The Resurrection and the Secular Mind
- Wednesday, April 06, 2011
And Cullen Murphy lists the possibilities: 1. He was God and man—the Word made flesh. 2. He partook of the divinity in some lesser sense. 3. "Was he simply another of those charismatic leaders who appear from time to time, destroy some complacency, do some good and bequeath to the human race the example of an exemplary life?" (p.38)
With that introduction, Cullen Murphy begins his survey of what can be known of Jesus in the light of modern historical research. He says of himself: "It would be fair to describe me as a person who wants to believe." (p.38)
He starts with the Gospels and says they have limited value as historical documents and were almost certainly not written by the men whose names are attached to them. There is truth in them, he says, but you have to rely on modern scholarship to dip it out.
Of Jesus' birth, he simply says, "No one really knows when he was born." (p.51) He says we can't rely on the record of Matthew 2 and Luke 2 because they were inserted later to teach certain truths about Jesus. He was probably the son of a carpenter named Joseph." (p.51)
Finally, the Resurrection. He notes first that there were no eyewitnesses. Then he says there is nothing to justify the common idea of the stone rolled away and Jesus, clad in a winding sheet, bursting forth in glory from his grave. He even suggests the early church simply picked out an empty tomb and showed it to visitors as a devotional aid. And that is why the empty-tomb tradition was later incorporated into the Gospel accounts.
What about the appearances of Jesus? They can't be taken at face value. They were more like visions or apparitions. Not, he says, actual sightings.
Only one thing bothers him. All the disciples were profoundly convinced that Jesus who died had come back from the dead. And all save one went to a violent death for that belief. How do you account for that?
He simply has no credible answer. Something happened. Something converted those grieving, guilt-ridden disciples into flaming missionaries ready to die for their faith. What happened between Friday night and Sunday morning?
And when you get right down to it, these are Cullen Murphy's exact words: "Precisely what happened, of course, one can't describe." (p.56)
Haven't we heard that before? "A dead man named Jesus who Paul claimed was alive. I was at a loss how to investigate such matters."
It's been 2,000 years but Festus is still with us. Secular man has an answer for everything, but he is still baffled by the empty tomb.
But there are exceptions. If you want a truly hard-bitten, secular man, then go back about 19 years and visit 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. Ask for the office of the Special Counsel to the President. The name on the desk reads Charles W. Colson.
They called him the "Hatchet Man" because he specialized in doing the dirty work of politics. Need to pull a dirty trick? Call Chuck Colson. Need to leak a damaging story? Call Chuck Colson. Need to find out what the Democrats are up to? Call Chuck Colson. Need someone to put the brakes on a Justice Department investigation? Call Chuck Colson.
By his own admission, he was a tough guy, a man who once boasted he would run over his grandmother if it would help re-elect Richard Nixon. Religion to him was a church. And Jesus Christ? He didn't figure in.
But then 1972 came and with it came Watergate and the landslide victory and a deep inner emptiness that wouldn't go away, a longing for something that even the White House couldn't provide.
And that's why he left the White House and the limousines and the limelight. He was looking for something more. At length he visited a client and friend, Tom Phillips. He was wealthy, successful, with a happy family, a huge house and a Mercedes in the driveway. Someone warned Chuck Colson that Tom Phillips had found religion.
Well, not exactly. Tom Phillips had met Jesus Christ. "This was surprising news. Tom Phillips had always been such an aggressive businessman. It was hard for me to see him teaching Sunday School. Once he had told me he was Congregational in the same way I labeled myself Episcopalian. Nothing important—just another membership."
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