Why do you believe in Jesus? I get believing in a creator, but as much as I want to, I can’t always convince myself that there’s evidence for Jesus doing all that stuff, and it breaks my heart because i used to believe it without a problem. I don’t know what to do.
Hey dear friend. If you didn’t know, I’m mostly a skeptical Christian, so you might be asking the wrong person.
There are times when I’m really into apologetics, and other times when I just don’t care about apologetics at all. As a wise pastor once said, knowledge is essential but it is not sufficient.
So as much as I can muster with my weak faith, I believe in Jesus for historical, emotional, existential, and intellectual reasons that far outweigh any other system of belief. There is just enough evidence for Christ that each day, I must conclusively doubt my doubts. It’s tough most days, but it’s often enough.
Let’s consider a few things together, and ultimately you can decide to clamp down upon the meat.
– Something in the first century made the Jews just go nuts.
The Jewish-Israelite people were dead-set on never ever worshiping another god, ever. It was their first law from God: and even when Caesar claimed divinity or these other “messiahs” came around claiming to be the savior, the Jews never budged. The Romans had constrained the Jewish people by outlawing most religious places unless they were called “schools,” and the Romans threw down all their gods and cultural excess on the Jews, but still: the Jews remained slavishly devoted to Yahweh and never bowing down to any idols, to much social derision and lowered status.
But an event happened where suddenly, the Jewish people had changed their day of worship from Saturday to Sunday. They were claiming the Christ had come and risen. In the eyes of many Jews, this would’ve been downright blasphemous: but whole hordes of Jews were now convinced that Jesus was God. It was such an intense explosive shift that Rome never recovered, and only decades later Christianity became the mainstream faith of the nation.
Something happened two-thousand years ego that history must account for. I know this by itself is not incontrovertible evidence that Jesus did what he did. But scholars are still confounded by this rapid series of events that essentially upturned both the Jewish people and the Roman nation. Once-devout Jews were being lit up and impaled by Nero, being mauled by lions and torn limb-from-limb, families killed and stoned, all to stand for Christ.
What the heck happened then? Did the Jews just lose their dang minds? Maybe. But every historical account that tries to explain all this away ends up piling on more doubt to their own theories. Really the simplest explanation here by way of Occam’s Razor is that Jesus is who he said he was and he did what he said he would.
So Christianity is uniquely alone in that it doesn’t claim to be built primarily on teachings, but on a historical event that ripped through a nation. No one wanted Christianity to be true, most in particular the disciples, who all fled. But they turned back because they simply couldn’t deny Jesus had risen. They had seen him. It was the key event that validated all of Jesus’s ministry: not his miracles or teachings or death, but walking out of that grave. Ultimately, over and over, despite my incredulity, I find this to be the most rational explanation for the Jews going nuts. You’d have to make a very convoluted difficult case to explain it any other way.
– Jesus’s death and resurrection built an iconoclastic world-upheaving truth that is upheld by the counterintuitive element of grace.
Jesus is existentially satisfying because he accurately describes the human condition and provides the solution. Every other system of belief is built on performance, maintenance, reward/punishment, dichotomous banner-waving division, moralism, superiority, self-improvement, and self-isolated relativism. Jesus destroys all these categories and provides a way above all ways that I have absolutely NOT found in any other system of thinking.
He speaks to my desperate need for self-justification. All day long, I’m justifying myself to prove I’m worthy. I am making myself better than others and comparing my weakness to someone who is weaker than me. I am in a moral race that causes me to laugh at a celebrity’s downfall or to help the poor to look righteous. Jesus destroyed this in the cross by calling us all equally guilty and all equally loved. It was never in us to justify ourselves, but only Jesus can do this.
He speaks equally to my lack of humility and my lack of confidence. Jesus had to die for my sin so I can’t be prideful: but he was glad to die for my sin so I can’t be in despair. Both are somehow true at the same time, and it’s this paradoxical union of tensions that keeps me oriented to a self-forgetting love for others and a right estimation of myself.
He speaks to my need for approval, validation, and significance. Because Jesus loved me enough to die for me: he is the foundation for all the love I need. He knows me and still loves me, and this is the relational intimacy I’ve always been looking for.
He speaks to my need to serve myself and make life about me. I’m set free because my life is not about me. Life is about the story of God and we’re all bit players. Imagine this sort of freedom: when you can quit living selfishly for yourself. You’re no longer enslaved under the tyrannical dictatorship of self. Imagine this sort of Gospel-shaped person who loved you but didn’t need you, because they’re not using you as a vehicle to serve themselves. They’re not killing you as an obstacle who is in the way of their desires. They’re instead seeking to love you simply because they love you and not because of what you can or won’t do for them, and this is because they are loved the same way.
You see: Every other kind of motivation is inherently selfish. It is all seeking a means to an end, one method using another for self-gain. We’re motivated by fear, by conformity, by trophies, by pleasure, by social standing: and while they might benefit a few, they really just benefit me. The love of God is entirely intrinsic unto itself, in a single direction initiated by its own essence, with nothing to gain and no reason to exist except that it does. When we understand such a love: we’re motivated by a purely one-way love to love in the same way, motivated by the reason of no-reason, because it has inherently punctured through our souls. There is no stronger force than this in the entire universe.
I could keep going. The Gospel of Grace is scary as hell, because it means we can no longer work for our own salvation. It means we’re no longer in control of validating our own lives. But when applied rightly, the Gospel of Grace destroys the gap between who we are and who we want to be. It fills in my existential itch to be both loved and known. It usurps my selfish need to justify and hold myself superior. It ruins everything so perfectly.
– Even if you don’t believe Jesus is God, we would still be studying the things he said.
Jesus was intellectually subversive and superlative in every single area of thought. The stuff he said was crazy, revolutionary, mindblowing.
To be truthful, most of his teaching is common sense. But the way in which he broke xenophobia and did away with dichotomous dogmatic thinking was nothing short of astonishing.
You can’t pin him down. He was both merciful and full of justice. He was at times liberal and at times conservative. He loved Roman officials as much as he loved prostitutes, swindlers, and murderers. If he were alive today, he would piss off both Fox News and The New Yorker.
There are not many people like this. Almost everyone in history fell to one side of the spectrum or the other. Their thoughts would fall into one pigeonhole or another. We are not a balanced people who can consistently hold two tensions at once: but Jesus did.
I can almost guarantee that G.K. Chesterton was right: if you repackaged Jesus as a Chinese mythology and re-told it to a non-Christian, they would absolutely love it. But because it’s Jesus and Christianity, people hate it.
The more you read about Jesus, the more you get a sense you’re dealing with the divine. You’re not dealing with human words here. He’s not some comfortable therapeutic guru nor a rebel for rebellion’s sake. He’s something altogether in his own category that transcends our comprehensible reality.
I pray you find him, my friend.
“My most recent faith struggle is not one of intellect. I don’t really do that anymore. Sooner or later you just figure out there are some guys who don’t believe in God and they can prove He doesn’t exist, and there are some other guys who do believe in God and they can prove He does exist, and the argument stopped being about God a long time ago and now it’s about who is smarter, and honestly I don’t care.”
— Donald Miller
“To fall in love with God is the greatest romance;
to seek Him, the greatest adventure;
to find Him, the greatest achievement.”
— St. Augustine
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