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Cristianity's Reasons of Credibility for a Scientist
In the opening chapter of this book, I described my own pathway from atheism to belief. I now owe you a deeper explanation of my subsequent path. I offer this with some trepidation, since strong passions tend to be incited as soon as one begins to differentiate from a general sense of God's existence to a specific set of beliefs.
Most of the world's great faiths share many truths, and probably they would not have survived had that not been so. Yet there are also interesting and important differences, and each person needs to seek out his own particular path to the truth.
After my conversion to belief in God, I spent considerable time trying to discern His characteristics. I concluded that He must be a God who cares about persons, or the argument about the Moral Law would not make much sense. So deism wouldn't do for me. I also concluded that God must be holy and righteous, since the Moral Law calls me in that direction. But this still seemed awfully abstract. Just because God is good and loves His creatures does not, for instance, require that we have the ability to communicate with Him, or to have some sort of relationship with Him. I found an increasing sense of longing for that, however, and I began to realize that this is what prayer is all about. Prayer is not, as some seem to suggest, an opportunity to manipulate God into doing what you want Him to. Prayer is instead our way of seeking fellowship with God, learning about Him, and attempting to perceive His perspective on the many issues around us that cause us puzzlement, wonder, or distress.
Yet I found it difficult to build that bridge toward God. The more I learned about Him, the more His purity and holiness seemed unapproachable, and the darker my own thoughts and actions seemed to be in that bright light.
I began to be increasingly aware of my own inability to do the right thing, even for a day. I could generate lots of excuses, but when I was really honest with myself, pride, apathy, and anger were regularly winning my internal battles. I had never really thought of applying the word "sinner" to myself before, but now it was painfully obvious that this old-fashioned word, one from which I had previously recoiled because it seemed coarse and judgmental, fit quite accurately.
I sought to engineer a cure by spending more time in self-examination and prayer. But those efforts proved largely dry and unrewarding, failing to carry me across the widening gap between my awareness of my imperfect nature and God's perfection.
Into this deepening gloom came the person of Jesus Christ. During my boyhood years sitting in the choir loft of a Christian church, I really had no idea who Christ was. I thought of Him as a myth, a fairy tale, a superhero in a "just so" bedtime story. But as I read the actual account of His life for the first time in the four gospels, the eyewitness nature of the narratives and the enormity of Christ's claims and their consequences gradually began to sink in. Here was a man who not only claimed to know God, He claimed to be God. No other figure I could find in any other faith made such an outrageous claim. He also claimed to be able to forgive sins, which seemed both exciting and utterly shocking. He was humble and loving, He spoke remarkable words of wisdom, and yet He was put to death on the cross by those who feared Him. He was a man, so He knew the human condition that I was finding so burdensome, and yet He promised to relieve that burden: "Come unto me all ye that are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28).
The other scandalous thing that the New Testament eyewitnesses said about Him, and that Christians seemed to take as a central tenet of their faith, is that this good man rose from the dead. For a scientific mind, this was difficult stuff. But on the other hand, if Christ really was the Son of God, as He explicitly claimed, then surely of all those who had ever walked the earth, He could suspend the laws of nature if He needed to do so to achieve a more important purpose.
But His resurrection had to be more than a demonstration of magical powers. What was the real point of it? Christians have puzzled over this question for two millennia. After much searching, I could find no single answer—instead, there were several interlocking answers, all pointing to the idea of a bridge between our sinful selves and a holy God. Some commentators focus on the idea of substitution—Christ dying in the place of all of us who deserve God's judgment for our wrongdoings. Others call it redemption—Christ paid the ultimate price to free us from the bondage of sin, so that we could find God and rest in the confidence that He no longer judges us by our actions, but sees us as having been washed clean. Christians call this salvation by grace. But for me, the crucifixion and resurrection also provided something else. My desire to draw close to God was blocked by my own pride and sinfulness, which in turn was an inevitable consequence of my own selfish desire to be in control. Faithfulness to God required a kind of death of self-will, in order to be reborn as a new creation.
How could I achieve such a thing? As had happened so many times with previous dilemmas, the words of C. S. Lewis captured the answer precisely:
But supposing God became a man—suppose our human nature which can suffer and die was amalgamated with God's nature in one person—then that person could help us. He could surrender His will, and suffer and die, because He was man; and He could do it perfectly because He was God. You and I can go through this process only if God does it in us; but God can do it only if He becomes man. Our attempts at this dying will succeed only if we men share in God's dying, just as our thinking can succeed only because it is a drop out of the ocean of His intelligence: but we cannot share God's dying unless God dies; and He cannot die except by being a man. That is the sense in which He pays our debt, and suffers for us what He Himself need not suffer at all.'
Before I became a believer in God, this kind of logic seemed like utter nonsense. Now the crucifixion and resurrection emerged as the compelling solution to the gap that yawned between God and myself, a gap that could now be bridged by the person of Jesus Christ.
So I became convinced that God's arrival on earth in the person of Jesus Christ could serve a divine purpose. But did this mesh with history? The scientist in me refused to go any further along this path toward Christian belief, no matter how appealing, if the biblical writings about Christ turned out to be a myth or, worse yet, a hoax. But the more I read of biblical and non- biblical accounts of events in first-century Palestine, the more amazed I was at the historical evidence for the existence of Jesus Christ. First of all, the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were put down just a few decades after Christ's death. Their style and content suggests strongly that they are intended to be the record of eyewitnesses (Matthew and John were among the twelve apostles). Concerns about errors creeping in by successive copying or bad translation have been mostly laid to rest by discovery of very early manuscripts. Thus, the evidence for authenticity of the four gospels turns out to be quite strong. Furthermore, non-Christian historians of the first century such as Josephus bear witness to a Jewish prophet who was crucified by Pontius Pilate around 33 A.D. Many more examples of evidence for the historical nature of Christ's existence have been collected in many excellent books, to which the interested reader is referred. In fact, one scholar has written, "The historicity of Christ is as axiomatic for an unbiased historian as the historicity of Julius Caesar."
F. Collins, The Language of God. A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (London: Simon & Schuster, 2007), pp. 219-224.