I love Maclean’s magazine. I’ve been a subscriber for years. A flip through any issue yields a number of interesting, well-written pieces on a wide range of topics. Recently, an article appeared in Maclean’s called “Did Jesus really exist?” The article was centred around the work of Bart Ehrman, a New Testament scholar. I read it, wondering if there might be anything new on the subject. There wasn’t. Alot was said about the concepts of false memory, social memory, and the fact that tales grow in the telling. The children’s party game of telephone was mentioned to illustrate how a message can change each time it is repeated. Apparently, there are some dates that don’t line up, and there is some confusion over whether Jesus’ death warrant was signed by Pontius Pilate or King Herod. Some of the gospel accounts differ on a few details, or focus on different parts of Jesus’ life. The apostle Paul’s lack of interest in the life of Jesus is mentioned to support the idea that he never really existed. There is a possibility that some of the documents supporting Jesus’ existence were forged by zealous early Christians.
Basically, the same things people have been saying for years – and the same things people could say about many famous ancient figures. Ramses, Homer, Confucius, Plato, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, Genghis Kahn, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus, William Shakespeare …. How do we really know any of them existed? If they did, how do we know they really did what we think they did? Oral memory is sketchy. Forgeries are possible. Not all historians agree on what happened and when. Shall we use this to drum them out of the annals of history, or will we keep telling stories about them? Does every detail matter? A human being is not simply a superbly designed machine. There is head – and there is heart. There is more to this life than what we can see.
We struggle to quantify and prove what is important, and we demand evidence of everything – but it’s never been so easy to forge everything. Photographic evidence isn’t even reliable anymore, thanks to technology that can seamlessly blend images and change any detail of any picture – and filters that convincingly mimic many different time periods. Statistics show that more and more of us see ourselves as secular and cynical. Yet, we live in an era in which we are increasingly walking by faith and praying for miracles – whether we know it or not. We’re a global village, and the next pandemic or terrorist attack is always just around the corner. Some very unstable people have access to weapons that could destroy us all if they ever decide to use them. Our planet is heating up and drying out. Many of us are plagued by anxiety, and feel like we’re not safe anywhere. Yet we make a daily decision to walk out the door into uncertainty. We keep making art and poetry and music and plans for the future – and babies.
Why? Because we are believers even when we don’t know what we believe in. Because we have decided to keep walking, however dark the path ahead. At the core of all of us, though it may not be acknowledged or even recognised, there is faith. Faith in science, faith in humanity, faith in ourselves, faith in love – and, for some of us, faith in Jesus. Did he exist? Does he, as Christian tradition teaches, still exist? I’m not going to try to prove anything or persuade anyone. I’m just going to give my opinion. Partly because this is a subject dear to my heart, and partly because I just love giving my two cents to everyone on everything all the time. I have chosen to believe he does exist. I feel his presence whenever I talk to him. I see his face in the faces of everyone I love. I see his hands in the kindness people show each other in times of trouble – in Mister Rogers’ oft-referenced helpers. I hear his voice urging me to push through my fear and keep going, to share what I have, to reach out to others who need a friend, to show love to people who have none for me. I use the stories of Jesus to guide me when my faith is low or I don’t know what to do. When I’m disappointed in myself, I remember that he knows me well and loves me anyway, and that his grace is freely given to me every day in the form of second, third, tenth chances – and I forgive myself because he does. Whatever does that for you, whatever gets you though the frightening, beautiful mess of being alive, hold onto it. You don’t need proof that it exists, and you don’t need experts to agree with you. People can speculate all they like on whether he’s real – he’s real to me, my faith in him compels me forward no matter what I have to walk through, and that’s enough for me. Happy Easter, whatever you believe!