Jesus

An Unsafe Christmas

By Jojo Ruba

I still remember their chants as they protested, "It's time for you to go!"

In 2009, I was invited to speak at McGill University in Montreal. The room was booked by the pro-life student club and the booking was approved by the university. Around 50 people were in the room, attracted by the controversy around my talk. I barely got two sentences out when about 20 students and supporters began to disrupt the presentation. They sang songs, yelled slogans and kept me from finishing my presentation. In their minds, my pro-life view that abortion takes a child's life and that abortion is akin to other past genocides, was so offensive that I had to be stopped from speaking. You can still watch the video of the event here.

If you've been following what's been happening on university campuses across North America, you'll know that it's gotten even worse. It's no longer just pro-life presentations that are being censored. Legitimate discussions on rape culture, politics, and even Halloween costumes are being shouted down and censored because these debates may "harm" students. Many campuses have created "safe spaces" that purport to provide a space where no potentially offensive ideas are ever spoken or heard. Many include children's toys like Lego or Play-Doh to help students alleviate stress. All of them define a "safe space" as a place where no "harm," either physical or emotional, is allowed. Harm is so broadly defined that it can mean simply disagreeing with someone's beliefs.[1] Today, this definition of safety is permeating into other parts of society.

At a gay conference I recently attended, several prominent businesses spoke about how they screen out applicants to their companies who may not agree with their views on homosexuality. Though it is illegal to do this, panelists talked about other ways they screen out people in their application process. This was to ensure they create a "safe" and "affirming" space where dissent isn't welcome. I hear stories like this all the time now.

Worse, this kind of thinking isn't confined to the secular community any longer. Even in Christian schools and churches that we speak at, "safety" has become a paramount value. Of course, wanting children to be physically safe, or preventing damaging and manipulative teaching from being promoted, is a good idea. But this version of safety means discouraging any speech offensive to students or members of the congregation. And "offensive" simply means ideas that may threaten the feelings of safety of some Christians.

I thought about this trend as I heard the first Christmas songs of the season playing at the mall last week. As I listened, I realized that all of those lyrics celebrating Jesus' birth often mask an important truth, namely, that the first Christmas wasn't safe.

Jesus wasn't sent as an armed warrior with a host of angels surrounding Him. Instead, He first grew as an insignificant human embryo, inside the womb of an unmarried young woman. She was likely still in her teens and could easily have been abandoned or worse by the man she was engaged to. Jesus could have been born an orphan. Even His birthplace wasn't a safe place. He was born into a race that was long ago conquered by its enemies and was now under their rule. Death was a common form of punishment in their society, a fate many other children in His town soon faced simply for being born in the wrong place. One has to wonder if Mary, as she cradled her Son, ever thought how she and Joseph could protect the child. Clearly the manger wasn't a safe space.

Rather than looking for a place to hide from any potential hurt, Jesus' birth reminds us that God's main concern wasn't our safety. The Christian message was never a call to remove any offending ideas or hurtful actions. Rather, His life, death, and resurrection show us that the gospel is not safe, but it is good. And He wants us to love people enough to say and do things that are risky and often painful, because that's what He did for us at Christmas.

[1] "A place where everyone can feel comfortable about expressing their identity without fear of discrimination or attack." MacMillan Dictonary, http://www.macmillandictionary.com/dictionary/american/safe-space, accessed December 1, 2016.

The Meaning of Christ in Other Religions (Part 3)

Nativity-of-Christ-St-Patricks-Cathedral.jpg

By Dr. Ron Galloway

In Part Two, I spoke of a certain graduate student who imagined that by showing me parallels between Christian symbols, beliefs, and objects and those of other religions, she refuted the originality of the Christian faith. But I have argued that all the religious parallel symbols she presented simply pre-figure the reality of Christ; they simply foreshadow the concrete reality. In all of her examples, the student was really presenting sacred objects or mythical stories that try to unite the profane with the sacred. All of them ultimately fail because they are all partial incarnations. Yes, they can all be seen by their very attempt, to point to the ultimate sacred one, the Christ, to whom all fragmented or partial understandings of the sacred point. Therefore they can be seen only as shadows, not the reality. There are a great many other parallel symbols and objects that the graduate student did not have on her list. Common among religions and mythical stories are sacred mountains, cosmic trees, annual renewals of the universe, sacred skies, seas, skies, earth, rivers , even sacred vegetation of every imaginable and unimaginable variety. The extent of such symbols is well documented in Mircea Eliade's Patterns In Comparative Religions, Cosmos and History, and his very engaging work titled Images and Symbols.[1] But as we saw in Part 2, all such symbols were seen by Eliade, and can be seen by us, as abortive attempts at incarnation. Only the incarnation of Christ fulfils these abortive attempts at uniting the profane with the sacred.[2]

Only the Jesus of Scripture was ever described as fully man and fully God, yet born as we are born. He is the God who, before His birth as a man, brought the whole of the universe into being. He is the true source of earth and sky. His death, resurrection and transfiguration are the true sources of the transfiguration of the whole of the cosmos. Christ can be viewed as the true cosmic tree, and the true tree of life that brings new heaven, earth, and humanity. Indeed the cross of Christ was a tree, symbolizing the dying and resurrected Christ who by His death and resurrection ushers in the opportunity for all to be reborn by the indwelling of Christ, who is both truth and life. The tree of life in the historical garden of Eden can be seen to foreshadow Christ Himself. In scripture He is the reality that is pointed to by the tree in the Book of Revelation whose leaves heal the nations. He is the true source of the knowledge of good and evil. As Saint Paul says: "All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in him."[3]

In Scripture, He is the true living water, and true source of rebirth and regeneration. He is the true meaning of Eden in the transfigured garden of Eden that we find in the Book of Revelation.[4] Revelation chapter 21 speaks of a fully perfected, transfigured heaven and earth, yet it points to that which is beyond itself, and which fulfilled the transfiguration's own perfection, Jesus the risen Christ who overcame the power of death. All the related symbolisms of human religion will one day find their "yes." Even the horror of religions that practice human sacrifice, point out from their darkness to the true and freely given human sacrifice of Jesus Christ Himself, He who was fully God and fully man.

Once we understand these symbols, whether they be pagan or Judeo-Christian, the nations of the earth have a bridge to draw them close to the one who came down into history for them, and is coming again. For surely, in the myths and symbols in sacred objects across the world, there is some part of humanity in the image of God crying out for God, however dim their understanding, to come down and save them. In longing for a centre of the earth—where God meets with humanity—are not their spirits crying out for their creator? In longing for a new world, and their own rebirth, are they not crying out for something their heart and conscience long for? With all their talk of sacred mountains, do they not truly desire Mount Zion, the Kingdom of God on earth? With the vast range of liberator and redeemer myths, and the myths of a virgin birth, do not all these point to what people long to have in reality? Do not the vast number of liberator or redeemer myths that talk of a King who will one day be born and will overcome the dark King, all refer to a true King who will one day be born in real history? This King is Christ. Do not all the fears, hopes, and yearnings that are expressed in myth and legend speak of a promise to come?

Are they not all deeply fulfilled where the Scriptures say that the "Yes" has come in the good news of Jesus Christ? [5] Does it not say in Scripture that all the promises of God to humanity have their yes in Christ?[6] Do not the Scriptures say that Christ will unite all things into Himself?[7] Do not those wondrous words in the Christmas song, "O Little Town of Bethlehem," well express the deep longing in the human heart through legend song and ritual, to draw close to God?

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie.

Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.

Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light.

The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

In the birth of Christ, all that man has longed for in his lost state, and separation from God, comes into history with a finality of promise. For then God, our Lord Jesus, completely took the part of man by fully becoming one. He thus brought all the blessings of eternity into time, and into the human heart. Now all that came before can be seen as shadow, and all the perverted ways of expressing the longing for rebirth of heaven and earth, of renewing the earth, and of renewing man can be seen in the life, death and resurrection of Christ. In Him we see the reality in its uncorrupted, ultimate form. This does not suggest that either Father, Son, or Holy Spirit were responsible for the perverted ways of people whose understanding of sacrifice often came because of their contact with the spirit world through mediums, spells, or incantations, a form of contact strongly forbidden by the God of Israel.[8] They would do this and still do this in order to draw upon the powers of heaven, and receive its blessings. Such individuals only succeeded in contacting Satan and the spirit world. These evil practices enslaved them to a perverted lifestyle—child sacrifice, self-mutilation, ritual torment and slaughter. And yet, we continually see when Christ is preached, on mission field after mission field, that the very message of Christ, and the Bible itself, fulfil symbol after symbol couched in pagan myth, ritual and story. All their sacred mountains, temples, and objects, find their true fulfilment in the person of Christ. For here, the sacred one—the truly sacred one—comes and overcomes the power of darkness forever.

The battle that is even now bringing death to an end was won at the cross of Christ. Now in a very short time, Christ will come to claim His bride[9]. The end of sorrow and pain is very near, and all who know the Lord will live happily ever after. That is the essence of what J. R. R. Tolkien is getting at in his famous essay on myth and fairy story.[10] To Tolkien, what man invents in fantasy and myth is called secondary reality; but, as Tolkien explains, secondary reality longs to bring itself into reality. Only in Christ is that longing fulfilled. It happens because of His authentic coming down to man in the city of Bethlehem, authentic death and resurrection, authentic indwelling in the human heart, and His real and authentic return to come in a time that may not be too far away. At that time fantasies of secondary reality will all be understood as shadow, shadows that point to Christ Himself. It is He who will unite all heaven and earth in Himself. As Tolkien said of the story of Christ, it is the fairy tale that came true,[11] and those who belong to that Prince of Peace will live happily ever after on the day of His return.

This is the wonder of the Christian faith. It is such a precious reality that even the hopes and fears, and fantasies and myths of man, announce unawares—at some deeper level of the human self—the incarnation, resurrection and transfiguration of Christ and eventually of all things.

[1] Mircea Eliade, Patterns in Comparative Religion, tr. R. Sheed (London: Sheed and Ward, 1958); Cosmos and History: The Myth of the Eternal Return, tr. W. R. Trask (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1954); and Images and Symbols: Studies in Religious Symbolism, tr. P. Mairet (London: Harvill, 1961).

[2] See John 1, including "the Word Became a human being and lived among us" (1:14).

[3] Colossians 2:3.

[4] Revelation 22:1-2.

[5] 2 Corinthians 1:16-19.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Colossians 1:8-12.

[8] Deuteronomy 18; Revelation 21:7.

[9] Revelation 21:1-2.

[10] J. R. R. Tolkien, Tree and Leaf (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1964), 65.

[11] Ibid., 64-66.

The Meaning of Christ in Other Religions (Part 2)

By Dr. Ron Galloway

While I was in process of doing a Master's degree in Religious Studies at the University of Calgary, I was amazed at how very little my fellow graduate students knew about the Bible. They were quite familiar with other religions, and for the most part, they emulated the typical, unreflective student who thinks that all religions basically teach the same truths, and that none of them are really unique.

I remember the day one of these graduate students approached me in a very nice, but slightly triumphant manner. She knew of my Christian faith. To refute it, she placed in front of me a list of religious symbols and myths—common in the Greek and mystery religions. There it was, a long list showing me that other religions, anywhere from three to four hundred years before or after the birth of Christ, also believed in sacrifices, holy temples, baptism, a communion feast, a dying and rising saviour, a messiah to come, a virgin birth, the regeneration of heaven and earth, and the birth of a special king. It seemed to me that, in her mind, this finished the matter. As far as she was concerned, she had now fully proven that the Christian faith was, in no sense, unique.[1] Actually, when my fellow graduate student showed me these similarities, I was encouraged. For I saw in them—and still do—foretastes and foreshadowings of the Christ who has already come into history and was born to Mary, after being conceived by the Holy Spirit. This particular graduate student failed to understand that the virgin birth reveals the decisive difference between the Christian faith and the polytheistic religions that surrounded it. Unlike the myths of rising Gods and other such symbols and mythical events—the living God came into real history.

Answering the Student with Pre-figurations

Had time and circumstances permitted, my response to my fellow graduate student would go something like this. All the varied symbols, events and varied myths she showed to me can easily be seen as stories, beliefs and intrinsic human longings that prefigure the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In what follows, we shall further explore and unwrap what is meant by the term prefigure.

I have always appreciated C. S. Lewis's understanding of myth. It is his suggestion that what we call myths are often legends based on real events or persons. Irving Hexham and Karle Poewe argue that mythical stories contain events that integrate the life and conduct of individuals and their world.[2] One great myth, they argue, is sufficiently inclusive to integrate a great many other myths. Yet, they point out that myths could have no such effect if they were not believed to be true or at least based on truth.[3] After all, who would seriously model their lives after a story known to be false?[4]

But if myths, religious and otherwise, have the power to integrate all life, then they must involve ideas and themes that are absolutely at the core of the human condition, and the human longing for healing and restoration. This requires, then, that myths continually recur in cultures around the world because of their intrinsic power to integrate humanity.

Mircea Eliade, the famous historian of religions, introduces us to the integrative power of what he calls partial incarnations. By this he meant certain temporal objects that can only prefigure the incarnation of Christ. Pre-figurations are partial incarnations which seek a total union between the divine and the temporal, that is, the sacred and profane, but can never complete that union. Rather, they act as foreshadowing in their attempts to fulfill the innate human longing to completely unite, in utter fullness and harmony, the sacred and profane.

Yggdrasil
Yggdrasil

Eliade observed that archaic religions (meaning religions ancient and modern, untouched by science), as well as modern and ancient religions in general, were characterized by a separation between the sacred and the profane. Yet, objects considered to be divine or sacred could affect the profane. By the profane, Eliade meant the normal, temporal form and environment of human life and existence.[5] He observed that in the cultural perceptions of various tribal, rural and urban-based religions, a stone or even a vegetable can suddenly become a sacred object.[6] One very common profane object that frequently becomes a sacred object is a tree. Normal trees become sacred cosmic trees. Many such trees become sacred, because of their connection to some kind of myth about creation.[7] For this reason, cosmic trees are often able, in the mind of those who think they are sacred, to annually renew the universe.[8] The practical concern of such believers is whether or not these trees will have the power to bring a rich harvest, a good hunting season, or the end of a famine. In this way, the tree becomes an object that has the potential to put them in touch with a power existing in sacred, non-historical time.[9] The normal cosmic tree myth usually tells of the death and rebirth of heaven. To the believers in cosmic trees, their annual ritual imitation of the mythic story brings about the actual death and rebirth of the universe and humanity itself.[10] As such, Eliade views Cosmic Tree myths as one of many partial incarnations, that is, the attempt to unite the sacred and the profane, or the mortal and the divine.[11]

Eliade viewed all objects in history that seek to unite the divine and the human as pre-figurations—seeking in vain to fulfill the mystery of the incarnation of Jesus Christ.[12] On the other hand, the coming together of God and man in Jesus Christ was what he called the supreme incarnation.[13] It was also Eliade who maintained that the Christian story of incarnation totally fulfills all other human attempts to fully integrate the divine and the human. He calls every other attempt to do this, abortive.[14] He called them abortive because none were able to bring to birth the reality of the union between the human and the divine. We have already seen how the Eastern doctrine of Karma prevented the Hindu avatars from being fully God and fully man. For this reason, they could not configure a total unity of the divine and the human, in which both the human and the divine are preserved intact.

Therefore, we, like Eliade, can see the logic of viewing all attempts of culture and religion to unite with the sacred as foreshadowing what is finally fulfilled in Christ.

We can then view Jesus Christ Himself as the true and concrete rescuer of humanity and the universe. In cosmic tree myths, for example, we then see a foreshadowing of Jesus as the redeemer of humanity and creation through His incarnation, death, and resurrection. By faith, the Christian believer—when he gives his life to Christ—imitates Christ in His death and in His resurrection, thus becoming a new creation.[15] It is this child of the Virgin Mary that fulfills the depths of myth and symbol. For Jesus Christ in His birth, fulfills the longing of the profane to fully unite with the sacred. To satisfy the profane, He is fully man. To satisfy the sacred, He is fully God as well.

Thus far we have surveyed Eliade's description of cosmic trees and abortive attempts to imitate the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Eliade also maintained that whenever objects in profane time are used by the world's religions to represent things in sacred time, the objects are only sacred because of what they point to or represent.[16] It is the power believed to inhabit the object that counts.[17] That power is like a part of the sacred trying to enter historical time, and the believer wants so badly for it to do so, so that it may assist him in his life.

Christ then can be viewed as the true fulfillment of all the sacred symbols and places of the world's religions. They are the shadow, but He is the reality. In recognizing the need for rebirth, the Hindu sees deeply into reality. Here is a bridge of communication that can lead many Hindus down a road toward a true rebirth in Christ. The religions that see the need for a sacrifice to bring a new world are right in this understanding, but now there has been one true sacrifice that occurred in history that makes null and void all the other religious sacrifices—present and past. For only the sacrifice of Christ on the cross truly renews humanity, heaven and earth. Only His sacrifice on the cross truly began the death of evil and death itself.

Therefore, all of the symbols that the graduate student presented to me by way of the book, were, as I said, causes for rejoicing, not despair. They can be viewed as attempts to unite the human and the divine, as pre-figurations of the incarnation. Indeed, when thus understood, all such similarities show that the Christian faith is indeed unique among all the religion of the world. They are a shadow and foretaste, but Christ is the concrete reality to whom these shadows and prefigurations point.[18]

[1] Of course many of these alleged similarities are fallacious, for example the Virgin Birth of Horus. For an interesting refutation of the Horus myth and similar fabrications see the Lutheran Satire Horus Ruins Christmas.

[2] Irving Hexham and Karla Poewe, New Religions as Global Culture (Boulder, Colorado: Westview, 1997), 79-80.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Mircea Eliade, Patterns In Comparative Religion (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1958), 1-37, 82.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid., 3, 8, 9, 106, 111, 190, 266, 267, 269, 271, 273–274, 387, 431, 448.

[9] Ibid., 3.

[10] Ibid., 3, 8, 9, 106, 111, 190, 266, 267, 269, 271, 273–274, 387, 431, 448.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid., 26, 29, 30.

[13] Ibid., 26, 29 158.

[14] Ibid., 26, 29.

[15] Ibid., 3, 8, 9, 106, 111, 190, 266, 267, 269, 273-274, 387, 431, 448.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid., 26, 29 30.

[18] For further insight into Eliade and Pre-Figuration, see also his Kosmos and History, trans. Willard R. Trask (New York: New American Library, 1958).

The Meaning Of Christ In Other Religions: Myth, Symbol, Pre-Figurations and Promise (Part 1)

By Dr. Ron Galloway

This is the first of a three-part series. The first part revolves around a discussion with a Hindu convert to Christ. The second part will circle around an encounter with a post-graduate student in religious studies, and the final part will consist of further reflections on the same theme.

Could it be that the symbols, myths rituals, insights, and teachings of religions—past and present—might reveal a partial understanding of Jesus Christ, the God-Man? Might this not be the case even in the populations of humanity that are still distant from Him, and do not know Him as He is? Could it be that symbols from other religions and cultures—ancient and present—might, in some way, foreshadow Christ's incarnation, resurrection, and even the day when Jesus Christ will transfigure the universe? Could it even be that symbols found in myriads of other religions have, in some real sense, their fulfilment in Christ? The Bible itself is full of foreshadowing and promise. It is also rich in the symbols, events, celebrations, and traditions of the Old and New Testament Scriptures. Might not there be something of the same thing in the symbols, events, celebrations, rituals and traditions of other religions? Might they not act as a bridge to point cultures to Christ, and to His incarnation, resurrection, transformation, and transfiguration? Might there not be a way that these kinds of symbols, rituals, celebrations, and traditions are meant to foreshadow Christ, and even to reveal that Christ is the concrete reality to which they point, just as they did for Israel?

ichthus-symbol
ichthus-symbol

I know of a Hindu convert to Christ who once said that it is not only possible, but that it happened to him. The idea of other religions' symbols, rituals, celebrations, and traditions pointing to Christ was, for this convert, a reality. But before we hear more from him, I should clarify what is being suggested in this discussion and what is not.

We need not argue that non-Christian beliefs receive such foreshadowings, symbols, events, and traditions through direct revelation, as in the case of Israel. It seems to me, however, that one can reasonably entertain the possibility of at least some parallels. The Bible says that God has put eternity in the hearts of all people. God has made people in such a way that there will always be something in their religions, their myths, and their self-understanding that causes them to yearn for a transcendent realm. By transcendent, I mean a realm of reality that human beings would never be able to invent or imagine as it really is. Yet this realm is nevertheless attuned to the deepest yearnings of human hearts and minds for peace with God and with all God's creation. People sense that this transcendent realm can aid them in their struggle for survival, yet it also causes them to yearn for a new and better world free of the toil, struggles, and evils in themselves. Yet even though the yearnings are there, the Bible makes clear mention of a universal evil in the human heart and mind before encountering Christ. This universal evil is the unregenerate heart of a humanity that wants nothing to do with God. This leads human beings to purposely suppress the eternal yearnings in their hearts.

Mircea Eliade, Paul Ricoeur, and Martin Buber—all respected religious thinkers—explored this suppressed reality of the human condition: particularly as it plays out in story, myth, mythic symbol, rites, celebrations, and traditions.[1] Are there things that humanity will normally deny at the cognitive level that are revealed in myth and symbol at a level of deeper awareness? Aided by some of the insights from Mircea Eliade, I am going to suggest that myth and symbol and other religions at this deeper level of suppressed awareness all seek an answer, and resolution, and that the answer is Christ alone. This said, I now return to the Hindu convert whom I was speaking of before.

Many years ago I attended Regent College in Vancouver, Canada, and there I meant a Hindu convert who explained that when he became a Christian, he realized that Christ had fulfilled many central symbols of his Hindu belief. He said, for example, that the Hindu belief in reincarnation involved the understanding that, for man to be healed, he must be reborn. As a Christian, he now believed that the countless rebirths demanded by Hinduism were merely shadows whose fulfilment was our one-time rebirth made possible through Christ's death and resurrection. He went on to assert that Jesus Himself was pointing to this birth. For it was Jesus who said that "unless you are born again you cannot enter into the Kingdom of Heaven" (John 3:3-4).[2] However, Jesus made clear that He alone is the source and power of that new birth. My Hindu friend understood that the myth of reincarnation finds its true object in Christ. In Christ we are born again, but only once (Hebrews 9:27). In Him, concrete reality comes into history and time.

om-symbol
om-symbol

With respect to the incarnation of Christ—i.e. His coming down to us as a human child in a manger—there is something very different, yet, in some ways, very similar in the Hindu doctrine of avatars. Undoubtedly, my Hindu friend was more than aware of it, but at the time I did not think about discussing it with him. Had we discussed it, he would, I suspect, readily explain how Hindu avatars, serve as a near-perfect foreshadowing of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Avatars, as understood in Hinduism, are human beings indwelled by Brahma at certain times in history. Brahma, for a time, inhabits a mortal body that is enslaved to the wheel of life and death. But when the human being dies, Brahma departs. In Hindu teaching, when an avatar comes to earth, he takes the form of an illusion—i.e. a person. In Hinduism, we will recall, the human being is only Karma, an illusion. Now in some Hindu teachings, there is a soul in the person, but the soul is without human content. It is devoid of all the attributes that belong to the person. So then the soul that departs is simply Brahma.

Even when the soul in the individual person is considered separate from Brahma, nothing really changes, for the soul is still wholly identical with Brahma in every respect. It shares nothing of the finite human personality. So, then, avatars do not really come into history at all, for history in Hindu teaching is an illusion as well. Hinduism is forever helpless to bring God into relationship with real human beings. At death, Atman—the higher self—Brahma in finite human beings—leaves the illusory finite self. So while Brahma can visit a human being, he can never be one. But the Christ who became a man is no avatar. He is fully God and fully man, able to represent fully both God and Man. He is the reconciler—the one who truly reconciles humanity with Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

This Hindu convert now knew something far more wonderful than an avatar. He now personally knew the God who, unlike Brahma, does not wish to annihilate the human finite self, but to love and preserve it.

The Greek name Iësous, transliterated Jesus, means salvation or saviour. Jesus came into history and became a human being. He died and rose again, fully representing humanity in His life, death and resurrection. At present, He is seated at the right hand of God. Further, He is in a position of equal power with the Father and the Holy Spirit. As the gospel of John so beautifully says: "In the beginning was the word (Jesus Christ), and the word was with God, and the word was God. All things were brought into being by him, and without him, nothing was brought into being, that has been brought into being (John 1:1-6).

Ironically, the coming down and visitation of avatars finds its concrete fulfilment in Christ Jesus. All the avatars who come and will come down can be viewed as pale shadows of the one who was concretely born in Bethlehem. They are mythic shadows of the one to come. This concrete fulfilment in Christ reaches its wonderful culmination after Christ ascends, and descends again in the final judgment. Then the fullness of the New Heaven and Earth is brought into being, and God, at last, has His dwelling with men.

In Christ, humanity, God, and the universe are real, and can be known and loved. On that final day—the day of Christ's return—authentic joy will flood the galaxies and utterly fill those human beings who are in a deep and eternal relationship with God the Father, God the Son, And God the Holy Spirit, the three in one.[3] All this will take place amidst a true and authentic history, where in the end, peace, joy and love will prevail. In Part 2, I will explore this discussion of the meaning of Christ in other religions further, amidst my encounter with a postgraduate student who presents to me a religious list that she supposes devastates the credibility of the Christian faith.

[1] See Freud, Totem and Taboo; Jung, Memories Dreams and Reflections; Buber, Good and Evil, 73-74; Ricoeur, The Symbolism of Evil; and Eliade, Patterns in Comparative Religions and Cosmos and History.

[2] All Scripture quotations are the author's translation.

[3] See Matthew 11:27, 23:9, 28:19; John 1:14, 3:35, 5:18, 6:27, 8:27, 10:15, 10:38, 13:3, 14:28, 16:15, 17:5; Romans 8:15, 15:6; 1 Corinthians 1:3, 8:6; 2 Corinthians 1:3, 11:31; Galatians 4:6; Ephesians 1:17, 2:18; 1 John 2:24; Revelation 3:21.

The Most Important Event in Human History

Carl-Heinrich-Bloch-The-Resurrection.jpg

By Nic Bertsch

It's that time of the year again. Time for chocolate bunnies, painted eggs, and no school for the kids. That's right, it's Easter. In fact, very often those things are the only reason for the season in the minds of many non-Christians. Far too often I have personally encountered people who have no idea what actually happened on Easter weekend. It is a sad reality that the culture in which we find ourselves is extremely ignorant about the most important event in human history. This event created the movement that has impacted more people and cultures and countries than anything else. This event was the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

Starting in Israel, Christianity spread like wildfire. By the 300s, the pluralistic, thoroughly depraved Roman Empire was converted, without any bloodshed except that of the Christians themselves. The spread continued across the Middle East and Europe, and eventually came to be the foundation on which our culture was shaped as well. All of the freedoms and values we have come to enjoy are based on Christian values. Things like religious freedom, freedom of speech, freedom of association, women's equality, and social justice don't come from Islam or Hinduism, and they certainly don't come from atheism. All of these things are rooted in a Christian worldview, and that worldview comes from the fact that over 2000 years ago, a group of people radically proclaimed that a man who had been executed through the most painful means ever created had been raised from the dead.

The difference between this claim and the claims of every other religion is that it was testable. The people Jesus had trained to follow after Him could have said He had been raised in spirit, or that He was alive in their hearts, or maybe even that He had been reincarnated as someone else. But they didn't. They claimed Jesus was physically alive. They claimed to have seen Him, talked to Him, touched Him, and eaten with Him, and they challenged people to prove them wrong. And it wasn't just the disciples of Jesus either. Hostile people like Jesus' brother James and Saul of Tarsus said the same thing. There was no reason for this at all, unless they believed Jesus had actually risen from the dead. None of these people had anything to gain except rejection, imprisonment, torture and death.

As Paul said, "if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith" (1 Corinthians 15:14 NIV). This is a bold statement that sets the entire Christian worldview up for failure if someone can prove the resurrection false, and yet no one has. There have certainly been those who have tried, but their speculative theories and radical skepticism have done a poor job of accounting for the strong historical evidence that exists. Virtually all scholars, Christian and non-Christian, hold some facts to be virtually undeniable:

  • Jesus existed.
  • He died by crucifixion.
  • His tomb was empty and His body was never recovered.
  • His disciples and hostiles like Paul and James claimed to have seen Him risen from the dead.
  • His disciples were transformed from cowards, into martyrs that started the explosion of early Christianity.

There are only so many ways to explain this kind of data, and most have been tried and found wanting.

Was the Body Stolen?

This theory raises more questions than it answers. Who would steal the body? The Romans wanted Jesus dead, and so did the Jews. The disciples had nothing to gain by stealing the body except death, which they got. This doesn't explain why Paul would convert, and it doesn't seem logical to say that the disciples who stole the body would then go and die for something they knew was false. People may die for something they believe is true, but not for something they know is false.

Did the Disciples Hallucinate?

This is a popular explanation, but once again explains the data poorly. Jesus appeared to groups of people, not just individuals. Groups of people don't all hallucinate the same thing. If He was a hallucination, then it could have been shown to be false by producing Jesus' body, but the tomb was empty. Why would a hostile like Paul also hallucinate the same thing? Also, while it is true that many people claim to see deceased loved ones after they have died, no one is ever convinced that their loved ones have actually risen from the dead physically.

Maybe Jesus Never Actually Died?

This claim is made by some Muslims and has also been put forth by various skeptics. This theory has massive problems, though. Jesus' death by crucifixion is one of the most well-attested events in history. There is almost no one in the scholarly world who denies that Jesus died by crucifixion. But how does this theory deal with the evidence? It seems hard to believe that if Jesus somehow survived His horrible beating and crucifixion that He could then convince His disciples that He was risen from the dead. They might have been impressed that He could survive such a beating. They might have sent for a doctor. But it seems irrational to think they would be convinced of a resurrection. For more on this, see my article, "Did Jesus Die on the Cross?"

The Resurrection, by Carl Heinrich BlochThere are other theories out there, but these ones are the most common. However, there is no explanation that does a better job of explaining the historical data than the resurrection of Jesus. All that is necessary to accept that Jesus rose from the dead is for people to suspend the inherent bias against supernatural events that most in Western culture are oppressed by. After all, it is extremely dishonest to investigate a miracle claim by starting with the assumption that miracles never happen. Many radical skeptics of the resurrection, once they were able to put their anti-supernatural bias aside and stop assuming that it couldn't have happened, have come to believe it actually did happen.

It seems to me that accepting that the death and resurrection of Jesus as true is not as hard as people claim it is. We believe all kinds of things with much less evidence than we have for the claim that Jesus rose from the dead. What is hard for many people to understand or accept is why? Why did Jesus have to die? Why does it matter if He rose from the dead? The answer to those questions is what really challenges the fallen heart of human beings.

Jesus did not deserve to die. We did. Every single person has broken, or will break, God's law. Worse yet, if we don't want to live by God's standards, we can set our own, and we will still be guilty of breaking them. We are broken and guilty, and every honest person knows it. If God is perfectly just, then He is justified in punishing every single person. God is also not obligated to offer anyone a pardon, any more than any human judge has to offer a pardon to someone who has broken the law before he can send them to jail. This is bad news for all, and it is this bad news that answers the first question: why did Jesus have to die? He died the death that we should have, and because He was God, He was the only one who could satisfy the debt.

When Jesus appeared alive three days after being executed, it showed His disciples several things. It showed them that He was God as He claimed to be. It showed them that death was not the end. And it showed them that the price had been paid for our debt with God, and that all we needed to do was accept the pardon.

It was that understanding that transformed them into men and women that would proclaim this message to their dying breath. It was that message that started the movement that changed the face of the world. That is why the death and resurrection of Jesus is the most important event in human history, and that is why Easter really matters.