Saturday, October 06, 2007

When the Earth is Young (tidbits 5)

“How can you be sure?” he asked.

The old man leaned close. He began to speak and then stopped. Finally he spoke in a reverent tone. “Because. . . Because I’ve met him,” he said.

There was long pause.

“Met who?” Matthew asked finally, afraid of the answer.

“Him. He’s alive you, know. That’s what the Church has always taught. Do you think Christians only believe because we’ve been told to do so? I do not believe simply because others have spoken to me of him; I believe because I’ve met him for myself. He’s alive, you know,” the old man said again.

Matthew wasn’t sure how to respond to the old man’s assertion. He said nothing, and the old man went on.

“Why do you find it so hard to believe a man could rise from the dead? The man you are looking for—he was dead once, too. He is merely the fruit of that first resurrection. You believe in the fruit; believe in the root.”

Here it was, at last. All of Matthew’s experience had been leading to this—Jesus Christ, alive from the dead. There really could be no other explanation. But good God! That would change everything—everything. He felt the demon plucking at his collar. It was useless now, and he knew it, but he couldn’t bring himself to yield just yet.

“It is true that my experience here points toward the truth of the Christian faith. But I can’t help but think that my experience, even though I am the one experiencing it, is preposterous. And while I am presently inclined to believe it, once I return—if I return—it is likely that I will immediately count this as some bizarre dream. Would you not as well?”

The old man shrugged. “I might. But Christianity is not locked in the past—Christ is knowable in the present. This is not your only chance to experience him. Believing in Jesus isn’t like believing in Abraham Lincoln or George Washington. We believe in their existence because of the testimony of others. But belief in Jesus is more than second-hand experience—faith is born when one actually meets him. When you return, you will find—if you look—that he can be experienced there as well as here. He’s alive, and that makes all the difference.”

Matthew narrowed his eyes and said nothing. The thought of actually meeting Jesus was unsettling. The old man continued.

“The authenticity of the Christian paradigm is affirmed by many of the world’s greatest minds, past and present. But rational evidence alone is not enough to birth faith—not true faith, anyway. Christian faith is more than intellectual assent to historical events, dogma or a belief in a coherent philosophical system. True faith arises from an experience of the risen Christ, not rational evidences alone. Think of Saint Paul.”

“But surely,” Matthew countered, “you are not suggesting we meet him as did Paul? Supposed encounters now days are spiritual and non-empirical. This introduces an element of subjectivity I find difficult.”

The old man shrugged. “All experience is subjective, even scientific experience. And while it is true that personal experience of non-empirical things has a higher degree of subjectivity in its interpretation, it is no less objective in its reality. That the experience has happened is objectively undeniable—at least to the one experiencing it; it is the cause of the experience that is open to interpretation. If a large number of people whom I respected all testified of a shared experience, all attributing it to the same source, it would be reasonable for me to at least leave open the possibility that what they affirmed to be true was, in fact, true. And if at some point I came to share their common experience, and likewise perceived it to be sourced in the same cause, would I not be reasonably compelled to join them in their construal of reality? And wouldn’t our shared experienced appropriately bolster my conviction that my assessment was correct?”

“Perhaps,” Matthew said, “But I have not experienced the Christian faith, expect for my time spent here. And what I am experiencing here is not a shared experience in any sense, and thus it causes me to trust it less. I would need to experience Christianity in my own world, in a way that is consistent with others who have come to believe.”

The old man nodded. “You will,” he said, “if you desire.”

Matthew had never thought of it like this before. He had always viewed the “evidences” for faith as locked in the past, based solely upon historical and philosophical arguments that could never be scientifically verified—much like two historians debating the cause of the Civil War. One thesis might make better sense than the other, but certainty could never be achieved. It was why he had remained an agnostic. The rational evidence for and against the existence of God had never seemed overwhelming in either direction. The discussions had always been kept to paper—never let loose into real life. It had not occurred to him that Christianity was something to be experienced, or that such experience could be factored into the equation.

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