Q: Archbishop J, why do you believe that God exists (part 11)?
The Magi read from the book of creation, and it got them to Jerusalem. The scribes and leaders read from the Book of Revelation, and it got them to Bethlehem (Mt 2:1ff).
Both creation and revelation lead us to God. One, in the most generic sense and, the second, in a much more specific sense as it traces the relationship between God and the people over a very long history.
Much in the recorded relationship (the Bible) is vital for our understanding of who God is and why we can trust God with our all. I will point to a few reasons why I see scripture as a source of why I believe.
We have seen already the revelation of God to Moses of His name—the Tetragrammaton which is represented as YHWH. An ancient person could not make this up.
The name speaks to pure being who always was, is and will always be; therefore, outside of time, space, and matter. We only have these categories as significant, with the development of the Big Bang theory.
With everything we now know through science, the name is more incredible than we might have thought. So many prophecies in the Old Testament speak truth and have shaped the understanding of God.
The notion of God being mercy is present in every covenant. From the Fall to Mount Sinai, mercy is demonstrated, and on Sinai God is revealed as mercy (Ex 34:6).
In the prophets, the theme of God’s mercy is tightened with Hosea demonstrating this in his marriage relationship. All of this is the precursor. The New Testament pushes faith and revelation to a very different level in the new and everlasting covenant.
Many modern people see Jesus as a great moral and religious teacher. As with Islam, they stop right there. The big challenge is that Jesus makes claims of His divinity all through the New Testament. He claims He fulfils the messianic prophecy, Isaiah 61:1–2 (cf. Lk 4:21).
To the woman at the well He claims to be the Messiah (Jn 4:26). At His trial, He is asked if He is the Son of God, and He answers, “You say that I Am,” invoking the Tetragrammaton. Immediately the Jews declare that they do not need any more testimony. The charge turns to blasphemy—claiming to be God (Mt 26:65–66).
C S Lewis in Mere Christianity puts it best. If someone claims to be God, we only have three options: (1) He is a liar; (2) a madman; or (3) Lord. If Jesus was not God, He is not a moral teacher, and we can learn nothing from Him. The fact that His teaching has endured for over 2000 years and shaped civilisations and saints should tell us something.
What if Jesus never made these claims but His followers claimed that He did? What if His followers made a legend out of Jesus? This is highly improbable since a Jew, from a strict monotheistic perspective would never conceive to bring another God into being. This would be fundamentally against everything a Jew believed.
In his essay, “What are we to make of Jesus” (1950), Lewis says:
Now, as a literary historian, I am perfectly convinced that whatever else the Gospels are they are not legends. I have read a great deal of legends and I am quite clear that they are not the same sort of thing. They are not artistic enough to be legends. From an imaginative point of view, they are clumsy, they don’t work up to things properly. Most of the life of Jesus is totally unknown to us, as is the life of anyone else who lived at that time, and no people building up a legend would allow that to be so. Apart from bits of the Platonic dialogues, there is no conversation that I know of in ancient literature like the Fourth Gospel. There is nothing, even in modern literature, until about a 100 years ago when the realistic novel came into existence.
When persistent questions arise, I love to go back to the Apostles. For me they are the clearest foundation of faith. All through the ministry of Jesus they get it wrong. When Jesus is teaching them about hypocrisy, they completely misunderstand Him: “Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? …Do you still not understand?” (Mk 8:17ff).
When they cannot heal the boy who was possessed, Jesus says to them: “You unbelieving generation, how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?” (Mk 9:19).
Of course, Peter puts his feet in his mouth very often. At the Last Supper, he declares he was ready to die for Christ. We know the story. He denied Him to save his skin (Mt 26: 32–34). Only one of the Twelve arrived at the cross, despite Peter’s protestation and James and John saying they were willing to drink the cup (Mt 20:23).
No effort is made to paint the disciples as heroes while Jesus is alive. Indeed, they are the anti-heroes in so many ways. Even after Jesus’s death, they are huddled in the Upper Room with the doors locked “for fear of the Jews” (Jn 20:19). They are ordinary frail human beings. Then, Pentecost happens, and they are fundamentally transformed.
The transformation of the Apostles into bold fearless proclaimers of the message of Jesus, is the mystery that cannot be solved by either narrative or human explanation. They emerge on the other side of Pentecost as selfless, brave, perceptive, obedient, and wise. They die for the faith!
No-one would make up a crucified Messiah and then have these characters transformed before our eyes into heroes and saints. Human narrative does not work like that. There must be another reason. Well, the other reason is that it is as the Bible says.
The Bible has many great reasons for our faith and why we can trust God with our all.
Read the first four chapters of Acts of the Apostles and then consider the transformed character of the Apostles.