Growing up in a southern Baptist church, every Easter there were two hymns you had to sing…or you probably weren’t really Baptist.
One was Low in the Grave He Lay. Most people don’t remember it by that title, but by the bouncy chorus that interrupts the sad, mournful verse. After lamenting the crucified Jesus, suddenly all the men kicked off the chorus with “Up from the grave He arose” (“HE AROSE” the women echoed, often in three-part harmony). For Baptists, that was right up on the same raucous joy level as Beer Barrel Polka for heathen Yankee folks…
…only without the beer.
The other was a waltzy little ditty called He Lives. At the end of the chorus, it says, “You ask me how I know He lives…He lives within my heart!”
As I entered my college years, that explanation ceased to satisfy my skeptical mind. With all my intellectual questions about the Bible, just saying, “Well, I know He’s real because He’s set up housekeeping in one of my internal organs,” wasn’t enough. To a cynical, doubting collegian, it seemed like a romanticized cop-out.
Now after years of studying the history around the resurrection, I see there are more reasons than that to believe. The evidence for Christ’s resurrection, though circumstantial, is actually incredibly strong. Better minds than mine have articulated it, like C.S. Lewis and Chicago Tribune reporter Lee Strobel, for example. They were both men who started off trying to disprove Christianity, but ended up believers. Rather than regurgitate it here, I’ll let their revolutionary thoughts speak for themselves.
Suffice it to say, if you want to believe in Jesus, you can certainly do so without “checking your brain at the door.” Like most important decisions in life it’s still a matter of faith, but it’s not “dumb faith” as some of my atheist friends would have you think.
I think that’s exactly where God wanted to leave it—believable enough without being overwhelmingly obvious. Why? So people still have a choice.
If we could look in a telescope and see God waving to us from space, we’d all be idiots not to worship him. Instead, God has left a level of “plausible deniability” in the world. There’s enough evidence to believe, but not so much to make faith an inevitability.
I know some people say, “Dave, when you can scientifically prove he exists, I’ll believe.” But that’s the point: God’s not going to allow that. He’ll plant clues in our world, like a million hidden Easter Eggs, but we can choose to walk past them, ignoring the evidence.
If you shoved a brightly painted egg in the skeptic’s face, they would say its intricate design and colors came about through billions of years of chance. Oh, and the Peeps are the result of natural selection.
I can hear the arguments from skeptics already, challenging me as laughably unscientific. It makes me a little sad, but I know it wouldn’t make any difference if I took them a signed invitation to heaven from Jesus himself. They’d still run as fast and as far from God as they can, because they know someone that awesome would require a response from them.
It’s just easier for them to keep dodging and weaving.
Now in my middle years (that is, if I happen to live to about 103—fat chance!), I’m rediscovering the wisdom in that little hymn I mentioned upfront. After all the philosophical proofs, I believe changed lives inhabited by the risen Christ are the most undeniable evidence he is still quite alive.
I’m writing this from a retreat for men in a recovery program. I just led 65 of them in worship, and I’ll guarantee you’ve never heard anything like it. Men who’ve disappointed parents, destroyed their own marriages and families, broken and humiliated by sin…but singing like heaven’s about to break loose. Why? Because Jesus has invaded their lives like a river breaking through a dam! Their past was washed away in that flood, and new life rises in them like champagne bubbling over. They have nothing left, yet they have everything that matters.
I just counseled a 60 year-old business man who’s now found Jesus in a homeless shelter. After he lost his house and car, he had one last possession—a bottle of Armani cologne. But the other day it accidentally slipped out of his hands and smashed on the floor. Before bitterness could wash over him, he laughed and called his bunkmates to come scoop up the cologne in their hands. Those homeless men all wore the last ounces of it to church that day.
The man has nothing left but literally the clothes on his back, yet he looks me in the eyes and says, “I’m finally free!”
There’s an 80 year old lady who goes to the jail each Tuesday. Her class is busting at the seams with prisoners who want to be in the overflow of her love. They don’t all realize that years ago her own daughter was brutally murdered. In her desire to follow Christ’s forgiveness, she befriended the murderer in jail and forgave her. Now she dedicates her time to loving other inmates as a tribute to her daughter. Talk about “amazing grace”!
Speaking of jail, I led a Good Friday service there this week. For a lark, I asked if one of the inmates might have a song for us. A slender African-Amercian gentleman humbly walked to the front of the room and started singing The Old Rugged Cross. It was simple, yet covered in powerful waves of the grace God had shown this repentant man. Needless to say, I did not proceed with the song I was going to sing. I know better than to try and perform after God himself just sang through someone, even if they happened to be wearing orange.
The power of the resurrection has also hit close to home for me as well. My own dad was a terror to grow up with. Each day at 4:30 p.m., I would stiffen at the sound of his Plymouth Valiant crunching the gravel in our driveway. I don’t have one memory of him smiling.
Yet today he’s 88, and filled with more peace and wisdom than any man I know. Somewhere along the way, God changed him utterly and completely. He simply changed into a completely new person housed behind the same face, like a good version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Because of Jesus, I have a new dad.
So go on and debate to your heart’s content. It won’t make any difference to me—I’m just as stubborn now as the skeptics. That’s because you’ll never disprove God to me when I see him breathing through changed lives every day.