Matters Of Fact; Matters Of Faith

Regular readers know for the past couple of months I have fallen headlong into the literature on the historical Jesus. Just why the interest dawned so late in my life is a mystery to me. It is more than a decision to revisit, in a public sort of way, the preoccupations of a much younger man. There is more to it than that. Whatever is true about Jesus, it is indisputable that he is one of the most influential men to ever have lived. The search for the truth about him resembles the truth for transcendence in a world beset by nagging particulars.

The stack of books beside my bed grows deeper, and I add every couple of days a book to one of the shelves in my office that I have dedicated to this topic. I sit sometimes late in the day and stare at the spines, wishing, somehow that they could transport me back, perhaps to a walk along the road to Emmaus, or to the Temple in Jerusalem decades before it was destroyed by the Romans. What is this hunger?

I generally try to stay away from confessional works, or works carrying too heavy a theological freight. I want facts, somehow. Even as I know that there shall be precious little of what a trial lawyer calls facts. The sources are replete with hearsay. There is little, if anything, that is reliable when judged by the unsparing requirements of the law of evidence. It is as if the historical Jesus is a piece of meat thrown onto the theologians' scales; each writer places his thumb just beneath the flesh measured to give it the weight he desires. Beware the salesman hawking his faith.

So I was suprised to be so taken by a small volume by N. T. Wright, Who Was Jesus? Wright has a confessional purpose. He is Bishop of Durham, England, the book's rear cover tells me. And a New Testament scholar of repute. But he is also a believer in things unseen, and he writes with the confidence of a man challenging settled orthodoxies with the conviction that all orthodoxy is suspect. Even the most mudane assessment of fact requires a trust in the unseen.

Wright asks in this brief book that one take seriously the possibility of virgin birth. This is so much more than I bargained for. He asks the reader to "hold open the possibility that this account of [Jesus'] conception might just be true." Rather than recoil, I reassess what it is that I know, and how confident I am of the verities to which I am tethered.

Ask me the date of my birth and without a moment's hesitation I recite it, confident in an event of which I can have no knowledge, and must rely, as do we all, on collective memories and documents. I suspect no evil genius torn from Descartes' imagination has deceived me about this date; I am a small, small fry in the world's pan. I take the date of my birth as a simple fact on trust even though I have no personal knowledge of its truth. I am happily caught in this simple web of belief, sharing it with others who accept the same common markers as true.

But what if it is not so reliable after all? Should I question all even to the point of denying the obvious utility of all I take for granted? Obviously not. We are required to navigate daily in a world not our choosing. We pick the things to ponder and cast doubts into wells from which we are afraid to drink. We trust what we can.

I do not believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, but I cannot deny that if there is a God capable of creating the world out of nothing, then there is the possibility that he can spawn humans at will. But I cannot accept this as a fact. I cannot even accept it as a satisfying belief. To use William James' concept, there is no cash value in such a faith.

Too pragmatic, you say? Perhaps. But I remain transfixed by a Jewish peasant crucified after preaching that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. What did he see that draws me still? And, more to the point, can I see it, too? Perhaps not. But the quest remains, and so, in a funny unexpected way, does hope.

Comments: (6)

  • If there is a god, if god exists, surely he can ma...
    If there is a god, if god exists, surely he can make himself known to you.
    Posted on March 5, 2009 at 9:44 am by Anonymous
  • The sun fuses approximately 600,000,000 tons of hy...
    The sun fuses approximately 600,000,000 tons of hydrogen into helium each second, converting 4 million tons of mass into heat and light energy every second. The sun has consumed about 1/2 of its mass during the past 5 billion years.
    Posted on March 8, 2009 at 4:50 am by Anonymous
  • Sorry, GOD can only make himself known to youif yo...
    Sorry, GOD can only make himself known to youif you 'ask' him with an open, honest, and humble heart void of secular beliefs. You are a slave to secular beliefs. Why? Because HIS purity would destroy you. We are all sinners but sinners with barriers to unseen truths would perish to absolute truth. This is why most of us cannot come face to face with GOD but only through the blood sacrifice of Jesus. GOD became man through HIS birth as Jesus, the son of GOD and died for us so we could be forgiven our sins. Jesus walked amongst us as the son of man to show us how GOD wants us to live. The Bible is the Book of rules we are expected to live by to live in HIS presence for eternity.Yes, it would have been 'easier' as a child to accept the Truth because we have innocence and thrive on goodness as children. Your very being thirsts for this Truth because you, as we all are, GOD's children. Think of your own children, how much you love and sacrifice for them regardless of their discretions. Think of the love your parents have/had for you. Your parents and we as parents must let our children make their own choices which is the path of growth. Not all of us attain the plateu of human growth: but many of us reach old age for a period of rest and reflection where losses are a process of living.GOD's love is unconditional not confined by human frailties. HE is your supernatural Father who will never stop loving you by presenting as many opportunities for growth.Your death is the final opportunity to accept the Truth and live in HIS presence for eternity. Those that require this final stage to accept the Truth that is the substenance of their being will suffer emotional and even physical torment as GOD 'battles' to claim your soul for eternity with HIM. Belivers have turned over their will to GOD's will. As a 'believer' and one who works with 'end of life' clients, those who wait for this final opportunity are the most difficult cases as this 'battle' is shared for purposes of the believer's assistance. The physical and emotional torment is relieved when the battle is won and grieved when it is lost. The loss of the soul leaves a hole that cannot be filled until the death of the believer when all believers become whole by HIS presence/absoulte Love.This concept will not be known to you until you again become a 'child', a child of GOD. You won't find your answers through your own knowledge and ability; it is a 'gift' from GOD available to each of us who asks for it with an open, honest, loving heart and turning over our will for HIS. Not an easy task for adults.Continue your quest for knowledge as you chose this path to know the Truth about Jesus; perhaps this is what your mind requires to open your heart and release your spirit....a very long and tedious task. Hopefully, youwill continue to quelch your spirit's desire and not return to your callous days of past practices. The death bed 'battle' is tortuous for those of us who assist in this process knowing it is considerably worse for the unrepenting sinner until the battle is won. Thankfully, the grief of a lost soul is our only suffering as the soul moves on to indescribable torment for eternity. BTW, each of us has a different purpose with different gifts and talents to do GOD's willfor success in this life and the next. GOD may reward us with affluence if it is necessaryfor HIS will as material comforts do not appease the soul, only HIS absolute love can do that. If it is the pursuit of wealth, power and prestige that holds your soul in bondage from HIM, HE may take this away as an opportunity for your growth. I expect your pursuit for answers will bring you the 'awareness' to choose HIS will over your own; you may not be afforded the knowledge of what 'price' you will pay but it will be that which bars your soul from HIM. Should you choose HIM, and I hope you do, HE will make your path for you and you must TRUST this path even when it defies 'reason'.
    Posted on March 9, 2009 at 6:20 am by Anonymous
  • See Josh McDowell's, "Evidence That Demands A Verd...
    See Josh McDowell's, "Evidence That Demands A Verdict."Good golly! The anguished detail the ancients took to write and preserve their books and letters.Isn't it fascinating how we as human beings can be put off by the thought that God could cause a woman to give birth while yet a virgin, as we jetison our merry way (at an ever increasing velocity-confounding astrophysicists) through the universe on a speck of dust, without pause? That speck increases or decreases in size depending on how close to the speed of light we travel we making our measurements. Literally. Thanks to Albert and E=MC2. So, also, does the alloted time for the calculations. If we get very, very close to 186,200 miles per second, practically all the time in the universe is available. The quantum boys weren't finished. A requisite to continue in physics at one prominent university involves predicting, accurately, the amount of time it would take for a person leaning against a solid wall, to pass through it. It is just a matter of time, according to Planck and Heisenberg.If the accelerator at Cern reveals the Bose- Einstein condensate and we determine the exact moment when the universe began-which will happen, hopefully-we still won't know how it emerged from total nothingness, physically. Jesus actually did live or he did not. That is factual. (I think.) Jesus was a nut-job or he was god, for no one could say what he said without being one or the other. That's a fact. (I think.) No one could do what he did unless he was god-man. If others exagerrated his deeds for self-promotion, they paid a heavy price. Most were martyred, but could have been spared by simply renouncing their ill-conceived fairy tales.Of course, we could always ask him if he is real.
    Posted on March 11, 2009 at 10:03 am by Anonymous
  • Men of mega power cast out Jesus and God, from try...
    Men of mega power cast out Jesus and God, from tryants like: Hilter to Stalin, to Henry the VIII, and then they deemed themselves de facto Gods.
    Have you ever wonder why on the dollar bill it has in "God We trust" ?
    Well, it has been well proven we have seen often so little trust in men, filled with all that Bernie Madoff offered up.
    Then, we read at age 59, the head of the big Investment bank just up and died.(so quickly, so unexpectly).
    We have so little time, while we exasperate, and our time here in the mix of it all.
    We confront what is myth, from what is truth, what is good, from what is bad.
    Our lenses are not high powered in the fuller sum of things, events, and some mysteries on the unknown. We know not all, we know what in the all of things ?
    We little know what we don't know.
    We are merely renting time for a short while---here..!
    Posted on October 17, 2009 at 6:03 pm by Anonymous
  • Yes you can see it. It is written on your heart a...
    Yes you can see it. It is written on your heart and the decipher key is faith. You are blessed in that God is calling you as not all are called, many march on like so many cattle indifferent to the Almighty because he has not called/programmed them to seek Him. Though only He enables you to respond to the call in faith, you must still accept the invitation and you cannot reason yourself to it. That said, would love to know any other historical records you found useful ... having faith, I now seek the information to answer the claims regarding my Jesus. Though reason can't get you all the way to faith, sometimes it pulls the first thread. God bless.
    Posted on December 8, 2009 at 12:25 pm by JDC

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