In recent years, it has become fashionable among secular journals to mark Easter week by publishing articles denying that Jesus Christ was literally resurrected from the tomb. It seems they can always find someone with the credentials of a Christian minister to assert that the resurrection was metaphorical, not literal.
I almost got through last week without encountering such an article. Almost. Late in the week, while surfing financial and political sites on the web, I saw a link to an article titled, "Jesus, Entombed in Heaven," by Rev. William Alberts, Ph.D., a Methodist and Unitarian Universalist minister. Intrigued by the title, I clicked on the link. My "reward" was this unequivocal repudiation of Scripture: "Contrary to the New Testament record, no resurrected Jesus appeared to his disciples shortly after his crucifixion." Clearly, the gospel according to Rev. Dr. Alberts is the not same as the gospel according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
On the positive side, perhaps we Americans—Christian and non-Christian—should be grateful to live in a country where people don't have to fear for their lives for questioning the accuracy of Holy Scripture. For Christians around the world, however, the phenomenon of a clergyman publicly denying the foundational event of Christianity—the resurrection of Jesus Christ—demonstrates how deeply disbelief has penetrated contemporary Christendom.
The essence of such disbelief is the atheism of matter: The resurrection is not physically possible, the logic goes, so therefore it couldn't have happened. Thus, by this reasoning, the laws of matter are supreme and the existence of God, Spirit (John 4:24), is dubious, if not impossible. According to the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology, a human body can't walk on water, a woman can't conceive without a sperm cell, a person can't change water into wine or instantaneously heal all manner of diseases and deformities, and no one can be raised from the dead through prayer. Yet all these events are recorded in the Bible. (In fact, the prayers of Elijah, Elisha, Peter, and Paul, as well as those of Jesus, raised the dead, and such occurrences continued for several generations after Jesus, according to records left by the Jewish historian Josephus.) Either these extraordinary events happened and atheism is an error, or they didn't happen and the Bible is just a collection of stories comparable to Aesop's fables or Virgil's "Aeneid."
The linchpin of all Christian doctrine is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. As Paul plainly wrote to the Corinthians, "If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith also is vain." (1 Corinthians 1:14) So, the atheistic/Christian divide boils down to whether Jesus truly was resurrected from the grave.
The atheists have the unenviable challenge of trying to prove a negative—that the resurrection didn't happen. At the same time, I don't know how to prove to them that it did happen. Those who claim that the apostles fabricated Jesus' resurrection and ascension have a logically weak case. Jesus' apostles were persecuted and one by one executed, and yet they persisted to preach the risen Savior, willingly sacrificing their human lives in His service. How can anyone really believe that they were willing to suffer all this just to perpetuate a hoax?
This argument, however, is merely inferential. Ultimately, the question of the literal truth of the resurrection has to be resolved in one's own conscience, as has happened to millions of people over the centuries. Here is how it transpired with me: I became an agnostic at age 12—a skeptic who insisted that if I were to believe in God, I required proof. That proof came the month I turned 22, when the prayers of a deeply committed Christian healed me instantaneously of a chronic medical condition that neither surgery nor drugs had been able to help. What ineffable grace, that I, a long-time skeptic, should receive the blessing of Christ's healing touch.
Having experienced first-hand something that is "physically impossible," I was impelled to the unshakable conclusion that God, Spirit, does indeed exist, and that His law is a higher law that trumps all material "laws," and that physically impossible events, such as the Virgin Birth and bodily resurrection of Jesus, are entirely within the realm of God's supreme capabilities.
I respect a person's right not to believe in God if he or she hasn't yet experienced God directly. I would gently encourage such individuals to try to be humble about their disbelief, though—and to refrain from asserting that, just because they haven't experienced God, it is impossible that others have done so. I would also invite them to reach out for God if they should ever find themselves in a bad situation for which there is no material solution. To each of you individually, I say, you may choose to live as if you do not believe in God, but why?
Dr. Mark W. Hendrickson is a faculty member, economist, and contributing scholar with the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College.