The 12th Century theologian Anslem, borrowing from Augustine of Hippo, famously said, "Credo ut intellegam": I believe in order to understand. That this statement would arise from within the Christian tradition makes all the sense in the world when you consider the claim of Jesus that we reflected on in Part II; "If you hold to my teaching, then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." Holding to the teaching of Jesus suggests at least some level of belief in Him. The end result of this belief, Jesus says, is knowledge of the truth.
What is more surprising about Anslem's assertion is how prophetic (or prescient, if you prefer) it was with respect to the scientific revolution–the paradigm shift that, some 600 years later, would radically reshape the West's worldview lenses. As you may or may not have blocked out from freshman year physical science class, the scientific method goes a bit like this:
- Step 1: form a hypothesis.
- Step 2: develop an experiment to test the hypothesis.
- Step 3: check your test results against the initial hypothesis.
- Step 4: modify the experiment until the predicted results are proven (or disproven).
Loosely speaking, at the 'proven' stage, you have what is referred to as a theory. When your theory has been sufficiently scrutinized by the scientific community, tested and retested and found to yield consistent results, you may end up with a law named after you.
Remarkably, Jesus' challenge to believe in Him, to follow Him, to obey Him, and His accompanying claim that doing so will result in a knowledge of the truth, is nearly equivalent, structurally speaking, to this scientific method. A hypothesis, in plain English, is a hunch–it's a guess... a belief that the elements of the material world will behave in a certain way when they interact, or are introduced into specific environments. This hunch has to be followed by means of designing a process (an experiment) capable of putting your belief to the test. A successful test yields knowledge–knowledge about the way things work, about the way things are. In a nutshell, the actions produced by belief lead to a knowledge of the truth. Change the phrase 'the actions' to the word 'obedience' in the previous sentence, and suddenly we're echoing Jesus rather than getting a refresher in high school science.
But is it any wonder that truth always validates truth? Paul the Apostle, on trial for... well, for being too popular with the wrong kind of people, asked with exasperation, "Why does it seem incredible to any of you that God can raise the dead?" How much more surprising should it be to us, then, that we are surprised when Jesus makes a statement about ultimate truth which then turns out to be true not merely in so 'subjective' a corner of life as religion, but also in the empirically verifiable world of 'objective' so-called facts?
Copernicus made some observations about the stars, and believed that their motion suggested it was the earth that was circling the sun rather than vice versa. At the time, what he believed was so contrary to established 'facts', that even when Galileo offered evidence that Copernicus was correct, he was required to publicly renounce the truth he had discovered. When Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo set out to discover the movements of the heavens, it was impossible to prove their beliefs. They had to proceed on faith, and in the process they were led to the truth–a truth that eventually set humanity free from the mistaken (and somewhat embarrassing, in retrospect) belief that the earth was the still center of the universe around which everything else orbited.
Why is it so incredible to any of us today that Jesus' words might be just as provable, might just as certainly lead to knowledge by acting upon them in faith as any hunch followed up on by means of scientific inquiry? Why is one of these forms of faith considered respectable, and the other pitiable? (We'll have to put aside for the moment the question of why it is not typically acknowledged that both forms of experimentation are, in actuality, faith-based movements.) I will put forth only a few out of the dozens of possible explanations:
1) The lives of the Christians most people encounter offer very little in the way of compelling evidence that following Jesus results in people whose lives are significantly different than those who don't.
2) The shared life of believers in community (aka., the Church), offers little to no proof that what they proclaim about Jesus is true.
3) People who identify themselves with Jesus do not resemble Him in any meaningful way. A handful of quotes come to mind: "I like your Christ; it's your Christians I do not like. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ" ~ Gandhi. Or how about this one that I saw on a bumper sticker here in San Francisco: "Dear Jesus, please save us from your followers." Finally, the one I've heard a hundred times, and even said myself (before I tried Jesus for myself): "If that's what a Christian is like, why in the world would I ever want to be one?" To be brutally honest, at least one person has said that in reference to the quality of my representation of Jesus.
But it was G.K. Chesterton who managed to identify the problem and not just complain about the symptoms. He boldly professed, "Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried." It's not that people have put the 'Jesus hypothesis' to the test and discovered that it does not lead to a knowledge of the truth that brings freedom. They have either decided in advance that the Christian faith is just another fable designed to comfort the feeble-minded as they make their way through a life that is difficult, a life beyond which there is no other existence and in which there is no real meaning; or they have encountered people who call themselves Christians, who have tried just enough to inoculate themselves to the truth. They have participated just enough in dead religion that they have been effectively vaccinated against eternal life, and are therefore incapable of exposing anyone else to what would otherwise be the most powerful of all contagions.
The Book of Hebrews refers to the experience of the Spirit as a taste of the power of the age to come. Peter writes about inexpressible joy and a hope that will require an explanation from people you encounter. Paul speaks of peace that surpasses understanding, of knowing a love that is beyond comprehension, of a richness of life in God that is beyond anything you could think of, ask for, dream up, or dare to imagine, of a future so astonishingly good that no mind could conceive of it. Life with Jesus is everything you want and aren't smart enough to ask for. It's everything you need and don't love yourself enough to pursue.
If this doesn't resonate with your experience with Jesus–or your impression of Christians–I would simply ask you to consider the possibility that the problem isn't Jesus. Don't take my word for it. Take the 'Jesus test' for yourself. He did not say, "Seek and you might find," but "Seek and you will find."
What do you have to lose? If the resurrection and divinity of Jesus is a tale His disciples made up to save face after their 'messiah' was crucified in shame and humiliation, you still have nothing to lose by holding to His teachings. If nothing else, loving your enemies will probably result in you having fewer of them. But if Jesus is the one by Whom, through Whom, and for Whom all things were created, if He is the One who fills everything in every way, if He is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of His being, if He is the one in whom the fullness of God dwelled in bodily form, and in Him reconciled all things to Himself, then all you risk losing by not holding to His teaching is EVERYTHING.
As for me and my house, we will hold to His teachings, testing them through our obedience with the confident expectation that we will continue to discover the truth that brings freedom and eternal life. What will it be for you?