(Bible quotations are from the NIV unless otherwise stated)
18th October 2007
Paul was often imprisoned or beaten without trial for the crime of believing in Jesus of Nazareth. But he was also formally tried several times (many Christians are still imprisoned, beaten and executed for the same crime today - with or without a trial, why is this so seldom reported?). One of Paul's trials was before Festus, the Roman governor of Judea, who was joined by King Agrippa. As he was presenting his defence, Paul asked this question:
If you believe that there is a God - someone or something that created the universe - then how can you believe that God is incapable of doing other things? How can you believe that this God created all things, including human life, but that He can't restore life to a human? To put it another way, if God can't do miracles, then why do we call Him God?
Why does anyone who isn't a total, convinced atheist doubt that God can raise the dead?
One reason, I suppose, is that they've never seen it done. There is something within us that finds it hard to accept something - no matter how logical it is - if we haven't got experience of it, or if we haven't at least heard anyone trustworthy tell us that they've got overwhelming evidence that it's true.
But that's not quite right, is it? There are plenty of otherwise practical, common-sense people who read horoscopes, or who try feng-shui, or buy crystals, or play with ouija boards, or tarot, and who (sort of) believe there's something in it, despite a total lack of evidence.
Another explanation might be that we prefer not to think of a God who actually gets involved in human experience. If God actually does things on Earth today, that would mean that we're not in control of our own destinies. It would mean that God could do something we'd rather He didn't do. And it would mean that He might actually want to execute judgement on us. There's a strong motivation NOT to believe in a powerful God. But if He's God, then He must be powerful!
I've heard it said Christians believe in God because it suits them to do so. But it's worth considering the idea that non-Christians don't believe because suits them not to believe.
Certainly, the proposition that God raised Jesus Christ from the dead got a powerfully negative reaction from Paul. He travelled from country to country to imprison and murder anyone who believed it was true. Who was being irrational - the Christian or the non-Christian?
What about the liberal thinker who condemns every kind of bigotry except anti-Christian bigotry?
I'm sure Paul thought of himself as a good man. I'm sure many others across the world who persecute Christians think the same about themselves. Most people take "political correctness" very seriously nowadays, and condemn all kinds of bigoted language - except blasphemy against Jesus and hate speech against the church.
So some people who don't believe in Jesus have irrational reasons. And Paul was one of them. So what changed his mind? In his defence speech, he explained:
Paul now had evidence of his own. He'd met and spoken with Jesus Christ - several months after His death. So now he knew it was true; God had indeed raised Jesus from the dead!
And when you meet Jesus for yourself, you wonder how you ever disbelieved before.
And millions of people over the last 2000 years have claimed the same experience. Not exactly the same, of course. But they say they know Jesus personally. They say God speaks to them and helps them.
I want to ask you: how many witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus Christ do you need before you will at least acknowledge that such a thing is not incredible - that it might be true?
And if it might be true, and it can be life-changing (as Paul and millions of others have claimed for generations) then isn't it worth finding out if it is true?