RESPONDblogs: The Hero Who Never Fired a Bullet

hacksaw ridge

 

From the opening frames, you can see this isn’t going to be an easy watch.

It took me a while to work up to watching this movie. I find images of war profoundly disturbing, and I know Mel Gibson’s talent at portraying horror and man’s inhumanity to man. In this movie – he did nothing less. He’s a master at it.

But – incredibly – this is not a war movie at its heart.

I’m going to give some important plot details now…go watch the movie if you don’t want to be spoiled.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hacksaw Ridge tells the true story of Desmond Doss. Raised by a Christian mother, Desmond grew into a devout young man who decided to shun violence. When war broke out – the patriot within him longed to fight for America’s freedom. But – he could not bear to take up arms himself. Rather – he dreamed of entering the Army in a non-combat role – as a Medic.

This got him into all sorts of trouble during his Army training. His refusal to use a rifle almost landed him in an Army prison for the rest of the war. Yet through some profoundly moving circumstances – Desmond was spared Court Marshall. And instead – he was sent with the 77th Infantry Division to the bloodiest theatre of war…Okinawa in the South Pacific…unarmed. The army men who had labelled him a coward for refusing to fight…began to see saw his bravery as Desmond faced the horrors of Hacksaw Ridge carrying nothing but medical supplies, and a willing heart to bring comfort to the wounded and the dying on the battlefield.

That any of Desmond’s Detachment survived Hacksaw was pretty miraculous. The Japanese counter attack was fierce. Gibson’s movie portrays events as follows. After the first day of fighting, the 77th seem to have survived and dug in on Hacksaw Ridge. They survive the night – yet at first light, the Japanese counter attack pushes them back to the edge of the cliff again. Those who can, scramble down the cliff face to safety, leaving dead and dying friends remaining on the ridge with scores of Japanese soldiers who wander the battlefield, finishing off the wounded men that remain.

The movie shows this as the pivotal moment in Desmond’s story.

As his buddies flee for their lives…he stands at the cliff edge…feeling he could have done more. He prays to God – “speak to me. Show me what to do.” And through the confusion…the cries of wounded men reach his ears. Desmond knows his next step.

Instead of climbing down the cliff face to safety, he heads unarmed…back onto the battlefield…carefully dodging Japanese soldiers on the grotesque, body strewn battlefield. One by one, Desmond drags wounded soldiers towards the cliff edge…lowering them down the ridge cliff face to safety. He even rescues some enemy soldiers that way. The movie shows him lowering each life down to safety…and returning to the horrors of the battlefield with a single prayer – “Lord, just one more…let me save one more.” In total – he saves 75 wounded soldiers who faced certain death on Hacksaw Ridge.

Actor Andrey Garfield was interviewed about his role, and he shakes his head at Doss’s heroic actions. “Whatever it was that gave him the power to do that…it was just incredible…” Some of the Hacksaw Ridge filmmakers were quick to point out two interesting things about this true story.

First – that Desmond Doss shows that there’s a different thing between Religion and Faith. While religion is often seen as a defining demarcation line between people – often resulting in tensions and conflicts – faith is something different. It’s the power to trust, to look beyond yourself – and do incredibly acts of bravery and self-sacrifice. Whatever Desmond’s religious persuasion – he was a conservative Christian – Desmond showed how powerful faith in God can really be. I think there’s some truth to this.

The second point the filmmakers make – is that even though Desmond was a Christian, this principle he showed is not confined to Christianity alone. It simply shows the positive impact that spirituality in general can have in this world.

I am quite sure that people of all religious persuasion are capable of acts of bravery, self-sacrifice and honour. It’s happening around the world right now during terrible conflict. I’m in awe of every sacrificial person – whatever their religious background. And from my current place of comfort and security – I cheer each of these people on for their actions.

But – I’d like to point something out about Christianity. It seems to me that – there’s something uniquely Christian about Desmond Doss’s story. Why?

We consistently read that Jesus spent time with those in his Jewish society that were the lowest of the low. The religious establishment looked down their noses at Jesus for doing this. Yet Jesus made a point of explaining his actions. You can read his reply to them in Luke chapter 15 in the New Testament. He takes three instances where something of great value had gotten lost – and someone decided to go looking for that thing, even though it cost them greatly. The lost sheep…the lost coin…the lost son. There is something about Jesus that is just not content to stop when there’s even one lost person in our world…Doss echo’s the heart cry of Jesus Christ – ”give me one more…let me save one more.”

I’m suggesting – there’s something distinctively Christian about putting oneself in harms way to have the opportunity to rescue someone who is lost. We all reflect Jesus when we do it – whether we like that or not.

I’m grateful to the Hacksaw Ridge filmmakers who have helped me learn about how Desmond Doss modelled Jesus Christ in a moving and awe-inspiring way during the World War 2 battles in the Pacific.

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RESPONDblogs: Did the First Followers of Jesus Believe in an Empty Tomb?

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People sometimes look sceptically at the New Testament account of Jesus’ resurrection, suggesting the original Christians didn’t claim Jesus tomb was empty. Rather, the idea of Jesus’ physical resurrection evolved over time.

Richard Carrier says the earliest Christian thinking on post-crucifixion Jesus is in Paul’s letters, but Paul doesn’t talk physical resurrection, instead he says Jesus returned to heaven as a spirit. This portrays the empty tomb as a legend from Christians who misunderstood Paul’s teaching. The story “that Jesus actually walked out of the grave with the same body that went into it, leaving an empty tomb to astonish all, was probably a legend that developed over the course of the first century.”[1] The Gospels, written after Paul’s death, contain these legends.

Everybody LOVES a good conspiracy theory. But what does Carrier base his proposed conspiracy theory on? Is his foundation secure? If not, then his theory won’t be any good.

Carrier’s foundation is the idea the earliest Christians didn’t believe Jesus was raised physically, but spiritually. There was no empty tomb; resurrection was just a clever idea to build a movement on. Let’s look at Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians to see whether Carrier’s right.

Paul’s Argument for Resurrection

“They are buried as natural human bodies, but they will be raised as spiritual bodies. For just as there are natural bodies, there are also spiritual bodies.”[2] Paul’s talking about two types of body, contrasting natural and spiritual bodies. So, is he contrasting a physical body with a ghost-like spirit? Or are our western minds reading this into the text?

Paul’s original greek contrasts soma psychikon (translated natural) and soma pneumatikon (translated spiritual). The word psychikon refers to something as soulish, while the word pneumatikon refers to something as spiritual. Paul’s contrasting soulish and spiritual bodies.

There’s no reference to physical body here. The ancients had ways of contrasting physical and non-physical things, but they didn’t use these words. Ironically, if a 1st century reader saw the phrase soma psychikon and was looking for a physical/non-physical contrast, they would think soma psychikon referred to the non-physical side![3]

If Paul’s not talking in terms of physical vs ghostly non-physical resurrection body, what is he doing? He’s contrasting soulish and spirit empowered bodies.

Here’s another interesting point about Paul’s choice of language. Adjectives with the ending -ikos have ethical meanings, they don’t refer to material composition.[4] So Paul’s not thinking about the resurrection body’s composition, rather he’s talking about its power source.

Carrier thinks Paul’s speaking about a “ship made of steel or wood,” but actually Paul’s talking about a ship “driven by steam or wind.”[5]

Let’s look at Paul’s argument for the resurrection body.

1 –Bodies are Physical

Some Corinthians believed the body was unspiritual and something to escape from. The idea of a physical resurrection body wouldn’t be good news.

Paul responds by teaching a right understanding of the resurrection from the dead, and he appeals to God’s original creative work. Adam and the garden were physical things, and Adam relates to Christ. “The first man, Adam, became a living person. But the last Adam – that is Christ – is a life-giving Spirit. What comes first is the natural body, then the spiritual body comes later.”[6] He’s saying, we all know soulish bodies exist (soma psychikon), but bodies animated by God’s spirit are also real (soma pneumatikon). Jesus’ resurrection body is an example of pneumatikon.[7]

If Paul didn’t think Jesus’ resurrection body was a physical thing, then why would he bother to link Christ with his original physical creation?

2 – Jesus’ Resurrection Body is Like Our Future Body

He goes on to say that, “Just as we are now like the earthly man, we will someday be like the heavenly man.”[8] Our own resurrection bodies will be like Christ’s. Jesus’ resurrection body was physical, so ours will be too.

3 – Our Soulish Lives will be Swallowed Up in Spirit Empowered Lives

The aim isn’t to leave our bodies for spiritual existence, the aim is “to let the present ‘heavenly’ life change the present earthy reality”[9] and look for a future where God’s intended “pneumatikos state…swallow(s) up and replace(s) [a] merely psychikos life.”[10]

Our current, corruptible soulish bodies can’t inherit God’s kingdom, but our future non-corruptible spirit empowered bodies will.

 

Conclusion

Carrier thinks Paul taught a non-physical resurrection body, and his letter to Corinth “discourses on metaphysical minutiae…resolving some misunderstanding about the nature of the resurrection body.”[11] Yes, but Paul’s not discoursing on the body’s nature, but on what empowers it; soul or spirit? Based on Christ’s resurrection, Paul assumes Christians will have a future body that will be “animated by, enlivened by, the Spirit of the true God.”[12]

Carrier misrepresents Paul’s argument, claiming he didn’t believe in physical resurrection bodies. No, Paul assumed Jesus’ physical resurrection and likened it to the Christian’s future, Spirit empowered body.

Carrier’s conspiracy theory about the evolution of Jesus’ resurrection accounts isn’t therefore grounded; the earliest Christians did believe both that Christ was physically raised, and in the future, we will be too.

[1] Richard C. Carrier, “The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb,” in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave, eds. Robert M. Price, and Jeffery Jay Lowder (New York: Prometheus Books, 2005), Loc. 1259, Kindle.

[2] 1 Corinthians 15:44, NLT.

[3] N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, (London:Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2003), 350.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] 1 Cor 15:45, NLT.

[7] Wright, 354.

[8] 1 Cor 15:49, NLT.

[9] Wright, 355.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Carrier, Loc., 1486.

[12] Wright, 354.

 

Image courtesy of Pexels.

RESPONDblogs: The Missing Second Burial of Jesus

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When considering the Christian claim that Jesus was raised from the dead, one historical point often overlooked is the lack of evidence that Jesus’ body received a second Jewish burial. The evidence supports his death by crucifixion, burial in an unused tomb that was then found empty and his subsequent appearances to his disciples.

What is this second Jewish burial?

In Western culture, graves are usually occupied by single people; only the rich and famous afford family tombs. But in first century Jerusalem, it was common for families to own shared tombs where deceased close friends and family members were laid on carved stone shelves. Modern western graves usually remain closed, but ancient Jewish tombs were periodically re-opened when family members died. Tomb reuse is one reason bodies were “wrapped in grave-cloths along with a significant amount of spices, to offset the smell of putrefaction, on the usual assumption that other shelves in the cave would be required soon.”[1] Within a year or so, a corpse would decompose to a skeleton, at which point the family would “collect the bones, fold them reverently and carefully according to a traditional pattern, and place them in an ossuary.”[2] This would count as the person’s normal, second burial and it cleared tomb space for subsequent family burials.

Interestingly, no Christian or pagan evidence exists recording Jesus’ second burial. Surely if his body remained in the tomb, a friend would have returned to pay respects in this way? But there’s no report of it. Wouldn’t Christianity’s enemies have appealed to this data if it existed?  Given Jesus’ public ministry and carefully documented life, death and first burial, surely a second burial would also have been documented if it happened?

While the historical record is silent on this, it’s full of information on a related matter. At the precise time when Jesus’ body should have received a second burial, his friends were instead “proclaiming him as Messiah…on the grounds that he had been raised from the dead.”[3] Further, the Christian church’s biggest persecutor, Saul of Tarsus, claimed to have encountered the risen Jesus and converted to Christian evangelist.

But was Jesus’ resurrection fabricated? Perhaps his disciples stole his body and the second burial was done privately to protect their new resurrection myth? This theory has many problems. First, why would the disciples do this? No-one in first century Judaism expected resurrection to work this way, so why would they attempt to manufacture something they weren’t expecting? [4] Second, the stolen body theory implicates the disciples in a coverup. This a problem because the historical record establishes high confidence in their martyrdom for preaching Christ’s resurrection from the dead. As Habermas observes, “Lying about something is a poor thesis for being a martyr.”[5] It makes no sense to propose the ones who stole the body as the ones who gave their lives for the belief he was raised. Further, if the disciples instituted a cover up, how did Saul go from enemy to evangelist?

Perhaps someone re-buried Jesus’ body privately? Lowder posits Joseph of Arimathea, owner of Jesus’ tomb, re-buried Jesus without the disciples’ knowledge; yet he lacks supporting evidence.[6] Also, he must account for Saul’s conversion, and the transformation of Jesus’ disciples from broken people into world changing Christian evangelists. If Jesus was still dead when Christianity erupted in the very city where he died and was buried, why wasn’t his body produced to stop it? Tacitus and Suetonius suggest Rome disliked Christianity, so was motivated to halt it.[7]

Absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence; we cannot be certain beyond all doubt. But given Christian history, including Saul’s conversion, wouldn’t it be reasonable to posit Jesus’ second burial lacks evidence because no body remained; days after his public execution, the tomb was empty, and friends and enemies alike did encounter him alive again in a new way?[8]

While Jesus’ bones may have never been placed into an ossuary, his name has been found on other ancient Jewish ossuary’s dated to mid first century, [9]  alongside words that some think may constitute a prayer.[10] Also, the first century Nazareth inscription documents a Roman edict forbidding tomb tampering. This might have nothing to do with first century Christianity, but given Christianity’s active denunciation of Roman pantheon and culture in favour of Jesus, “it is quite feasible to imagine someone using the emperor’s authority to try to lock the door after the horse has bolted.”[11]

Second burial reports of Jesus don’t exist, yet history records the Christian claim Christ was raised. Don’t these facts justify the sceptic’s further investigation into the documented events of Christ’s death, his empty tomb and resurrection appearances?

[1] N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, (London:Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2003), 707.

[2] Wright, 708.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Wright, 372.

[5] Evidence for the Empty Tomb, The Resurrection of Jesus, Gary Habermas, in the Credo Courses, accessed May 6, 2017, http://www.credocourses.com/product/the-resurrection-of-jesus/.

[6] Jeffrey Jay Lowder, “Historical Evidence and the Empty Tomb Story A Reply to William Lane Craig”, The Secular Web, accessed 19th November, 2017, https://infidels.org/library/modern/jeff_lowder/empty.html.

[7] Clay Jones, “Lacks non-Biblical support,” Prepared Defence [CD-ROM], Austin, TX: WORDsearch, 2005 (v. 2.2, 2014).

[8] 1 Corinthians 15:3-8; Acts 2:32.

[9] E. L. Sukenik, The Earliest Records of Christianity, http://khazarzar.skeptik.net/books/sukenik.pdf, accessed November 14th, 2017.

[10] Mark Mittleberg, The Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask, (Colorado Springs: Tyndale House Publishers Inc., 2010), 77.

[11] Wright, 708.

 

Image courtesy of Pexels, http://www.pexels.com.

RESPONDblog: Why Does God Allow Evil?

destroyed-houses-2663558_1920Why does God allow evil to occur?

There’s no doubt this world is a place where natural disasters tear lives apart, and people abuse other people to horrific degrees. If God’s there…then why does he allow this?

 

In his recent book, “Why does God Allow Evil”, Clay Jones explores these topics…and one of the interesting question he poses is this. Why do we ask, “Why does God allow Evil,” when a more pertinent question might be “Why does God Allow Humans?”

 

Clay summarises his position on God and evil (known as a theodicy – a word combining the Greek words for both God and justice). His argument is based on the Bible’s position and therefore reflects both a Jewish and Christian approach[1]:

 

 

  1. God created human beings with free will. He placed them in a paradise setting, with only one prohibition on them.

 

  1. The human beings were free to disobey. After all, it makes no sense at all to create beings with free will and then prevent them from misusing it.

 

  1. The people became distrustful of God – and they rebelled against God. They did what they were prohibited from doing.

 

  1. Because of this disobedience, God ejected them from paradise and they lost access to the tree of life. “We’ve been going to funerals ever since.”[2] God cursed the ground, and we face both disease and natural evil of many kinds as a result.

 

Someone asks – “So what about forgiveness then? Isn’t Christianity all about forgiving people? Why couldn’t God forgive Adam and Eve? He calls us to do this…why can’t God?”

First – because we aren’t God. God commands us to forgive others in the knowledge that the buck stops with him. He sees to it that justice is done in this Universe. We are called to forgive, because God’s the one who ensures justice is done.

Second – because if God turned a blind eye to Adam and Eve’s rebellion, this would communicate to the whole human race that – “hey, rebellion’s not so bad. It’s ok. Just do it. Fill your boots, everyone.” But rebellion is not okay. It leads to horrific results. Rebellion is destructive – and so there are consequences attached to it. And we’ve been living with them ever since.

  1. We’ve been living with the consequences because humans have reproduced people like themselves. Inclined towards rebellion, alienated from God and ultimately destined to struggle with suffering in this life and ultimately to die.

 

  1. Because of the seriousness of man’s rebellion against God, the seriousness of the consequences, and his love for each of us, God sent his Son Jesus to die for rebellious humans to ensure justice is done in God’s just Universe.

 

  1. So now, human beings who trust God and accept that Jesus died for them, can face a life of change and growth.
  • We can increasingly learn the horror of man’s rebellion against God by experiencing the devastating results we see today.
  • We increasingly learn to overcome evil in this world with good.
  • We become fit to inherit God’s coming kingdom as we do this.
  • And we learn how horrific and stupid our own sin and rebellion really is through experiencing first-hand the consequences. And so, one day, in heaven, we will be able to use our free will rightly as we reign with Christ forever.

 

 

Image courtesy of pixabay.com.

[1] Clay Jones, Why Does God allow Evil, (Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2017), 207-208.

[2] Ibid.

RESPONDblog: Why Does God Hide?

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“If God’s there, doesn’t he want me to follow him?”

I know many people who just do not understand why my life features a God element to it. “Why do you spend so much time in churches, Stuart? I just don’t see the point…I just don’t see any evidence that God’s there.”

 

But sometimes they will go a step further. Not only doesn’t there seem to be any evidence for God…it seems to them that if He is there…God hides himself. And that just doesn’t make any sense. That’s just stupid.

“If God’s there, doesn’t he want me to follow him? To do the right thing? To worship Him?” Why would God hide himself from us? Unless the hiddenness of God is yet another reason to say that…actually God’s not hidden…he’s just not there at all?

 

What is interesting is that in the Bible, we see evidence that God does consciously hide himself. He doesn’t make his appearance too obvious to us.

 

“Truly, you are a God who hides himself, O God of Israel, the Savior.”[1]

 

In his book, “Why Does God Allow Evil”, Clay Jones makes an important observation about this seemingly counter intuitive truth about the Christian God. He’s not hidden because He’s not there…He’s hidden because He chooses to be.

 

Why?

 

Clay offers three reasons:

 

1 – Because if He was too obvious, then everyone would be compelled to call themselves Christians.

Often the sceptic thinks this is what Christians want. Well – it shouldn’t be – because it’s not what God wants. God honours our free will.

He doesn’t want to compel anyone to follow Jesus. Why? Because God intends each of us to exercise our God given freedom to choose.

Another way of putting this is – “if God’s existence were at every moment absolutely unmistakeable, then many people would abstain from desires that they might otherwise indulge.”[2] If we are compelled to do the right thing because we are under constant supervision, then what does this mean? It means we aren’t free to do what we want to do. If there’s a fiery sword in the sky that comes down on anyone who breaks the rules – what will happen? We will have a human population that works hard NOT to get cut in half! People will feign loyalty to God as a survival strategy.

This isn’t what God wants. He wants people to choose willingly to follow Him.

 

2 – Because He gives enough evidence for those who want to know Him.

There are various instances in the Gospels where Jesus could have done more miracles to compel the people in a town to follow him. In one particular town, it was the religious people who demanded more of his credentials. Yet he refused. Why? Didn’t Jesus want to build up a crowd of followers…like the other rabble rousers in first century Jerusalem? No.

Jesus didn’t want to compel anyone. Rather, He gave enough to justify the belief of those who willingly chose to follow. But he didn’t give too much, and so force everyone else to feign loyalty….to pretend to follow on the outside, while growing in resentment on the inside.

Have you ever gone to a party unwillingly? Perhaps you didn’t know the host, or you knew them and were too polite…or dishonest…to say no to the invitation! How does that feel? Well – probably along the lines of, “When will this ordeal end?”

God gives enough evidence to nurture obedience and relationship…and nothing more. He doesn’t want anyone to miss out, but in the end he only wants people at the party who actually want to be there.

 

3 – Because if He was too obvious, people would be rendered spectators rather than obedient followers.

If God constantly intervened in the affairs of life, this would disempower us…not empower us.

Imagine you start a new job, and the boss is there to welcome you into your new position. But then – after your induction – he sits across the office and stares at you. Every email you write, every meeting you attend, every visit to the bathroom has to go through him…and he has to be there while you are doing it. What would you do?

I know what I would do – I wouldn’t stay in that job very long. Why? Because I’d start to second guess every email, every meeting…and possibly every toilet break! I’d start to say – tell you what – why don’t you write this email and run this meeting for me? Then you will get what you clearly want. If I’m employed to do something then I need to have the freedom to do it. I am accountable to the management – absolutely. But I can’t be micromanaged every step. If I am…I am disempowered. And that just doesn’t make sense.

God is not like that micromanager. He wishes to empower, not disempower. He’s wise enough to know how much is enough to get us started and moving in the right direction. But he does not smother us on the journey.

 

 

The thing about God as we find him in the Bible – is that he wants to know us. He wants a relationship based on choice and honesty. It’s not his plan to compel anyone in this. Instead, He draws us toward him. And maybe for us today…we’re not fully there yet. But know that – He is there, and He does long for you to be close with Him.

 

“I led them with chords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them.”[3]

 

Image courtesy of Pixabay.

[1] Isaiah 45:15.

[2] Clay Jones, Why Does God Allow Evil, (Eugene: Harvest House Publishers), 111.

[3] Hosea 11:4.

RESPONDblog: Christianity’s Not As Mysterious As You Think

I found myself at Vasquez Rocks National Park this weekend. Actually – this was completely intentional. I was hunting for a shooting location used by the makers of the Original Series of Star Trek from the 1960s. What can I tell you…? I’m nerdy like that.

The episode I was thinking of is called “Arena”; Captain Kirk finds himself facing the war like Gorn creature on the surface of an asteroid with a suspiciously “earth-like” atmosphere. Which is handy. A superior race, the Metrones, have decided that Kirk must fight his adversary to the death. Not so superior, eh? In reality – William Shatner was acting his socks off with a poor guy sweating in a green rubber suit.

I wanted to find the spot where their iconic battle happened. After all…I remember watching the episode as a child.

My strategy on arriving at Vasquez Rocks National Park was to launch myself “Kirk like” into the mysterious and rugged countryside…to explore various trails and various rock formations in the 35 degree heat. “That looks kinda familiar…maybe they filmed it there? Oh no – hang on – maybe it was here? Man…I’m hot.”

After an hour or so trudging around in the oven like heat…I returned to the visitors centre for a rest. I sensed that I hadn’t really found what I was looking for. Walking back to the car…I noticed a big sign that I had driven past an hour ago when I first entered the park. It read, “To the Rocks” – with a big arrow pointing up a well built road to my left.

Genius that I am – I asked myself – “Hang on. Why don’t I follow that arrow…and just drive up that road? I wonder what’s up there?” I jumped into the car…drove up the signposted road…and eventually arrived at a large visitors car park. Exiting the car…I looked around. I was already hot…but I was getting warmer. I recognised these rock formations.

I began chatting on Twitter with my friend Alan. I explained what I was doing and – very helpfully – he sent me an image of the Star Trek episode that showed the location I was looking for. I gulped at the image on my phone screen. Raising my head, I looked again at the entrance to the visitors car park I had just driven through.

Would you believe it?

Star Trek had filmed the iconic Gorn battle scene HERE – within the visitors car park at the end of the road!! Of course. With so much equipment…the lights and cameras transported by truck…the film crew needed a wide space to set things up. It made perfect sense to use the car park. It’s slightly disappointing to me though that the scene was captured…in a car park. This Star Trek episode has lost some of its mystique to me now…

On reflection – I made this trip much much harder for myself than it needed to be. I hadn’t actually rewatched the episode on Netflix before travelling to the location…I was working from memories and assumptions in my head about what the location looked like. Life would have been easier…if I’d just googled a picture first. Worse – when I arrived at the park…I didn’t follow the clear and obvious signage that was provided and staring me in the face! I decided to purposefully wander off into the countryside instead.

In the end…finding what I was looking for was really easy and straightforward. It just required me to look at the source material…and follow the obvious instructions that were available.

It occurred to me as I reflected on these hilarious mistakes, that this might not be too different from how many people approach Christianity. One friend…sceptical of Christianity… said to me recently, “Why don’t I get it like you, Stuart?”

Well – maybe its like me hunting for the iconic Kirk vs the Gorn location without watching the episode first? We’re relying on our half remembered ideas about what Christianity is about…but why don’t we just go back and look at what it actually IS all about? The life of Jesus as documented in the New Testament. How about we actually read what, say, the Gospel of Mark actually records that Jesus said and did?

Further, so many people I’ve spoken to assume that the claims of Christianity are unreliable today. Their starting assumption is that the history of Christianity is very complicated…and so one needs to dig really deeply to work out what actually happened to cause the Christian church 2000 years ago. And frankly – that is too much work for most people. Well – perhaps we are missing the clear and obvious signpost that is staring us right in the face? We’ve dived off into the countryside…and come up with nothing useful as a result. And we’ve probably given up. Instead – why don’t we come back to the starting point and follow the clear signage that has been provided to lead us to what we’re looking for? Stop assuming its hard and complicated – and just follow the road and see where it takes us?

You know, historians have identified that the oldest and so the earliest description of Christian belief is recorded in 1 Corinthians 15. There’s an ancient creed written there in this letter that predates all of the layer gospel biographies of Jesus (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) by decades. The creed itself may date to just a few months after Jesus’ crucifixion…capturing what the first Christians stood for. This is the clear and obvious signage that I’m talking about. What does it say?

“that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas,[b] and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born”

1 Corinthians 15:3-8, NIV

It’s not complicated. Its laid out clearly. Just follow the signpost. Jesus was raised from the dead – this fact was widely accepted and assumed by both friends and enemies of Christianity during the 1st century. The first Jesus followers worked to help other people become friends and followers of this Jesus too. He was crucified on a cross, but he’s not a dead, ancient figure of history. He’s a vital and real person who is still alive today.

So why don’t we get this? Possibly because…we think we know better. Can I suggest to you…from experience…that we don’t know better. Christianity is worth “getting”. It really is. And it’s not hard to do. It just requires us to lay aside our wrong thinking…and follow the evidence provided.

As I drove away from Vasquez Rocks and pointed my car to home, I laughed out loud as I joined highway I-14. What did I find funny? You can actually plainly see the Star Trek shooting location as you drive up the highway! It’s SO obvious. It’s clearly laid out for all to see…it’s not mysterious..not hidden away in some obscure spot in the desert.

All you have to do to find what you need…is first not convince yourself that finding it is just too hard. And second, follow those signs that point to Jesus Christ.

RESPONDblog: Is it Rational to Believe in God when there is Evil?

Is it rational and coherent for the Christian to believe that God exists and he is good while staring into the face of so many distressing and disturbing things going on in our lives? The evils we face; the brutal illnesses that cut people down in their prime; the painful situations that leave us speechless with grief. Is it rational and responsible to believe in God while we are sobbing the question, “Why?”

Before his conversion to theism, Anthony Flew didn’t think so and he made a compellingly case against belief. Flew’s argument is summarised by Steve Grant as follows:

“We are told that God loves us, and the sceptic points to a child dying of inoperable throat cancer. The loving father is frantic with worry, but God does not intervene. Does God loves us? And the theist claims, ‘God’s love is not merely a human love.’…If allowing a child to die horribly when one has the power to prevent it does not conflict with the claim that God loves us, then it starts to become unclear as to whether or not the theist is really using the word ‘love’ in a way which is recognisable…’What would have to occur…to constitute for you a disproof of the love of God, or of the existence of God?’”[1]

I would agree that when investigating a hypothesis using the scientific method, that we need to agree on some way to test a theory, to establish a set of criteria such that if they were met they would ultimately falsify our theory. If we don’t allow any criteria to undermine our theory…then it’s not a good scientific theory and we are trying to conceal that.

But to apply this process to Christianity is to misunderstand the Christian’s faith in God; like so much we take for granted in life, relationships are not scientific theories; either is Christianity. Is belief in God a sound choice, even though the Christian struggles to understand the causes of evil and the answer to the question, “Why?” Doesn’t my confusion ultimately falsify my belief in God?

I think the answer is no. For a start, the test is not yet complete; all the results are not yet in.

But in a deeper way, I’ll explain why I think the answer’s no by referring to Basil Mitchell’s “Parable of the Resistance Fighter”.

The parable asks us to imagine we are fighting the Nazis in occupied France during the War. Os Guinness, a pupil of Basil Mitchell, describes the scene:

“Imagine I come to you in a bar and I say to you, ‘I hear you want to join the local resistance. Well, I’m the local resistance leader. So, let’s talk for a while; ask me anything you want to know. But if you decide to join the resistance tonight, then you must agree to obey me BLINDLY. We will never speak openly like this again because it’s just too dangerous to do so.”[2]

In a sense, the Christian has become convinced of two essential truths. First, that God is there and second that he is good.

For myself, it is the person of Jesus Christ who has led me to both of those conclusions.

  • If God is the Father of Jesus…
  • if Jesus promises God’s love to each one who believes…
  • and if God raises Jesus from the dead specifically to show that God has validated Jesus’ work…

…then I’m in. Sign me up. And having signed up – I then choose to take a crucial step. I choose to trust God in the dark; when I don’t understand what’s going on in life and why it is happening.

Think back to the resistance leader for a moment.

Let’s say that following our conversation with him in the bar, we agree to join the resistance. Well – we’ve agreed to trust the leader – even though we don’t understand everything that he will be doing during the fight. There will be times we get confused, when it looks like he is helping the Nazis…not opposing them. But we are part of the resistance…we’ve got to hold on and keep trusting both the leader and his motives blindly.

Eventually, the end of the war will come, everything that is hidden is made public. All the codes are released, the motives behind the resistance leader’s confusing actions are finally laid bare for all to see. Then…ah…of course…that’s what he was doing…it’s obvious! He was resisting all along. But while we are in the heart of enemy territory…it’s a different story[3].

In a sense – the Christian is in enemy territory right now. Awful things are happening in this world today, sceptics point Christians to unsettling passages in the Old Testament. Why would God ask Abraham to sacrifice his own son? No honest follower of Jesus will claim to have all the answers to the question “Why?” She is in the dark on much of it.

Yet – the Christian is still rational to maintain trust that God is there and he is good.

Os Guinness explains why.

“We can say God – I trust you. Even though I don’t understand what is happening right now. Yet one day, perhaps we will know why. This is a faith that simply knows what it NEEDS to know right now; that God is there and he is good. So, we can trust him even though right now…in enemy territory…we are in the dark.”[4]

Is it rational and coherent for the Christian to say that they believe God exists and is good in the face of so much distress? Yes. The rationality of one’s trust in God is founded on the person of Christ, and is not undermined by everything we do not understand. We’ve got to hold on, to watch this world – and the evil within it – to play out and conclude. To do what we can to resist it.

But the war is not over.

Yet.

[1] Steve Grant, Talking about God, Richmond Journal of Philosophy 9, Spring 2005, accessed 15th March 2017, http://www.richmond-philosophy.net/rjp/back_issues/rjp9_grant.pdf.

[2] Os Guinness, The Journey: A Thinking Person’s Quest for Meaning, The Veritas Forum, accessed 15th March 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dOXzgs7Tyys.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.