  Doubt is an amazing ability of humans.  We have the capacity to understand but desire proof in order to believe something.  If we didn’t have this ability, we would believe anything we are told.  One of my favorite people ever, Richard Feynman, says this, which I try to live by: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself–and you are the easiest person to fool.”

The reason the news is so good, to me, is that if a personal, real God exists, and a person has legitimate doubts about him but really wants to know what’s true, he’s the kind of God who will move heaven and earth to meet us where we are.  It seems different when we think of it that way.  Like, he won’t leave it up to chance.  It’s the kind of news that lets you relax, even in such a high stakes situation.  It’s the kind of news that lets you love life, news that can set someone free, the kind of news that lets a man forget everything, that lets him love others and leave himself behind.

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