What Would It Take for Me to Give Up My Belief in the Resurrection?
It’s Debunking Season. Every year, twice a year, in the weeks before Christmas and Easter, someone comes along telling Christians it’s time to pack it in. “Jesus is a myth, He’s always been a myth, and unless you want to keep on believing in fairy tales, you need to give up pretending He’s real.”
None of these debunkings ever work, but they do raise a fair question: What would it take to disprove Jesus’ resurrection? What kind of evidence would do the job?
Here’s one answer I hear Christians give: “If someone brings me the bones of Jesus, that’s when I’ll believe He didn’t rise from the dead.” It’s a fair answer in theory, but I’m afraid I don’t think much of it. Everyone knows there’s no way to prove an ancient box of bones belonged to Jesus. This answer doesn’t actually answer anything.
Here’s my answer: It would take a lot to talk me out of believing in Jesus’ resurrection. I mean, an awful lot. That’s because, first of all, the resurrection has all kinds of historical evidence going for it, but that’s not the best of it. The best thing is that it’s part of a complete package. It fits with everything, and it makes everything fit, not just in the Bible, not just in history, but in all of life. Christianity is what makes the world make sense, and the resurrection is right at the heart of it.
It Explains So Much More Than Just One Thing
It’s as if you were looking out the window at midday in the middle of summer. It’s a gray, cloudy day, but you can see the kids playing in the yard easily enough. And I say to you, “Isn’t it interesting how everyone thinks there’s a sun in the sky lighting up the world?”
You splutter and stare and wonder if you should call someone to lock me up, and then you say, “Of course there’s a sun! How do you think we get all this light outside?”
“Stadium lighting,” I answer. “Lots and lots of stadium lighting.”
You’d know I was wrong, and not just because stadium lighting makes no sense for what you see in your backyard. You know how the sun explains everything from the warmth in the earth to the tides (which aren’t entirely caused by the moon) to the motion of the planets. Yes, the sun explains why you can see out in the yard at the moment, but it also explains so much more than that.
Evidence Upon Evidence
Christianity is like that. We have good evidence from history that the Resurrection happened, but the evidence goes a lot further than that. Christianity itself explains all of reality like nothing else does, and the Resurrection is at the heart of it all. If Christianity isn’t true, then the Resurrection isn’t true; but if Christianity isn’t true, then a whole lot of other things become impossible to explain, too.
What kinds of things? One day about six years ago I wrote a list outlining several truths that Christianity explains better than any other philosophy or religion I know. By the time I was done, my list had fifty items on it. I won’t take time to flesh out all of these, but I can at least add links to a few of them.
It’s a long list, so brace yourself! Even if you don’t look closely at every item, be sure to read the closing paragraphs.
Christianity Explains the Human Condition
If Christianity isn’t true, then it’s very, very hard to understand how any of these things work; or in other words, it’s hard to understand what it means to be human.
- Human rationality
- Human consciousness
- Meaning to life
- Purpose to life
- Our moral sense
- Our person-ness: that we are distinct individuals with real personality amidst others like us in that sense
- The persistence of identity and the reality of self in human beings
- Our sense that we were meant to be better than we are
- Our millennia of failure to improve ourselves
- Our obvious need for help if we are going to get better
- Our awareness of a spiritual dimension to reality
- Our persistent sense that there is more to life than what we can see here
The world around us
Other religions and philosophies recognize all these things (for the most part; there are exceptions). None of them do as great a job at explaining where they come from or what they mean:
- The real existence of goodness
- The real existence of beauty
- The real lack of goodness and beauty, i.e., the existence of evil
- The rationality of existence (for example, nature’s being amenable to rational, scientific investigation)
- Unity within diversity
Complexity with purpose
- The universe’s fitness for complex life
- Earth’s fitness for complex life
- The origin of the first life
- The development of all the species
- Earth’s unique fitness in space and time for scientific discovery
- The Bible’s existence as a unified library with a common theme spanning many, many generations
- The long existence of the Jewish people
- The early philosophical excellence of Judaic monotheism
- The uniqueness of the Genesis creation account with respect to all other creation accounts
- Archaeological discoveries confirming biblical data
- The perfect self-sacrificial goodness of Jesus Christ presented without flaw in four distinct narratives, unlike any other character in history or literature
- The set of broadly accepted historical facts surrounding the narrative of Jesus’ resurrection
- The quick onset (within 3 to 5 years maximum) of Christian teachings regarding Jesus’ resurrection
- The historical accuracy of writers such as Luke
- The conversion of Saul of Tarsus
- The wisdom of New Testament ethical teaching
- The countercultural value early Christians gave to women and children
- The successful rise of the Christian church despite strong opposition
- Christianity’s unique contribution to world’s understanding of compassion, human worth, and freedom
- Christianity’s resilience over time: despite millennia of intellectual and social attack, it stands strong and remains (on some measures if not all) the world’s fastest growing religion
Sociological and medical information
- The 99 factors/dimensions in which Christian teens showed healthier outcomes than non-believers (Christian Smith study)
- The much-lower divorce rate among Christians who attend church and pray together regularly
- The much-lower crime rate among Christians
- The multitude of other ways in which religious person exhibit better physical and mental health than nonbelievers
- The prevalence of credible, testable reports of miracles around the world
- The existence of credible, testable reports of the soul departing the body and returning again in near-death experiences
- The complete turnaround in my attitude toward life when I accepted Christ
- My sudden, massive increase in interest in the Bible at the same time
- The sense of freedom I’ve experienced in knowing there’s forgiveness for my sins
- My turn away from self-centered goals to other-centered goals
- The love I experience from God in prayer
- The love I experience from other Christians — a love that’s been tested in a wide variety of cross-cultural situations, including places where I’ve been interacting with people whose countries have been enemies of mine
- The miraculous prayer answers I’ve experienced
That’s a lot to take in at one time, I know, maybe even overwhelming. It’s overwhelming in another sense, too: The evidence for Christianity just keeps adding up and adding up, for those who are willing to see it for what it is. There’s direct evidence for the Resurrection, and I list some of it under “History” above, but there’s more besides. Christianity doesn’t make sense without the Resurrection, but reality itself doesn’t make sense without Christianity.
What would it take for me to give up belief in the Resurrection? Show me a better explanation for those 50 things and I’ll change my mind. I’m not worried, though. I’ve studied enough other beliefs to know they don’t stand a chance. The answer is solid and secure: He is risen — risen indeed!
Tom Gilson (@TomGilsonAuthor) is a senior editor with The Stream and the author or editor of six books, including the recently released Too Good To Be False: How Jesus’ Incomparable Character Reveals His Reality.